Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas to The West: “Don’t Worry About Putin’s Feelings”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas answers journalists’ questions, arriving in Brussels before the extraordinary meeting of EU leaders, where Ukraine, defense and energy issues are discussed.

Despite the turmoil in her own government, Kallas was intent on sending a message to the rest of the world about yielding to Russian demands on Ukraine.

Kallas is the 13th prime minister of Estonia since the declaration of independence of the Baltic state in 1991, although he is said to be 45 years old, 12 years old at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, has already proven to be one of the most troublesome for Moscow.

Her government has been staunchly supportive of Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24. In fact, Estonia is the smallest of the three Baltic states, with only 1.3 million inhabitants, so far it has sent military aid worth more than 270 million dollars. For Ukraine, which is equal to more than 30 percent of its annual defense budget.

In addition to armored personnel carriers, anti-tank mines and a large number of small arms, Estonia has been a keen supplier of the US-made Javelin anti-tank missile system, one of the many highly effective shoulder-fired weapons that have helped Ukraine hold out.

Now that Ukraine has moved from a mobile defense strategy to a grinding artillery war against the Russians, Estonia, a NATO member since 2004, has helped modernize Kiev’s arsenal with several FH70 155mm towed howitzers and MAN Kat 6×6 heavy trucks designed to tow them. If humanitarian and financial aid are taken into account, Estonians donated 0.81% of their gross domestic product to another country at war, which is a staggering figure.

Kallas is quick to emphasize that security assistance is not charity. “Our far-right party asked in parliament why we are doing this,” she  press. “And I answered that Ukraine is literally fighting for us. If Russia goes to war with them, they will not go to war with us. And we have peace here.”

Keeping that peace is an existential imperative for Estonians, who share an uneasy 182-mile border with a revanchist power that currently occupies 20% of Ukraine and threatens to gobble up much, if not all, of that territory permanently. Estonia joined the Soviet Union in 1940, when Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler agreed on the mutual partition of Eastern Europe on the basis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was then invaded and occupied by the Nazis when Hitler overcame Stalin and launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, his doomed World War II attack on the Soviet Union that included modern-day Ukraine.

The German attack on the Soviet Union was decided in July 1940 and was prepared under the code name “Operation Barbarossa”.
Until 1991, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remained under Soviet rule. Tens of thousands were killed, imprisoned or deported to Siberia. Among those deported in 1949, Kallas’ mother, who was only 6 months old at the time, was sent to the Russian tundra in an animal wagon with Kallas’ grandmother and grew up in exile until she was ten years old.

Kallas’ great-grandfather Eduard Alver was the commander of the Defense League during the Estonian War of Independence 1918-1920, as a result of which the country was emancipated from Russia for the first time. Her father, Siim Kallas, worked as both foreign minister and prime minister in the 1990s after the country regained its independence for the second time.

Since then, Estonia has often struggled against geographical fatalism. You can drive across the country in just over two hours, and it can quickly be overtaken again by the much larger Russian next-door neighbor. In 2004, Estonia joined the European Union and NATO in order to be firmly in the camp of the West and impervious to the repetition of past victimization – the very ambition that Ukrainians in their homeland would die to achieve.

Kallas’ sense of history is inextricably linked to her own family tree; her family’s suffering can be read in every bullet and tattered jacket his government has sent to Ukraine.

At the end of June, just before the NATO summit in Madrid, Kallas told reporters that the alliance had to rework its plans to secure its eastern flank. According to the current strategy, NATO views Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as travel wire states that can be occupied for up to 180 days before the alliance moves to defend them. As Kallas pointed out, at the time Ukraine was only 100 days into its defensive campaign against Russia, and thousands of civilians had died, millions had been displaced (including as many as 1.6 million Ukrainians deported to Russia), and cities like Mariupol had been reduced to rubble. Kallas’ point was obvious: given that Estonia is one-thirteenth the size of Ukraine, Kallas may not have a country to lead after 180 days of occupation.

“Driving around Paris, I saw all these Napoleonic monuments and it made me think: for a small country, war always means destruction, pain,” she told Yahoo News. “But this is not always the case with a larger country. War also means glory, new riches.

Her allusion to France does not seem accidental. Kallas has clearly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron’s insistence that the West not “humiliate” Vladimir Putin, which he considers a dangerous non sequitur. In an article published in the New York Times on March 24, she wrote, “Putin cannot win this war. He can’t even think that he has won, otherwise his appetite will grow.

People carry portraits of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as they mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9, 2015.

“I keep reminding my colleagues who want to pick up the phone and talk to Putin,” he said, referring to Macron. “Okay, talk to him. But don’t forget that he is a war criminal. He is currently stealing Ukraine’s grain and threatening famine to get the sanctions lifted. His state propagandists openly talk about hunger as Russia’s last hope. That’s who you’re dealing with.”

The prime minister fully agrees with historian Timothy Snyder’s argument that Putin will not demand face-saving concessions to leave Ukraine. He rules in “virtual reality,” she said, and because Russia’s information ecosystem is his toy, he can pack up his army and go home whenever he wants, dressing up a military defeat as a popular victory. “His people believe him,” said Kallas. “Don’t worry about Putin’s feelings.”

The flip side of Putin’s capricious fallibility is that he can drag out the war as long as he wants and suffer little or no blowback from home, Kallas added.

“In the Western world, we would like to restore every one of our soldiers on a foreign battlefield; our instinct is not to leave anyone behind,” said Kallas. “In autocracies they don’t care because mothers of soldiers are not going to protest like in democracies.”

To drive these points home, Kallas offered a copy of The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Policy during a recent meeting with a top foreign diplomat. by political scientists Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The underlying message of the book is crystal clear: you cannot discourage or overplay the Tsar by expecting him to behave in the same circumstances as you.

While a debate has broken out in Estonia about how much money and armaments the government should send to Ukraine, Kallas still enjoys overwhelming domestic support in dealing with the situation. “We finally thought that people would get tired and start asking: ‘Why are you doing all this for Ukraine when we need help here?'” she said. “But if you look at the research we have done, about 91% of Estonians say that we must support Ukraine, help refugees. It is so very clear. ”

“I won’t name any names, but the leader of a big country, which supports Ukraine a lot, told me: “My political situation at home is such that the general view is that the war is NATO’s fault,” said Kallas. “It’s hard for her to continue the support because the public pressure is ‘give in, stop it’.”

Kallas is particularly sensitive to the moral ambiguities and geopolitical contradictions that the West has peddled since the beginning of the war. “It is very interesting. We said that “Ukraine must not lose”, we said: “Ukraine must win and Russia must lose,” she said. “But let’s be clear about something: if we stop military assistance to the Ukrainians, they will not be able to defend themselves. So on the one hand we say they decide their own destiny, but on the other hand we make that decision for them with our policies.

Another concern for Kallas is what will happen politically in the US – both at the congressional and presidential level. Could Estonia, along with Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom – other strong defenders of Ukraine with a strong domestic consensus on the issue – single-handedly supply Kiev with sufficient arms and ammunition should Washington’s patronage dry up?

“Probably not,” she said.

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Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas to Europe:"Don't Worry About Putin's Feelings" - /10

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Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas answers journalists' questions, arriving in Brussels before the extraordinary meeting of EU leaders, where Ukraine, defense and energy issues are discussed. 

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