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Estonian PM’s political statement on the security situation in Europe

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas made a political statement on the security situation in Europe in Riigikogu.

Honourable members of the Riigikogu,

Tensions in our region have risen to unprecedented levels. I stand before you today to speak about the deteriorated security situation and to present proposals for the reinforcement of the security of Estonia.

For quite some time now we have been aware that Russia is amassing its forces along the Ukrainian border. This has been accompanied by aggressive rhetoric and intimidation. At the same time with threats against Ukraine, Russia has issued bellicose demands in our direction. At the end of last year, Russia made ultimatum-like demands to NATO and the United States which would see Europe divided into spheres of influence and fatally undermine European security as we have known it since the end of the Cold War. If these demands are not met, Russia threatens to retaliate with “military-technical measures”. We can all picture the form those measures will take.

Russia has demanded that NATO not only halt its expansion, but scale it back, essentially eradicating collective defence in our region. That which we have long suspected of being the case is now very clearly being spelled out: Russia’s aim is to restore its political and military influence over its neighbours.

The current negotiating tactics of the Kremlin call to mind the three rules of former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko:

1) demand the maximum – do not meekly ask, but demand that which has never been yours;

2) present ultimatums – do not hold back on threats, since you will always find people in the West who are willing to negotiate; and

3) do not give one inch of ground in negotiations – they themselves will offer you at least part of what you are asking for, but do not take it: demand more, because they will go along with it, and in the end you will get a third or even half of that of which you had nothing previously.

These are the same tactics the Kremlin is using today. It befalls us to continually remind ourselves and our allies of this. And we must not fall for the trap they have set, which is designed to coax us into making concessions regarding Europe’s security, however small those concessions may be. We are already hearing people ask, “What should NATO or the West offer in order to de-escalate the situation?”. NATO did not cause this situation. NATO is not planning to attack anyone. NATO is not threatening anyone. Making even the slightest concessions in regard to Europe’s security would give Russia something it did not have prior to the concessions being made.

We have arrived at this point because of the persistent use of force and intimidation by Russia: in its attack on Georgia in 2008, in its occupation of Crimea and the war it has been waging in Eastern Ukraine since 2014 and in the hybrid attacks it has launched on many Western countries in an attempt to cause divisions in society and subvert democratic processes.

On the pretence that NATO presents a threat to Russian security, the Kremlin has reinforced its military predominance on the alliance’s eastern border. We are seeing large-scale military exercises in which aggressive scenarios are being played out and international arms control requirements are being sidestepped. In the words of the NATO Secretary General, “it is astonishing that the country with the greatest military and nuclear capacity in Europe feels threatened by Ukraine or a battalion of allies on its borders”.

In parallel with military threats, we are also witness to increasing repressions on the part of the Russian authorities against their own citizens, which is to say crackdowns on new so-called “enemies of the state” – the most symbolic being the closure of Memorial International, the organisation which investigated Soviet-era repressions. Memorial was shut down late last year by order of the Russian Supreme Court because the organisation was deemed to be a foreign agent. The spurious nature of the proceedings is reflected in the fact that the closure was justified by stating that the organisation’s material could cause depression among Russians and threaten the health and development of children. The forced closure of Memorial tramples on the memory of victims of communism, while impeding the investigation of mass crimes and wiping them from the collective memory of the nation paves the way for such crimes to be committed again in the future.

Russia also wields a very effective tool for the destabilising of European societies: the price of natural gas. The main cause of the energy crisis generating such disaffection at present is the sharp increase in the cost of natural gas. In his book The Age of Unpeace, Mark Leonard writes about how connections lead to dependence, and how harm can be done to the other side through those connections. This is why we have been against Nord Stream from the very start and done everything we can to prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, dependence continues to be built up, and we are already seeing the results: we are suffering because of the high electricity prices and our neighbour is sitting there rubbing its hands.

Members of the Riigikogu,

Moscow has tabled its demands. What it wants has now been confirmed. We will not give in to Russian demands to amend the underlying principles of European security. Negotiations do not take place at gunpoint. This could be seen in the meeting between NATO and Russia last week, in which 30 NATO allies sent out a single, resolute message: that Russia has no say in the decisions NATO takes. Estonia worked actively to ensure that NATO spoke with one voice, loud and clear.

