Estonian president: We've hit 'snooze button' too many times in reacting to Russia

  • 2024-05-17
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – Putin's blatant attack against a sovereign nation, Ukraine, was another and so far, the most audacious attack against the transatlantic security order that has been in place since the end of World War II, Estonian President Alar Karis said in his speech at a dinner for  participants in this year's Lennart Meri Conference on Thursday evening. 

"As we have hit the snooze button too many times in reacting to Russia's aggression against its neighbors, the current war has become also test for us. Authoritarian regimes worldwide are judging the real strength or weakness of the democratic world. And bolder attacks from autocrats around the world have indeed already started," Karis said.

He said that, alas, the change has begun and our free world has to adapt. Any adaptation, by definition, requires us to change. First and foremost, in the way we have grown accustomed to think. 

"I am happy to see that we have come a long way in this regard. And although not every Western country has yet gone through their own version of Zeitenwende, the realization of not being able to go back to a pre-2022 world is nevertheless widely accepted. We have been able to break our own taboos in relation to our weapon deliveries to Ukraine and we will hopefully continue to do so, until there are no restrictions left. Step by step we are shaking off our mistaken strategy of 'deterring by restraint.' Russia is the one escalating each day. In Ukraine and beyond. Thus, our fear of escalation paradoxically encourages it," the president said.

He said that Europe, above all, has witnessed the widest awakening. Increased defense spending is now considered politically acceptable, and even unavoidable. Every corner of Europe speaks about the need ramp up the defense industry production. And the idea of a 100 billion euro defense fund, which three years ago might have sounded utopian, is now looking like the only way forward.

But appeals cannot stay only statements. After a mental adaptation, it's now time to put our words into deeds, Karis said.

"To act -- as the theme of this year's Lennart Meri conference encourages us to do." 

"Our first task, of course, is to help Ukraine win the war. Lasting peace can only come about if Ukraine prevails and Russia's aggression is defeated. It's a war of independence. Russia has forced an unjust war upon Ukraine, no one can force an unjust peace upon Ukraine. We have to act on the 0.25 percent of GDP initiative as well as the Czech ammunition initiative. Let's give Ukraine all the weapons that it needs to hit all necessary targets, even if these are inside Russia. Let our F-16 fighters and ATACMS missiles do what they were built to do," he said.

He said that all new initiatives and bold ideas are welcome.

"Let's discuss all the options like presence in non-combat roles in Ukraine, if doing so would free up Ukraine's soldiers to focus on their main effort -- to beat Russia on the battlefield. Russia can also be defeated beyond the battlefield. For example, by enforcing sanctions and taking a zero-tolerance attitude for business dealings with Russia. By finding a way to punish the leaders responsible for this crime of aggression. And of course, the defeat of Russia in Ukraine will become the clearest when Ukraine will be able to join the European Union and NATO -- alliances to which it truly belongs," Karis said.

He said we need to do all that, because Russia's defeat in Ukraine has to be convincing first and foremost for Russia's leaders themselves. Otherwise, we will not be able to break the cycle of Russia's aggressions against its neighbors. 

In his speech, Karis also touched on what is happening in Georgia, as well as the need to reform the UN and its Security Council.