(CN) — Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, a staunch supporter of Ukraine who's been dubbed Europe's new “Iron Lady,” won reelection on Sunday in a landslide.
Kallas led her center-right neoliberal Reform Party to a resounding win by taking in about 32% of the votes, the most ever for a party since Estonia gained its independence in 1991. Her party is now expected to form a coalition government, possibly with the center-left Social Democrats and Estonia 200, a new liberal party.
Amid very high inflation in Estonia and signs of war fatigue emerging across Europe, there was some doubt about the level of support Kallas could rally.
Her success then was a big boost for European Union leaders, NATO and Ukraine because Kallas is one of Europe's most hawkish politicians in her support for Ukraine.
Also, the election was a setback for far-right nationalist forces in Europe with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia picking up about 15.7% of the vote, down from 17.8% in the last parliamentary elections in 2019. This party, also known by its Estonian acronym EKRE, has anti-EU and anti-immigrant views and it has advocated reducing Estonia's military support for Ukraine in order to bolster the country's own army.
In a tweet, Kallas said her win “shows that Estonians overwhelmingly value liberal values, security founded on EU and NATO, and firm support to Ukraine.”
With her ardent backing of Ukraine and calls for unlimited military aid to Kyiv, she's given her small country of 1.3 million people an outsized voice in the EU. Estonia is providing per capita more military aid to Ukraine than any other NATO country.
She's even been dubbed by media as Europe's new “Iron Lady” because of her resemblance to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's uncompromising stance on the Soviet Union.
Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, Kallas was urging her counterparts in the EU to see Russia as a dangerous power bent on reconquering territories that Moscow once held.
Estonia was a former Soviet republic and shares a long border with Russia. Since Estonia gained independence, a large ethnic Russian population in Estonia has often felt marginalized because many Russian residents have been denied citizenship and accuse the state of mistreating them. About a quarter of Estonia's population is Russian.
The Baltic country has been a target of Russian meddling and cyberattacks, prompting its leaders, including Kallas, to warn that Moscow could attack the small country and use the plight of ethnic Russians in Estonia as a pretext for its aggression. Estonia, though, is a NATO member and a Russian attack is highly unlikely.
In a recent interview, Kallas said Ukraine has proven its strength after fighting off Russia's military and that it must be brought into the EU and safeguarded against Russia. She likened Ukraine's fight to that of Estonia's struggles for independence from the Soviet Union.
She said the war was “going much better than we thought even a year ago” because Ukraine “has survived” and the Western alliance has remained intact.
“Keeping this unity has been a big achievement for the European Union but also NATO,” she said.
Her anti-Russian stance can be traced to her personal family history too. Born in 1977 when Estonia was a Soviet republic, the 45-year-old prime minister comes from an elite Estonian family deeply involved in leading the fight for Estonia's independence from Russia in the first half of the 20th century. Her mother and grandmother also were among large numbers of Estonians deported by the Stalinist regime.
Her father, Siim Kallas, served as a Reform Party prime minister of Estonia between 2002 and 2003.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.