TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has signaled her interest in becoming the next secretary general of NATO when the top job at the Western military alliance falls vacant next year.
Kallas, who has led the small Baltic nation as its first female head of government since January 2021, was attending the Politico Defence Summit in Washington late Tuesday. When asked whether she would like to be considered for the top post at NATO, she replied simply, “Yes.”
Her ruling Reform Party made no immediate comment Wednesday, but a spokesperson noted that Kallas would be seeking another term as the chair of the center-right political party at its congress in the capital, Tallinn, on Saturday.
NATO’s current chief Jens Stoltenberg is due to step down in October 2024 after 10 years in the post.
Kallas, a 46-year-old lawyer, has been one of the most vocal European backers of Ukraine and a fierce critic of Russia within the European Union and NATO.
Among other things, she has pressed NATO to provide a more thorough defense plan for the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — that all border Russia.
However, some NATO diplomats and security policy experts have said Kallas may be too hawkish for the taste of some members in the 31-member alliance.
At home in Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, her popularity peaked during the spring after her Reform Party scored an overwhelming victory in the March general election where Ukraine emerged a major theme.
However, her popularity crashed in August after Estonian media reports revealed that her husband had remained a key shareholder in a transportation company which had continued to operate in Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Kallas had previously called for Estonian companies to cease operations in Russia.
She has denied knowing the details of her husband’s business activities and has refused to resign despite urged to do so by President Alar Karis and the vast majority of Estonians as measured in recent opinion polls.
Among the other leading candidates for the NATO post, the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has indicated his interest.