Rasmussen Calls For Russia 'To Step Back From The Brink' (5)
Danish NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking at Tallinn University on Friday afternoon, said that like the Dannebrog banner that legend holds fell to ground from heaven on Toompea in Tallinn's Old Town and allowed King Valdemar II to rally his troops in 1219, he was "happy to land in Estonia" during his two-day visit to the country.
"And I am very pleased to be here," he said, while smiling to the few hundred attendees.
But while King Valdemar was in Tallinn to add Estonian territory to his realm, the Secretary General, during his 30-minute address and a following question and answer session, said he had just two messages to deliver to the audience about his appearance in the country; the first one to Russia, whose actions in Ukraine he called "illegitimate and illegal" violations of international law.
"Step back from the brink," he said. "Rejoin the international system and fulfill your international commitments. Because these are critical to your own security and the entire world."
Rasmussen said his second message was to the people of Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, who have seen allied ground and air forces stationed in their countries or reinforced in the last two months.
"NATO stands with you. You may be on NATO's border geographically, but you are right at the core of our alliance politically. NATO will do what it takes to defend you and all the allies; to do what it takes to defend our populations and societies against any threat.
"NATO's commitment to collective defense is rock solid. And it will remain rock solid," he said.
Rasmussen criticized Russia's leadership for making public attempts to target NATO for its recent surge of forces into eastern Europe, although since the end of the Cold War, the defense organization had been trying to involve Russia at every step.
"But they have not responded constructively," he said. "I deeply regret that Russia currently views NATO as an adversary. But we are ready to meet the challenge."
"NATO has the right to reinforce allied countries," he said, referring to the Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997. "This is crystal clear."
He praised Estonia for its focus on cyberdefense, and raising its defense expenditure to the 2 percent standard of GDP for NATO members, a commitment, he added, that Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania have also publically vowed to raise to that level.
"Raising defense spending matters," Rasmussen said. "Because freedom doesn't come free."
"Russia benefits from predictability and stability," he said, noting that NATO started with only four countries in the original charters 65 years ago, but has voluntarily expanded to 28.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who introduced Rasmussen, said that it was sad that 69 years after the end of World War II, that we are back to talking about borders being changed by force.
"We should have no illusions," Paet said. "We are living in a changed world. It is different than it was a few months ago. NATO is now more important than ever."
Rasmussen left Tallinn University for Ämari air base, where he will fly back to NATO headquarters in Brussels this evening.