Dailies: Estonian prime minister's actions contradict her words

Estonian dailies editorials and cartoons as of the morning of Thursday, August 24, 2023.
Estonian dailies editorials and cartoons as of the morning of Thursday, August 24, 2023. Source: ERR

Major dailies in Estonia devoted their online editorials to the dealings of a company which has been doing business with Russia and which is linked to the husband of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).

The main issue the newspapers have with the situation is that the company, Stark Logistics, has continued to have business dealings with Russian firms 18 months after the invasion of Ukraine began – activity which is in blatant contradiction with the prime minister's public statements on that invasion, many of which have found their way into major Western publications.

Postimees writes that Prime Minister Kallas is now amid the most major crisis of her career to date, mainly relating to the apparent contradiction between words and deeds.

In an editorial titled "Palume selgitusi, peaminister!" ("We're asking for explanations, prime minister"), Postimees writes (all links in Estonian) that: "Whereas up unto today, the tax theme had been her most major stumbling block (read my lips: Taxes will not rise) then now, the problem is Kallas' husband's business dealings with Russia at a time when the prime minister has, in various European capitals and at home, demanded zero tolerance on any relations with Russia."

The newspaper reminds its readers that a year-and-a-half has now passed since the start of the war in Ukraine, while throughout all this time the business activities of the company linked with Kallas' husband, Arvo Hallik, have been "inert."

"Didn't Kaja Kallas ever have any more precise question to herself on whether her husband's Russia-directed business was in accordance with international sanctions, both in their substance and form? If not, this would demonstrate the utmost in naivety; if so, it shows complicity and to a great extent invalidates the seriousness of Kallas' Russia-directed rhetoric," the paper goes on.

Evening paper Õhtuleht finds that: "We are dealing with an exceptionally sour tale if Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, feted round the world as a 'war princess' and a principled dismantler of misconceptions over Russia, shares her home with a person who has apparently not grasped the need sever all ties with that country".

In the editorial, titled "Kallase abikaasa ärihuvid võivad anda magusaid võimalusi Venemaa eriteenistustele ja musta suhtekorralduse agentuuridele" ("Kallas' husband's business interests could give sweet opportunities to Russia's secret services and 'black' PR agencies"), Õhtuleht also notes that haulage – Stark has been involved in freight transport to and from Russia up to twice a week, the company's CEO said Wednesday – has been going on since the war started, meaning the scandal was a year-and-a-half in the making.

"Throughout all this time, something could have been done, eg. [for Hallik] to resign from the firm. To understand that there is no private life when it comes to the office of the prime minister, while such an incident can carry a fatal toll. To understand how sweet opportunities something like this can give to the Russian secret services and its black PR agencies."

Meanwhile Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) notes in the editorial "Kaja Kallas ei adu ikka Vene ohtu"("Kaja Kallas still ignorant of Russia threat") that in moral terms, Kallas' husband's activities relating to Russia may not in the same class as the export of, for instance, microchips that would directly aid the Russian military industry sector, or imports from [Russian] energy carriers, but nevertheless the prime minister should be aware of how bad this all looks when viewed in a certain light.

EPL writes that: "The business ties with Russia, kept hidden as they were from the public, will be on the opening pages of the file of compromising material the secret services have there. In the best case scenario, they make it viable to create embarrassing situations for the head of the Estonian government; in the worst case scenario, even to blackmail her."

EPL adds that Kaja Kallas needs to explain this topic once and for all, i.e. why did it take her husband more than a year and a half to "conclude" business after the start of the full-scale war, and why Kallas has not spoken openly about the business ties he has with Russia.

Kristjan Kraag, CEO of Stark Logistics, told ERR last week the company had to all intents and purposes stopped transporting freight to Russia, though had not completely ceased operations, later issuing a press release stating that this full halt would come next month.

Kraag said that the company had one client, AS Metaprint, a producer of steel aerosol cans and other metal containers and which has plants in Tallinn and in Pärnu; Metaprint had to fulfill previously-agreed contract obligations with firms in Russia, Kraag said.

Metaprint has reportedly sold around US$17 million worth of goods to Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

The prime minister herself denied that her husband has any clients inside the Russian Federation, adding that is not involved in facilitating freight transportation with businesses located in Russia.

She also said that she was uninvolved in Arvo Hallik's business activities, saying she had no time for any sideline business on top of being head of government.

Continued questioning on the topic was "shameful", she added, speaking to ERR on Wednesday.

It was reported in June that Kallas had issued a loan of €350,000 to Novaria Consult, of which Hallik is the sole owner, reportedly to be used in the construction of a private residence.

Via Novaria Consult, Hallik holds a 24.8 percent stake in Stark Logistics AS.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook

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