Estonia’s prime minister: Russia has no say in NATO decisions

AP Photo/Olivier Hoslet

Tensions in Europe have risen to unprecedented levels. Russia is amassing its forces along the Ukrainian border and this has been accompanied by aggressive rhetoric and intimidation. While threatening Ukraine, Russia has issued ultimatum-like demands to the United States of America and NATO. Russia demands that NATO not only stop its open-door policy but reverse its previous decisions, essentially also dismantling collective defense in the Baltic Sea region. 

What we have long suspected is now very clearly being spelled out: Russia’s aim is to restore its political and military influence over its neighbors. In other words, divide Europe into spheres of influence as it was during the Cold War.  

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

  • Demand the maximum — do not meekly ask, but demand that which has never been yours;

  • Present ultimatums — do not hold back on threats, since you will always find people in the West who are willing to negotiate; and 

  • 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 none of previously. 

These are the same tactics the Kremlin is using today. And we must not fall for the trap, designed to coax us into making concessions regarding Europe’s security. However small those concessions might be, they would give Russia something it did not have before.   

In parallel with military threats, we are also witnessing increasing repressions on the part of the Russian authorities against their own citizens, the most symbolic being the closure of Memorial International, the organization which investigated Soviet-era repressions. The forced closure of Memorial tramples on the memory of victims of communism. Impeding the investigation of mass crimes and wiping them from the collective memory paves the way for such crimes to be committed in the future.  

Moscow has issued its demands. But negotiations do not take place at gunpoint. This was made clear in a recent meeting between NATO and Russia, in which 30 NATO allies sent out a single, resolute message: Russia has no say in the decisions NATO takes.  

Unfortunately, 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-reaching aggression against Ukraine.  

Considering our geographical location and the fact that the demands that have been made partly also apply to us, the Estonian government is approaching this issue on four fronts:  

  • First, we are constantly talking to our allies to ensure that NATO maintains the clear line it has adopted. 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 defense offered by NATO.

  • Second, our support for Ukraine is unwavering. 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 defense 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.

  • Third, NATO’s defense and deterrence posture must be strengthened at an even quicker pace. We need a more robust NATO force structure with more high-readiness forces and necessary capabilities as well as plans in place for their use which have been tried and tested in military exercises. 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 defense.

  • Fourth, we are committed to doing more ourselves to face military and hybrid threats. Estonia will extraordinarily invest 380 million euros ($430 million) to comprehensive national defense over the next four years. Altogether, we spend more than 2.4 percent of our GDP on defense, well above the agreed-upon level in NATO.   

In addition to boosting the capabilities of defense forces to react rapidly, a significant proportion of the additional funding is allocated to ensure the sufficiency of supplies, including essential ammunition. We will also spend on improving civilian elements of national defense as well as further securing government communication networks.   

All these objectives have been set out in our existing plans, but we are now implementing them quicker. We take our security seriously and we are ready to take extra steps to ensure it. While we rely on our allies in terms of some key military capabilities, together we are prepared to match our words with actions.   

The guiding principle of Estonia´s foreign policy since restoring our independence has been ‘Never alone again’ — this is truer than ever today. We are committed to working with the free world and allies to protect the right of countries to be democracies and to freely choose their alliances.    

Kaja Kallas is the prime minister of Estonia.

Tags . Russia-Ukraine conflict Cold War International relations Memorial International NATO Post-Soviet conflicts Russia–NATO relations Ukraine–NATO relations

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