The World Today for March 03, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Beyond the Horizon

ESTONIA

Few countries have been more stalwart in their opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than Estonia.

A former Soviet republic and current NATO member with a nearly 200-mile-long border with Russia, Estonia has for years been ringing alarm bells about Russian espionage, military provocations and other meddling. The Russian-speaking community that comprises around a quarter of Estonia’s population has complained that they are in the middle of a tug-of-war between the West and Russia, too.

“I don’t think there can be any relations as usual with a pariah state that hasn’t really given up the imperialistic goals,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in Munich recently, according to an Associated Press story that said Estonia is the largest per-capita supplier of military aid to Ukraine. “If we don’t learn this lesson and don’t prosecute the crimes of aggression, the war crimes will just continue.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Estonia and Europe’s relations with Russia have become central to the Baltic country’s parliamentary elections on March 5. Kallas, moreover, is not running for reelection, meaning that voters know they will be choosing a new leader.

As the Baltic News Network recently reported, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) has threatened to sue local media outlets that published a Politico article claiming that the party has ties to the Wagner Group, a private military contractor with insider ties to the Kremlin that has supplied Russian President Vladimir Putin with some of its most fearsome fighters.

Politico wrote that Wagner supported the EKRE’s right-wing, Euroskeptical messaging. Part of the alleged Russian-backed messaging for the party included a #ESTexitEU keyword on social media promoting Estonia’s exit from the European Union. The party denied having any connection to Wagner or Russian operatives.

The EKRE is the main rival to Kallas’ liberal Reform Party, which has ruled the country in a coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party and the conservative Isamaa Party, the Robert Schuman Foundation explained. Polls show the Reform Party will likely garner the most votes but will still need coalition partners to form a government.

Russia isn’t the only major issue in the election. High energy costs and soaring inflation have hammered the Estonian economy. Many Estonian voters feel as if Kallas and her allies have refused to deal with the twin crises, argued Tallinn University political scientist Tonis Saarts in the Baltic Times.

Such disputes are one reason why Lauri Husser, the leader of the left-wing party Eesti 200, wrote in an Estonian Public Broadcasting opinion piece that voters face a choice between marshaling the power of government to confront Estonia’s challenges (Husser’s preferred path), or embracing a conservative approach that equates national sovereignty with being outside the EU as the way forward.

Of course, Putin would recommend Estonians opt for the latter course of action.

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