Statement on foreign policy by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna to the members of parliament.
Honoured Chair, members of parliament, diplomats, audience,
I consider it necessary to make a political statement here today, in front of you, because Estonia’s domestic politics are in a crisis, with the prime minister giving continued explanations and the opposition blocking the operation of the parliament.
The international security situation is very complicated and it is important to prevent domestic confrontations from weakening Estonia’s foreign policy objectives and meeting them. In Estonia, we have had a consensual agreement that when it comes to foreign policy, we stick together and stand for a single goal – Estonia’s independence – together.
Dear friends, I am probably the only person who gives out praise to you from this pulpit.
But I mean it, thank you for putting aside domestic conflicts when it comes to foreign policy issues, and remaining unified and unanimous when making important decisions. I very much hope that this kind of cooperation on foreign policy issues would continue, as there are many important and major topics where Estonia is taking an initiative internationally.
More than 18 months have passed since the day when Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine, hoping to destroy the state and people of Ukraine, and, in the longer term, the current security architecture of Europe.
Ukrainians bore the brunt of Putin’s attack but so much more than Ukraine’s future is at stake in this war – if the international norm by the end of the war is that an aggressive major power can use weapons to destroy its smaller neighbours, change their borders and cancel entire nations, the order based on international law is unreservedly over and brutal power politics with all it entails has returned.
In such a world, small states would be the first to suffer but soon enough – as we have repeatedly learnt from history – so would the major powers.
So Putin attacks Ukraine, but in fact he is attacking the cornerstones of the entire current international life – the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world order based on rules and international law, the fundamental principles of the UN and the OSCE.
Therefore, for Estonia, nothing less than our existential security interests are at stake in this war.
Eighteen months after the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine is still fighting. Contrary to the opinions of many sceptics, the West remains united and resolved in its opposition to the aggression, and the majority of the countries of the world continue to condemn the aggression and express support to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Putin’s initial plan – to conquer Kyiv in a few days and subsequently force Europe into making greater concessions – has clearly failed. Today, the Ukrainians have been fighting the aggressor for more than 18 months. And nothing remains of the short-term plan.
The pressure caused by the war on the Russian regime is clearly visible now – Prigozhin’s so-called march on Moscow was obviously only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the tensions growing in Moscow’s leadership. Russia’s elite clearly understands the dead end Putin’s military policy has taken the country – there is no hope of a brighter future, a petrified atmosphere of terror rules the society and the dream of making Russia great again on the international arena has given way to isolation, where they are forced to beg for alms from North Korea.
Nevertheless, we cannot rest on our laurels: only the outcome is what counts in war and despite all this, we have not achieved it yet. The war is raging, people are dying. The deportations of children continue. Ukrainians are going through minefields tens of kilometres deep, metre by metre, under heavy fire and paying a heavy price. But they keep moving forward.
I am asking all armchair critics to take a moment to dig deeper before launching their next attack against the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are moving forward.
Putin, having realised his initial plan has failed, now hopes that time would work in his favour in a long war of attrition, and that the democratic world would be unable to retain its focus, unity and common course, and that Ukraine would become exhausted from the constant terror.
We know that Putin is wrong.
We know that in today’s open societies, deals along the lines of Munich are no longer possible.
We know that the desire to buy stability at the cost of the freedom of other nations is doomed to failure.
We also know that Ukrainians will not become exhausted.
No, time is not working in Putin’s favour. However, the war will not end before a critical number of decision-makers in Russia realise this.
This is the main task of our foreign policy today: making sure with our Allies and partners, both in words and in deeds, that Russia understands the hopelessness of its course, ends the aggression and compensates the damage it has caused. The sooner the better.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The strength of Estonia’s foreign policy lies in its principles and consistency. When it comes to existential security issues, we speak confidently in one voice in the world, leaving the domestic competition between political parties at home.
I am happy to note that his principle – adopted following the restoration of independence – was evident this spring and summer, when the parliament unanimously adopted several foreign policy statements despite their heated debates on domestic policy, calling for providing Ukraine with a NATO perspective and demanding accountability for Russian leaders for the crime of aggression.
This sent a strong message to the world: when it comes to our vital foreign and security policy issues, Estonia is united and unwavering.
