Prime minister: Afghanistan, Belarus situations gravely concerning

The situation in both Afghanistan and on Belarus' border with Lithuania and Latvia is very concerning, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said Tuesday, with negotiations needed with refugees' countries of origin needed in the case of Belarus – along with continued sanctions on the Alexander Lukashenko regime – and logistical questions arising on how to get the ten refugees Estonia has pledged to take on from Afghanistan.

Kallas made her remarks during and after a press conference with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, where the Estonian prime minister was on an official visit Tuesday (see gallery above).

The pair also discussed the 30th anniversary of the restoration of Estonian independence, which takes place Friday, and climate and digital issues.

Speaking after a press conference featuring the two leaders in Berlin, where Kaja Kallas was on an official visit, the Estonian prime minister told ERR that also on the table at the meeting had been the question of how the 10 Afghans Estonia has pledged to take on following the takeover by the Taliban could be brought to Estonia.

Kallas said "If these people can get to the airport, Germany is ready to help them with their flights from there."

"The big question is how do these people get to the airport?" the prime minister went on.

Angela Merkel said that while Estonia had demonstrated a desire to help those who had been of assistance during the 20-year U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, it had not done so to the same degree as Estonia has.

She said: "We know the situation is very complicated."

Germany wants to help many people who have helped us, she said. The same is true for Estonia, but to a lesser extent," Merkel went on.

On the migration crisis on Belarus' western borders with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, Kallas referred to what she called rumors that the Lukashenko regime wanted to open up further routes from Pakistan which, she said, would mean renewed migratory pressure on the EU.

Kallas said that this meant negotiations with these intended migrants' countries of origin was necessary.


Both Merkel and Kallas said at Tuesday afternoon's press conference that they saw an opportunity to resolve what is happening in Afghanistan, adding the predicament of women and children there was particularly concerning.

Kallas added that the security situation on the ground there is volatile. 

She said: "The situation in Afghanistan is worrying, and the most important goal is to end the violence."

"The freedoms of women and children must not be compromised. Both states and the media have an important role to play in exerting pressure," Kallas went on.

Angela Merkel, nearing the end of her nearly 16-year term as chancellor, spoke of a common European human rights concern in Afghanistan. 

Merkel said: "We want to discuss with neighboring countries how to provide urgent assistance there," stressing protecting the rights of women and young girls adequately in the face of the Taliban takeover is currently very difficult.

Kaja Kallas added that the EU must cooperate with Afghanistan's neighboring states, who, she said, are culturally similar and geographically close. Support must be provided to these countries, so that they can help Afghan refugees.

Afghanistan borders with Pakistan to the east and south, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north, and China to the northeast.

Angela Merkel said that while efforts had long been made to find political stability in Afghanistan:  "Unfortunately, we have to admit that the goals were not met, and now we have to think about what lessons we can take into the future."


On the issue of the significant numbers of refugees crossing the border from Belarus into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, Kallas said it was no crisis, but rather a hybrid attack on the EU on the part of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

"People are being used as a weapon against the EU," Kallas said.

Angela Merkel pledged solidarity to the region.

She said: "We are showing our solidarity to Lithuania, and we want to help any way we can,"adding that the developments represented an attack on the entire EU, and a pressure on the entire Baltic region.

Kaja Kallas stressed that sanctions imposed on Belarus so far and since the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko to a sixth term just over a year ago, were working. She said, however, that the EU should as a whole recognize the situation on Lithuania and Latvia's borders as constituting a hybrid attack by Belarus, where human beings are being used as a weapon against the EU, and doubled down on her call for both member states and the U.S. to adhere to sanctions and to not end them.


On Russia, Kaja Kallas noted Germany's key role and spoke of the worry that the Russian Federation may use energy as a weapon, as the Nord Stream 2 project continues to progress.

Kallas said: "We share the view that Russia must be discouraged from using energy as a weapon, so to speak. Germany has a key role to play in that."

"Authoritarian Russia's policy of using force necessitates a common allied defense policy on NATO's eastern wing," Kallas continued, according to BNS.

"Germany has an important role to play here. Germany is one of the allies most frequently taking part in the defense of the Baltic airspace, and members of the German defense forces help maintain the security of our region in Lithuania," she went on.

The German Air Force engaged in a double-header NATO Baltic Air Policing stint based at Ämari through the latter half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, while Kallas also expressed pleasure that German nationals are employed at the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn.

Estonia-Germany relations

On the close relations between the two countries, Kallas highlighted the close cooperation at EU, NATO and wider international levels, not least since the two countries were elected members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) together.

This was all the more important as Estonia celebrates 30 years since it restored independence, on August 20 1991. Germany was reunified the year before, in 1990.

Kallas said: "This Friday marks 30 years since the restoration of Estonia's independence and return to the free world, and the restoration of diplomatic friendship between Estonia and Germany."

"We have been successful in building a free and democratic Estonia. Germany has stood by our side as a friend and ally along the way," she went on.

Kallas also highlighted Merkel's commitment to European unity and ambition and drive in guiding cooperation between countries on the global stage as well.

"Germany has been the embodiment of the political responsibility of a free Europe," she added.

Climate goals

Kallas stressed concrete action on climate, before consequences of current activity prove irreversible.

"Climate neutrality is an inevitable and only possible goal. The future of all of us depends on the health of the planet. We must listen to scientists and immediately react together to the situation caused by human activities," she said.

To this extent also, Germany was a leader and trendsetter in climate policy, something which Estonia is also committed to.

"The green transition will ensure a secure future for our children, and it will also be an opportunity to restructure the economy to be more sustainable, facilitate new investment and increase the competitiveness of businesses. For example, we plan to build a network of wind farms in the Baltic Sea - I see it as an opportunity for cooperation for Estonia and Germany as well," Kallas said.

Estonia and Germany are also united by a desire to take advantage of the digital transition and give a boost to the European economy that way, though this needed secure data systems and a high level of cyber security and fair and transparent investment in these areas, the Estonian prime minister said, adding that these topics will be in focus at the digital summit taking place in Tallinn on September 7.

Merkel announced nearly three years ago that she would be standing down leader of her party, the CDU, and would not be seeking reelection as chancellor at the federal elections late on next month.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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