Kaja Kallas, the Estonian scourge against Putin, on the tightrope due to her husband's ties to Russia | International

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European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron have been allowed to be publicly lectured for picking up the phone from their Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. He maintains a maximalist position on the solution to the invasion of Ukraine: the unconditional withdrawal of Kremlin troops from all its territory before any attempt at talks. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is one of the strongest voices in the EU and NATO in defense of the supply of weapons to Kiev and the tightening of economic sanctions against Russia, to the point of banning the entry of tourists. Her insistence has earned her the nickname “Europe's new iron lady” in some of the international press.

However, at the end of August, a journalistic investigation reported that a company linked to her husband had maintained business in the invading country during the war. The revelations have shaken her governing coalition. Kallas, whose Reform Party (center-right) won the elections last March and governs alongside the Social Democrats and the Estonian Liberals 200, has had to appear before Parliament to give explanations. The opposition threatens a motion of censure that does not come to fruition and even the country's president, the independent Alan Karis, who lacks the power to remove her, has publicly asked for his resignation. He has also said it privately – to her face – to Kallas herself, by her own admission, who refuses to leave.

The news was reported by Estonian public radio and television (ERR) on August 23. Kallas's husband, Arvo Hallik, maintained business in Russia through his shipping company Stark Logistics even after the invasion of Ukraine, despite his wife, the prime minister,'s unequivocal position on financially strangling Moscow through sanctions and cut any commercial ties with that country. Hallik defended himself against the accusations by assuring that his company was only trying to help another Estonian company (Metaprint, belonging to his partner) to conclude its activities in Russia. But Hallik's partner, Martti Lemendik, admitted in local media that, between February 24, 2022, the date of the invasion, and August 24, 2023, his company sold goods on the Russian market worth almost 30 millions of euros.

The icing on the cake was in the declaration of interests that Kallas herself had to present when she accepted the position of prime minister. It shows a loan of 350,000 euros granted by Kallas to Novaria Consult, a company owned exclusively by her husband. It is through the latter that Hallik controls a quarter of Stark Logistics, the transport company that, despite the sanctions, did not stop operating in Russia. The question asked in the opposition and in her own government coalition is obvious: did the prime minister's money serve to bypass the sanctions that she so defends? Kallas' response: She and her husband don't talk about business at home.

The main opposition party, the far-right EKRE, has openly called for new general elections due to the scandal. Isamaa, the conservative party that was part of the previous coalition and governed with Kallas until March, is also demanding his resignation. The Social Democrats, with three ministers in the Government, are divided over whether he should leave, although for the moment they maintain their support. Critics of this formation recall that many Estonian companies have reported losses and faced layoffs after cutting relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, the prime minister's popularity plummets. According to a survey published on Thursday by Norstat Estonia, 67% of Estonians believe that she should resign, but Kallas shows the same firmness in keeping her position as she does in demanding more toughness against Moscow and appears defiant. “The opposition has a constitutional way to throw me out, to present a motion of censure. Bullying me until my nerves fail is not constitutional.”

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He found out from the press

Two weeks after the scandal broke out and despite the new details appearing in the press; Kallas clings to the position and defends her husband. “My husband does not have a Russian business. Before the war, [su empresa] had a very small volume of freight transportation [con Rusia]which ended a month after it started,” the prime minister defended on Monday during her appearance before the Parliament's anti-corruption commission. “If you don't have Russian clients, you don't get a single euro, ruble or dollar there, you don't buy or sell anything there, how can you talk about a Russian business?” she added. Afterwards, she claimed that she learned of her husband's Russian business ties when they were published in the press.

When asked about the loan to her partner's company, Kallas confirmed its existence, but denied that the money could go to businesses in Russia since, she said, that firm—Novaria Consult—does not carry out any other activity other than that of “financial group”. She also declared that the money borrowed came from the income she received as a lawyer, before accepting her position, and added that the credit and the corresponding interest had been returned during the months of June, July and August of this year.

What Kallas could not specify in Parliament is the exact date of granting the loan: whether it was before or after the start of the war. A mystery that sparked new speculation. Kallas reacted hours after his appearance with a post on Facebook. “Today, in the Riigikogu commission, the opposition surprised me with the question of what day I signed the loan with my husband (…) To prove that I have nothing to hide, I have sent the contract and two annexes to the members of the commission ", the message said, adding: "The witch hunt against me, due to the activities of my husband's partner, has crossed the limits of tolerance."

I have always been completely honest and transparent about my income and my financial interests correctly...

Posted by Kaja Kallas on Monday, September 4, 2023

Alar Karis, the president of the Republic – a position that is more representative than political, but whose pronouncements carry great weight – is clear about what Kallas must do now. After meeting last Monday with the leaders of all the parties of the Riigikogu, the Estonian unicameral parliament, he assured: “My personal preference would have been for the head of government to have resigned at the beginning of the series of events that brought her to the center of this crisis. ”, collected Europa Press. If she had acted like this, according to the head of state, the prime minister would not have damaged “the Government's work capacity” and “the credibility of Estonia's messages” abroad.

On Wednesday, in an interview on the Baltic country's first public television channel, ETV, he expanded on his story. “The prime minister has given explanations, but perhaps we have not received the answers we are looking for,” Karis said. “The question is not exactly where and when something was moved to Russia. The conclusion is that this connection with Russia exists,” added the president. “It is a question of ethics and morality,” he concluded.

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