The upcoming foreign policy season will be intense. This is why, as the foreign minister, I am urging the parliament and all the political parties represented here, as well as all constitutional institutions, to continue the political culture that has brought success to Estonia, leave domestic debates at home and act as a united force on the international arena.
Members of parliament,
Allow me to briefly outline the main foreign policy challenges that demand our attention in the upcoming season.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, we have concentrated on three major policies: raising the cost of the aggression, supporting Ukraine and fighting impunity. These policies will remain our priorities this season.
Estonia’s message is unequivocal: our aim is to cause maximum damage to the aggressor state by using sanctions and comprehensive isolation.
We must continue and reinforce everything that has been done so far, and we must continue to strengthen the sanctions regime to make sure our message is loud and clear: Putin’s hope that time will bring an easing of restrictions is unjustified; for as long as the aggressor continues on this course, the policy to counter this will become increasingly severe.
In the coming weeks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will put together additional proposals for sanctions and we will then seek the support of the European Union. This is the 12th package of sanctions by the European Union so far. We are also looking for additional possibilities for joint action by border states – both at the European Union table and separately – to make sure sanctions become more severe. For this purpose, I held a meeting of the foreign ministers of states bordering Russia yesterday, discussing the joint implementation of an entry ban for vehicles with Russian licence plates. Estonia implemented this decision at 10 o’clock yesterday morning.
All options are on the table, there are no taboos: from additional restrictions to land transport to the transit of sanctioned goods. All this is done with consideration for making these measures as effective as possible – if we act alone, we are directing the flow of goods to our neighbours, harming our own companies instead of Russia; this is why I consider cooperation with border states and European Union more broadly a priority.
Even if all these proposals are not met with immediate international consensus, our message remains clear: any contract that contributes to the economy of the aggressor state, helps to consume its products or deliver goods to the aggressor, is tainted with the blood of Ukrainians and is unreservedly unacceptable.
This is my message, this is the government’s message, and this is the message of all of Estonia.
All entrepreneurs, including major international corporations that are still doing business with Russia must get an unequivocal message from us: your actions are helping the aggressor in the war, which it is also waging against the international rules underpinning your security.
Stop this business! The sooner the better. Even if imposing our additional sanctions takes some time, be aware that European consumers will punish you by avoiding products tainted with blood.
Here, I would like to thank the civil society and the press for constantly letting us know about the companies doing business with the aggressor and their products, so that we as consumers can adjust our consumption habits.
As early as this autumn, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will introduce a pioneering bill for Europe to the government, giving Estonia and, setting a precedent, Europe, a legal mechanism for using Russia’s frozen assets for reconstruction in Ukraine. There has been a lot of talk about using frozen Russian assets for reconstruction in Ukraine but nothing has been actually done so far. We have been striving for this kind of a mechanism in the European Union for a long time but now we are ready to lead the way with our actions.
Politically, the issue is not complicated – the aggressor must contribute its assets to the compensation of damages – however, legally, it is a fairly complicated bill. The lawyers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries have worked hard on it before it reaches the government. Here, I would like to call on the parliament to process this bill without delay and consider all legal aspects in all seriousness, as befits a mature parliamentary state. Honoured members of the Riigikogu, this bill would do something unique that shows the way to Europe and hopefully, the world.
In addition to clipping the economic wings of the aggressor, we must restrict its participation in international life more broadly. Here, we have also been trailblazers, imposing the principle of parity on Russia’s diplomatic representation in Tallinn – a step that made it more difficult for Russia’s special services to conduct their anti-Estonian activities and which several of our allies have also taken by now, expelling spies hiding behind the mask of diplomacy from their capitals. Here I would like to thank all my predecessors.
We led the way also when we called for the expulsion of Russia from the Council of Europe, which has cleared the air and made it easier to set the focus. The same can be said of our vote to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council that should have no place for aggressors.
We will continue our isolation efforts, increasingly directing our gaze to non-governmental circles. Here, I would like to repeat Estonia’s call: for as long the aggression continues, the athletes of Russia and its accomplice Belarus should not take part in international competitions. I am asking for your help and the help of all sports circles – let us maintain a principled stance here, let us demand that Russia and Belarus are excluded from the Paris Olympic Games!
Dear members of the Riigikogu,
The second important policy we will continue is supporting Ukraine.