Sadly, there are no signs that Moscow has any plans to ease tensions. It is clear that we must be prepared for the continued escalation of the situation on Russia’s part and for further, and further-reaching, aggression against Ukraine.

Considering our geographical location and the fact that the demands that have been made partly also apply to us, we are faced with vitally important questions that will set the focus of security and foreign policy this year. We must act smartly and decisively. The government is approaching this issue on four fronts.

Firstly, we are working as before to ensure that NATO maintains the clear line it has adopted. We are constantly talking to our allies. We can pursue dialogue with Russia, but we will not go along with any agreement that negatively impacts Estonia’s security or undermines the collective defence offered by NATO.

Secondly, our support for Ukraine is absolute. The European Union is working with the United States on a package of hard-hitting sanctions that will be implemented should Russia escalate its military activity in Ukraine. In addition to diplomatic and political support, Ukrainians need and are asking for practical support in defending their nation. To this end we are working with our allies and partners to provide Ukraine with arms assistance. In cooperation with Germany, we are supplying Ukraine with a field hospital manufactured by an Estonian company. And following the recent cyberattacks, we have also offered Ukraine our support in this field.

Thirdly, the defence and deterrence position of NATO’s eastern flank must be reinforced at an even quicker pace. Our aim is for there to be more high-readiness forces as well as plans in place for their use which have been tried and tested in military exercises. Reinforcing the collective defence of our region has also been at the heart of my work: last June I attended the NATO summit in Brussels, at which a raft of decisions were taken in this regard. NATO foreign ministers also discussed the issue in December, and defence ministers will be doing so in the very near future. In connection with this, I have held a number of conversations with my NATO colleagues. We must press ahead with this: the need to do so is clearer than ever, since there is no room for error in deterrence and defence.

Fourthly, Estonia’s own contribution to security must be boosted, and boosted at once. We have spoken a great deal about the plans for the development of our national defence being long-term in nature. That they are, but in the security situation we find ourselves today, we must increase not only the pace at which we implement those plans, but also the funding for it. None of us want to find ourselves in a situation in a few months’ time where looking back on today we speak in terms of ‘could have’ and ‘should have’. No – in the current situation we cannot take risks in regard to our security, and in petitioning our allies for greater collective defence, we must also be more proactive ourselves.

For this reason, last week I gave my ministers the task of collecting concrete proposals to accelerate the implementation of the National Defence Development Plan. Those proposals were discussed in a cabinet meeting yesterday. The agreement the government reached in principle was to extraordinarily raise spending on comprehensive national defence by 380 million euros during the upcoming years so that we are capable of responding both promptly and effectively to military and hybrid threats. We will boost the capabilities of the Defence Forces to be able to react rapidly and allocate a significant proportion of the additional funding to ensure sufficiency of supplies, including essential ammunition. A significant amount will also be spent on non-military developments of national defence. Among other things, we will be augmenting the abilities under the area of governance of the Ministry of the Interior to detect and promptly respond to threats. We will be reinforcing the Border Guard and civil defence. We will also be improving the secure communication solutions used by the foreign service.

All of these objectives are set out in our existing plans. The government’s aim is to implement those plans quicker. These steps are also a signal to all others that we take our security very seriously and that we are prepared to match our words with actions.

Members of the Riigikogu,

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but I have not served in the Defence Forces. I have not participated in military missions abroad. I haven’t won the Erna Raid (Erna retk) either. But as an Estonian patriot, as the Prime Minister and also as a mother, I am deeply worried. I see that many of you share this concern. Not fear but worry. I believe that the same concern is shared by a very large part of our population. In addition to my concerns, I also see a lot of competent people here today, former soldiers and also active members of the Defence League. I am concerned about security of our immediate neighbourhood and I stand before you hopping that together we can continue with our consensual and consistent foreign and security policy. The policy where the guiding principle has been since restoring our independence: ‘Never again alone’.

Thank you.

Source: Government Office of Estonia