Estonian PM re Russia: Negotiations cannot be held at gunpoint

  • 2022-01-19
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - In a political statement on European security made in the parliament on Wednesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that Europe is not giving in to Russia's demands to make changes in the fundamental principles of Europe's security, adding that negotiations cannot be held at gunpoint.

"Moscow has presented its demands," Kallas said. "It has confirmed what it wants. We will not give in to Russia's demands to make changes in the fundamental principles of Europe's security. No negotiations are held at gunpoint. This was confirmed by the NATO-Russia meeting last week, where a united resolute message was delivered from 30 NATO allies -- Russia will not get a say in NATO's decisions. Estonia actively worked to ensure that NATO should speak with a strong and united voice."

Kallas said that Moscow is now faced with a choice.

"Unfortunately, there are no signs of Moscow planning to reduce the tensions. It is clear that we must be ready for Russia continuing its escalation and expanding its military aggression against Ukraine," she said.

"Considering our [Estonia's] geographic location and the fact that the demands that have been presented partially also concern us, we're faced with vital issues which also determine the focuses for the security and foreign policy for this year. We need to be smart and decisive in our actions," the prime minister said.

The government has four areas of action, according to Kallas.

"Firstly, we're continuously working to maintain a clear shared direction within NATO. We're constantly communicating with our allies. We can engage in dialogue with Russia but we will not consent to any agreements that negatively affect Estonia's security or undermine NATO's collective defense."

"Secondly, we fully support Ukraine. The European Union in cooperation with the United States is in the process of developing a strong package of sanctions in case Russia escalates its military activities in Ukraine. In addition to diplomatic and political support, Ukrainians also need and request practical support to help protect their state. For that purpose, we're working with out allies and partners to provide armaments assistance to Ukraine. In cooperation with Germany, we will provide Ukraine with a field hospital manufactured by and Estonian enterprise. We also offered support to Ukraine after the recent cyber attacks."

"Thirdly, the defense and deterrence position on NATO's eastern flank must be strengthened at an accelerated pace. Our goal is to have more forces in high readiness as well as plans for using them that have been rehearsed in military exercises. Strengthening the collective defense of our region has also been the focus of my work -- in June last year, I participated in the NATO summit in Brussels, where a number of decision were made in this regard. NATO's foreign affairs ministers discussed the further strengthening of collective defense in December and its defense ministers will do so in the near future. I have had several discussions with my NATO colleagues in this regard. We need to take it forward; the need for it today is greater than ever because we have no room for error in terms of defense and deterrence."

Fourthly, Kallas said that Estonia's own contribution to security must grow and do so immediately.

"We've spoken much about our long-term plans for developing our national defense but in today's security situation, we need to expedite the implementation of our plans and, for this purpose, also immediately increase our spending on security. None of us wants to be in a situation in a few months where looking back at today, we start our sentences with "we could have." No, we cannot take any risks in terms of security in the present situation, and by requesting a bigger contribution to collective defense from our allies, we must also become more active ourselves," she said.

The prime minister said that in this regard, she tasked government ministers this week to compile concrete proposals for implementing the national defense development plan at an expedited pace.

"Yesterday [on Tuesday] we discussed the proposals at the Cabinet meeting. It is the government's agreement in principle to implement an extraordinary increase of broad-based national defense spending by 380 million euros to ensure that we're able to take action more rapidly and efficiently against both military and cyber threats. We will increase the defense forces' capability to respond rapidly and direct a significant share of additional funding towards ensuring sufficient stockpiles, including those of essential ammunition. Significant additional funds will also be directed into development of non-military national defense. Among other things, we will increase the capability in the area of government of the Ministry of the Interior to detect threats and rapidly respond to them. We will strengthen our border guard and protection of our population as well as improve the secure communication solutions of our foreign service."

The prime minister said that all said objectives have been included in the currently valid plans and added that the government's goal is to implement the plans faster.

"These steps will also send a signal to everyone else that we take our security seriously and in addition to words, we're also ready to take action," she said.

Kallas noted that she needs the parliament's support to decisions concerning supplementary funding for broad-based national support.

"It has been known for some time that Russia is building up its forces on Ukraine's borders. This process is accompanied by extraordinarily aggressive rhetoric and threats. In parallel with threatening Ukraine, Russia has also targeted us directly with its hostile demands. At the end of last year, Russia presented an ultimatum to NATO and the United States geared at dividing Europe into zones of influence and at dismantling the security arrangement that emerged in Europe after the end of the Cold War. Russia is threatening 'military-technical measures' in case on non-compliance with its demands. We can all imagine what they are," she noted.

"Russia has presented its demands for stopping and even reversing NATO expansion and essentially eliminating NATO's collective defense in our region. What we're hearing now is what we've been pointing out for a long time -- Russia' goal is to restore political and military influence over its neighbors," the prime minister said.

Kallas warned against stepping into the trap designed to lure the allies into making concessions in the organization of European security.

"Even small concessions. We're already hearing questions about what NATO or the West could offer to deescalate the situation. It's extortion. NATO has not caused this situation. NATO is not planning to attack anyone. NATO is not threatening anyone. If even small concessions are made in the organization of European security, Russia will have obtained something it did not have before."

"We're in this situation today due to Russia using force and threatening to use force for a long time -- Russia attacked Georgia in 2008, it has been occupying Crimea since 2014 and is waging a war in eastern Ukraine. Russia has used hybrid attacks against a number of western countries, trying to undermine social cohesion and derail democratic processes."

Under the pretext that NATO threatens Russia's security, the Kremlin has increased its military predominance next to NATO's eastern border. Kallas said that large-scale military exercises with aggressive scenarios have been observed which play tricks on compliance with international requirements on arms control. In the words of the NATO secretary general, "it is astonishing that a country with the largest military and nuclear capabilities in Europe feels threatened by Ukraine or by an allied battalion near the border." 

"In addition, Russia has a very efficient tool for destabilizing European societies -- the price of natural gas. The abrupt hike in the price of natural gas is one of the causes of the energy crisis that is also causing unease in Estonia. In his book called "The Age of Unpeace," Mark Leonard wrote about unions causing dependence, which can be used for hurting the other party. For that reason, we've been against the Nord Stream pipelines since the very beginning and done everything in our power to prevent them. Unfortunately, the building of dependence continues and we're now all experiencing the results of this first hand. We're at one another's throats over the high electricity price and our large neighbor is clapping its hands," Kallas said.