The Washington Post describes Kaja Kallas as Europe's 'Iron Lady'

  • 2023-03-08
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The election win of Kaja Kallas, who has been called Europe's "Iron Lady" for her refusal to compromise with Putin, is a good sign for the solidarity of the European Union and continued support of Ukraine, The Washington Post says. 

One of Ukraine's most prominent backers emerged victorious this week in Estonia's parliamentary election, which was dominated by the aftershocks of the war and brought voters out in record numbers, the article, cited by Postimees, says.

Kallas' win is "a good sign for the solidarity of the European Union and continued support of Ukraine," said Robert English, director of central European studies at the University of Southern California.

The article notes that Kallas routinely urges more aid for Ukraine and harsher penalties for Russia. She wrote in an April essay for the Economist that Estonia's government would increase its defense spending beyond the target outlined by NATO. She also advocated for measures that would hurt the Kremlin financially, including putting some of the money Europe pays for Russian energy in an escrow account.

"Sometimes, the best way to achieve peace is to be willing to use military strength," Kallas wrote in the Economist. Kallas has pushed for punitive measures against Moscow, including a visa ban on Russian tourists and a threat to boycott sporting competitions that allow Russian athletes.

As of December, Estonia also hosts the largest share of Ukrainian refugees as part of its population, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The article says that Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, grappled with a surge of Ukrainian refugees after Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and later faced soaring inflation and a recession. But Kallas' management of the threat -- she has been called Europe's "Iron Lady" for her refusal to compromise with Putin -- won her party favor with voters.

The Reform Party's main political opponent, the right-wing populist EKRE party, argued that Estonia should focus on its domestic economy. It called for domestic spending to help voters through economic woes, which includes an inflation rate of around 20 percent last year and a recession forecast to continue through at least the first half of 2023.

According to The Washington Post, Kallas' commanding victory suggests most voters are willing to sacrifice financially to back Kyiv, and her pro-Ukraine stance is broadly supported by most other Estonian political parties.

"Everyone understands that the recession and inflation is because of the war," English said. "But people are apparently willing to pay that price because they see Putin's Russia right across the border." The Kremlin "might have hoped for a more divided result and a weakening of solidarity with NATO, with the EU, but they didn't get it," English said. "Not by any stretch."

However, Kallas' firmly pro-Ukraine stance and influence with other European powers does not guarantee other EU countries will continue to prioritize support.

"Maybe this was to be expected -- Estonia is a front-line country," English said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that national elections in places like Spain or Greece are going to be as consistent."