We are calling on all the nations of the world to provide Ukraine with the equipment they need in battle, and do it much faster than has been the case so far. Yes, we must carefully consider our decisions – measure twice, cut once. However, it is equally important to understand that every day, week or month of delay means that lives are lost and the war is prolonged.
We should not be embarrassed to state this truth; who should be embarrassed are the commentators who – probably knowing very well how long it takes to deliver weapons to Ukraine – are anonymously complaining in the global media about the pace Ukrainians are currently retaking their country.
Just as with military assistance, Estonia has broken taboos in Ukraine’s reconstruction – we were among the first to complete a real reconstruction project despite the ongoing war. I was honoured to be at the opening of a new kindergarten as the foreign minister of Estonia, and to see the bravery and spirit reflected in the eyes of little children. In October, we are opening a reconstructed bridge, and the projects for kindergartens and orphanages will continue.
However, rebuilding Ukraine does not entail humanitarian considerations alone: it is in the strategic economic interests of Estonia – and all Europe – that Ukraine’s reconstruction is based on European market economy rules in line with the rule of law, with our companies getting equal business opportunities.
The potential of Ukraine is enormous, ranging from heavy industry to agriculture. Naturally, the precondition for unleashing this potential is winning the war, but additionally, there is a need for rapid and effective reconstruction that reinforces the rule of law, constituting the greatest strategic economic project in Europe since the Marshall Plan.
Its success will create the conditions for the new growth potential of our economy and will give an opportunity to Estonian companies.
It is not often that small states get a chance to take part in such important processes. We will have that chance if we use our advantages – speed, wits and result-oriented ethos. This is why I am calling on our parliament to keep in mind when processing the state budget that the instruments directed by Estonia into development cooperation now are not an expense for the Estonian economy, it is an investment of strategic importance. As the foreign minister, I have already submitted the relevant proposals for the next four years in the government’s state budget strategy. Without a long-term contribution to Ukraine’s reconstruction, we will not get a seat at the table where these important decisions are made for the next decades.
Members of parliament,
Your support for the Euro-Atlantic ambitions of Ukraine has been clear and resolute. Our message to Ukraine and other countries hoping to join the European Union and NATO has been unequivocal: “We support enlargement but you must understand that the historic window of opportunity only opens for a brief moment, just as it opened only for a brief moment back when Estonia became a member of NATO and the European Union. Just like we back then, you must be prepared at the right moment – we will help you in every way; both in political debates within these unions as well as with practical assistance, but you must also make an effort because history makes no concessions.”
History also makes no concessions to us.
The window of opportunity that only opens for a moment for candidate countries only briefly opens for us, NATO and the European Union. Essentially, it is in our interests that the belt of democracy, stability and security in Europe expands, and there is no other way of achieving this apart from European Union and NATO enlargement, just as there are no other functioning and credible security guarantees apart from NATO’s collective defence. NATO is the only real security guarantee that ensures stability in our region. The time of grey areas in Russia’s neighbourhood must end. This is why it is important that Finland and Sweden decided to join NATO, further reinforcing the security of our region and turning the Baltic Sea into NATO’s inner sea.
This is why Estonia considers it important that we – NATO and the European Union – maintain the initiative in these historic processes.
I can promise with conviction that Estonia would continue its firm support for the enlargement of both organisations and here, too, I am counting on your determination, honoured representatives. An important step in Ukraine’s path toward NATO membership was taken this summer at NATO’s Vilnius summit, where the next practical steps were agreed upon. As the foreign minister, I was happy to rely on the support of my employer, the Riigikogu. A huge thank you again!
The Government of Estonia also decided to join the G7’s declaration in support of Ukraine to participate in providing long-term security guarantees, and giving Ukraine military and financial aid.
When speaking about Russia’s aggression, we cannot overlook the fact that an aggression is a crime. And this crime must be followed by punishment.
Otherwise, we are reducing international law and the rules-based international order to an empty rhetoric, while slipping back into the trap of power politics in reality. Here in Estonia, we are fully aware of where this would lead us, having gone through major powers making a deal about our fate over our heads in 1939, and being subjected to arbitrary rule and tyranny despite our membership in the League of Nations. We will never be alone again – this is our guiding principle.
