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Wife of Russia-linked businessman makes pitch for NATO’s top job

The Estonian leader has been among the most hawkish toward Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has said she would like to serve as the NATO bloc’s next secretary general, arguing she is uniquely qualified for the role. She remained confident despite a recent high-profile scandal involving her husband’s business dealings with Russia. 

Speaking at a security conference hosted by Politico on Tuesday, Kallas was asked whether she would want to be tapped to replace NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the end of his tenure, answering “Yes.”

“The next secretary general should be from a new member state – ‘new’ being 20 years in NATO. It should definitely be from a country that has spent 2% of their GDP on defense, and it would be nice if it would be a woman,” the prime minister said.

Kallas went on to tout her country’s assistance to Ukraine, insisting Moscow’s military is “beatable” and that Kiev could still “win” the conflict. Despite waning support in some Western capitals, she said she was surprised to find that many American politicians were still willing to back Ukraine.

“I actually had a very, very good meeting with all of those people and I was asking the ambassadors like, ‘when are we meeting the skeptical ones?’” the leader said.

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Kallas has hinted at seeking the top NATO job in the past, but told the BBC in May that it was “highly unlikely” she would be selected. While Estonia has been a member of the bloc for nearly three decades, she said “I think there are still some countries that are considered to be more eligible.”

Though Kallas has been a vocal advocate of heavy sanctions on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine, she has faced demands to resign after Estonian media revealed that her husband, Arvo Hallik, held a 25% stake in a logistics company operating in Russia despite Western penalties.

READ MORE: Baltic PM digs in over Russia scandal

Following the revelations in August, the PM declared she had no plans to step down, stating she would “continue to serve as prime minister for the freedom of Ukraine and for Estonia.” Kallas also maintained that she had no knowledge of her husband’s business dealings, while her spouse said he would “immediately” sell off his shares in the Russia-based firm soon after the scandal went public. 

Kallas has faced questioning by Estonia’s Anti-Corruption Select Committee over Hallik’s business ties, as well as some €372,000 ($400,000) in loans Kallas made to her husband’s consulting firm over the last two years. However, while the prime minister vowed to answer additional questions, in mid-September she said she would no longer submit documents to the corruption committee, accusing it of political bias.


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