Indrek Tarand, an independent member of the European Parliament, told ERR in the light of last week's incident in which Greece's Foreign Ministry misinterpreted President Toomas Hendrik Ilves's interview to The Times newspaper and summoned the Estonian Ambassador to Greece in reaction, that Ilves should be more diplomatic when giving interviews to foreign press and using Twitter.
On Thursday, Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Estonian ambassador was summoned to be served with a démarche, protesting the “unreasonable and offensive statements regarding Greece” that were made by Ilves in an interview with The Times, specifically concerning the term “useful idiots”. It later emerged, however, that president's words were wrongly attributed to him by the journalist Roger Boyes who conducted the interview. Boyes also confirmed to ERR News that the president did not single out Greece or Cyprus, but it was his interpretation.
Yet, Tarand questioned Ilves's actions and mentioned few instances where the president overreacted in his opinion. “I doubt that getting overexcited, or going on counteroffensive about a funny article in the Finnish tabloid that searched nicknames for Estonians, will do us any good. If we want to keep our relationship with Finland friendly, then we ought to take a more positive attitude.”
In Tarand's opinion, Ilves is now dominating the Estonian foreign policy, partly because he is the best known Estonian figurehead abroad, and partly because the Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus is relatively new and inexperienced in her job. The foreign press is interested in interviewing the more colorful and outspoken Ilves and therefore his words will resonate more.
Tarand said that Ilves's posts in Twitter lack a clear direction. He pointed out that in comparison, the US Secretary of State John Kerry's tweets are edited by a 300-strong team of analysts and specialists. “I hope that Ilves's new chief of staff will get this under control,” Tarand said.
Tarand also criticized Ilves's interview to UK's daily The Telegraph, in which the president allegedly indicated that Russian forces could occupy Estonia within four hours. Ilves said in an interview with the daily that “exercises take place behind our borders that have 40,000 to 80,000 soldiers“ and "the exercises that are done by Estonia's neighbor, they’re basically instantaneous. They’re here and it’s over in four hours.”
“I would like to hear a comment from one of our generals, either from Chief of Defense Staff, Riho Terras, or retired generals Johannes Kert and Ants Laaneots, who were elected to the Parliament recently – what have we done with our defense spending - 2 percent of Estonia's GDP in the last 11 years - if our neighbor can occupy us in four hours?” Tarand said, questioning the rationality of alarmist pronouncements.
Editor: S. Tambur