Before and during the war that erupted in the chaos of power politics, the first to suffer were those who were small or vulnerable, but soon all of humanity was affected.
I am stating this bluntly: our current actions, and especially the results were are achieving, will create the future world order.
For Estonia, it is important that the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty, the prohibition of aggression and the supremacy of rules are still in force.
Whether or not his comes to pass will depend on, among other things, the consequences felt by those currently committing the aggression and war crimes.
This is why Estonia fully supports the investigation of war crimes and holding perpetrators to account, as well as the creation of a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression, which, instead of granting immunity to national leaders, would make sure that those who have committed evil acts receive a just punishment. Believe me, friends, it is a very difficult task globally.
May it take five or fifty years – the position of countries across the world must be resolute: aggression does not pay!
We will not repeat the mistakes of the past!
Because we know – our actions define ourselves. They define us as the defenders of the rules-based world or … as something else.
Estonia is unwavering in its defence of the rules-based world.
Some may ask – why would a small state take it upon itself to speak of such great matters. Perhaps we should keep quiet, remain silent? Stay in our comfort zone?
I can answer: we have already tried remaining silent. And now we know better: you cannot hide from history.
It is our duty to speak because our world is at stake.
This autumn, we are planning to speak strongly of these issues and look for allies, both great and small, in our part of the world and beyond. Because Russia’s aggression has made it clear just how vulnerable our international order is in situations where the aggressor is a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.
This vulnerability has cost countless Ukrainian lives and brought suffering across the world; failing to address this vulnerability, however, is a threat to us all in the long term.
Next week, I will attend the UN General Assembly, where one of the main aims of Estonia is to keep the spotlight on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and call for stronger support to Ukraine. During this week, it is possible to raise issues Estonia considers important at a high level. We must also ask the questions that concern the secret correspondence of the UN secretary-general with the foreign minister of Russia. Estonia’s message is very clear: making concessions to the aggressor does not end the war, it expands it. There can be no initiatives for agreements at the expense of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
It is our common responsibility to look for solutions that would ensure peace and stability in the future, and would make the world safe for freedom.
Supporting our economy is an important part of Estonia’s foreign policy. We know companies are going through difficult times, especially on foreign markets. With Minister of Economic Affairs Riisalo and other ministers, we have established a government commission to introduce a more strategic approach to guiding Estonia’s economic development, making full use of the potential of foreign markets and our domestic knowledge base. SEE HERE
We have a lot to offer to the world – innovative solutions, flexibility, educated people and the courage to think big.
Estonia is currently leading the world in creating unicorns but our potential goes beyond that. This potential lies in our people and companies. The state’s role is to support and empower instead of hinder, especially when entering foreign markets.
As a recent entrepreneur, I know how important it is for our ambassador to help open doors for Estonian companies. This is why business diplomacy is the main task of every ambassador, and the main objective of our commission is a plan for strategically boosting economic growth, and I am inviting all ministers and you, honoured members of the Riigikogu, to contribute to it.
In conclusion, I would like to touch upon a few important bills that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will submit to the government and subsequently to you in the near future.
The Foreign Service Act has not been promulgated. With this act, we are hoping to reduce internal bureaucracy that is currently holding our foreign service down, and modernise the organisation of our service and make it more flexible.
Soon we will also submit a bill for amending the Foreign Relations Act, aiming to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy between state institutions, considerably shortening the time for processing international agreements. This will save a lot of money and time, providing us with greater and more flexible opportunities for economic cooperation with other countries.
The government has already approved and forwarded to you the bill for the Identity Documents Act, which will simplify the issuance of temporary replacement documents for people who have lost their travel document while abroad, introducing a partial option of remote identification and courier services, thus freeing people from the requirement to pick up the document in person. It seems like a small thing but it is very helpful for people who are in trouble in countries where we have no consular representation or embassy. By reducing needless bureaucracy this way, we are making people’s lives easier and cutting expenses.
I have already spoken about the bill for the International Sanctions Act, which will allow us to use frozen Russian assets.
Like with other foreign policy issues, I urge you to approve these bills, I urge you to continue this unity in foreign and defence policy despite everything else that is happening on our domestic political scene.
We can have passionate debates among ourselves but eventually – when facing the world – let us stick together and keep moving forward!