It is her resolute support for Ukraine that Kaja Kallas is likely to have brought in this election victory: Her moderately conservative Reform Party won the parliamentary elections on Sunday by a clear margin, garnering more than 30 percent. Better than expected.
The EU and NATO country of Estonia borders Russia to the east, the very country that attacked Ukraine more than a year ago. No surprise that the war against Ukraine and Russian aggression were the themes of this election – and Kallas'.
The Prime Minister of Estonia is a staunch supporter of arms sales to Ukraine. The Baltic state is also one of Ukraine's biggest supporters: Estonia's military aid is currently equivalent to more than one percent of gross domestic product. In terms of annual economic output, that's more than any other country.
"Our aggressive neighbor has not disappeared and will not disappear either, so we have to deal with it," said Kallas on election night with a view to Russia.
The 45-year-old has politics in her blood: her father is Siim Kallas, former head of government in Estonia and EU Commissioner. Kaja Kallas followed in her father's political footsteps. After studying law in Tartu and completing a Master of Business Administration, she joined the Reform Party founded by her father in 2011. Later she also went into EU politics, as a member of the EU Parliament. In 2021 she became Prime Minister of the country with a population of 1.3 million.
Kallas is not only a strong partner of Ukraine, but also an opponent of Vladimir Putin. "Ukraine is also fighting for Estonia," she emphasized again in a television debate. She wants NATO's eastern flank to be strengthened, including along the 300-kilometer border with Russia.
The reason for Kallas' clear edge on Russia lies in her family history: Kallas' mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were deported to Siberia under the Stalin dictatorship, she said in a speech to the European Parliament.
It was her father who first brought her closer to freedom: When the citizens of the Soviet Union were able to travel to socialist countries thanks to Gorbachev's reforms, the Kallas family went to East Berlin in 1988. As close to the west as it gets. "Take a deep breath, this is the air of freedom coming from the other side," her father said. At the time, she didn't know what freedom was. At that time, Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union. Only three years later Estonia became independent again.
Like so many other people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, these family experiences shaped Kallas. They are the reason for mistrust of Russia. They are the reason why the Baltic States are in NATO and the EU. The regained freedom is to be protected from imperialist Russia. Kallas wants that too.
"You could say that we Estonians have experiences with Russia that we have been trying to share since joining the European Union," Kallas said in her speech to the European Parliament.
Her steadfastness in the Ukraine war and against Russia earned Kallas the nickname "Europe's new iron lady". A nod to the equally feisty Margaret Thatcher.
That's one of the reasons why "Time" magazine named her one of the "leaders of tomorrow". An award that Annalena Baerbock and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin also received. Both belong to a new generation of politicians who do politics differently. This undoubtedly includes Kaja Kallas.
Sources: DPA and AFP news agencies, Kaja Kallas' biography on the Estonian government website, Munzinger archive, Council of Women World Leaders, Speech to the EU Parliament, "Internationale Politik", "Le Monde", "Politico", "The New Statesman", "Time"