German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko on two occasions this week. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says in an interview to ERR that Germany has shared the contents of the calls with Estonia and that she believes it is good if the conversations will result in humanitarian aid for the people in Belarus. Additional sanctions could put an end to Belarus' actions, Kallas suggests.
What is your opinion of the two phone calls between Merkel and Lukashenko?
We were aware of the calls. We were informed. If the goal is to allow humanitarian organizations to reach Belarus in order to help people who have been weaponized by Lukashenko, help them leave, it contributes to solving the crisis. To make sure these people could not be used as a weapon.
Doesn't it work to legitimize Lukashenko?
Merkel addressed him as Mr. Lukashenko instead of referring to him as the president of Belarus. It is not legitimization of Lukashenko. The important thing is that we act united in the European Union. Our focus needs to be on actions before words. I'm referring mainly to sanctions agreed in the European Foreign Affairs Council against Lukashenko's regime and various airlines, and they are working. The focus is also on countries of origin, so that people could return to their homes.
Do you know the subject matter of those two calls?
Yes, we have been briefed.
What was it?
We will not be recounting it here. The sides can reveal what they discussed themselves.
Lukashenko has said some things, while the Germans have not confirmed all of it.
The important thing is for humanitarian aid organizations to be able to access the Belarusian border or territory because that is where the people are. The important thing to remember is that these people are in Belarus legally. They have flown in with visas. And they are trying to illegally cross the EU border. Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are doing what any border country must do. They are protecting the EU border against invaders. There is no such thing as land between two borders. There is either the territory of Belarus or the EU. These people are in Belarus today and humanitarian aid organizations need to be able to help them there. Belarus is party to international agreements concerning people in their territory who are their responsibility.
Merkel, when conversing with Alexander Lukashenko, is not speaking for the EU, she is speaking for Germany. Is it even sensible to hold bilateral negotiations between Belarus and EU leaders in this situation?
First of all, I definitely do not think she is negotiating. She is not negotiating with Lukashenko either in the name or in place of the EU. That is not possible. But phone calls and communication have taken place before.
Merkel has not spoken to Lukashenko since the election [in Belarus].
Merkel knows best who she has been talking to. But if this is the situation today and it [the conversation between Merkel and Lukashenko] will help these people return to their countries of origin without Europe having to yield. We can see that sanctions are working. Sanctions are hurting the regime. That is why they are trying to escalate the situation, thinking the EU is the weaker side. But we say we are not the weaker party. We stand united, there are no divides between EU members and we definitely don't need Lukashenko or Putin working to deepen them.
It can still come across as Merkel cutting a deal with Belarus over the heads of Poland, Lithuania or Latvia.
I have been in touch with the Polish PM and been told that no decisions can be made over their heads. And won't be. We have the EU, European Commission, head of the Council of Europe in close communication with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, also Estonia, just as we have channels to the German leader in terms of steps taken. The important thing is for the EU to be united in action.
Germany doesn't ask us or Poland. They simply communicate their plans.
I cannot speak to Poland's conversations with Germany. But it is clear that contacts are close. Poland has also said that if it helps people return to countries of origin, it can be seen as positive. So they would not be stuck on the border, would not try to cross illegally. So they would realize it is pointless and go home.
Could the conversations between Merkel and Lukashenko have sent the wrong signal to those contemplating crossing the border illegally?
What matters is action. Words are something else. Actions are where the EU has been united, and the EU has stood behind Poland. The message sent to these people is also of crucial importance here. Also in terms of Lukashenko not caring about these people. This means that you shouldn't go there. Because Poland is steadfast and you will not be able to cross here. You will not get to the European Union. A journey one should not wish for themselves or their family. It will not be successful.
Talking about sanctions, there are signals some countries are looking to dial them back. To take out [Belarusian national airline] Belavia. It reflects no great unity.
The sanctions debate has been happening in the Foreign Affairs Council. Speeding up the process was discussed with the European Parliament president yesterday. So sanctions would enter into force quickly. For example, Ireland has fully supported sanctions. This means that the Irish company that leases Belavia 17 of its 30 planes is willing to take them away. These contracts will expire if Belavia is put under sanctions that will considerably affect the situation.
What about Italy's alleged reluctance to sanction Belavia?
In the end, everything will need to be agreed between EU member states, while we have seen rather universal conclusions so far. Thinking back to when Lukashenko's regime forced down a plane on its way from Athens to Vilnius, Europe's reaction was immediate and united. It happened on a Sunday, with the sanctions decision made on Monday. I very much hope that we can move quickly on the EU level here too.
How do you see this conflict playing out? Will EU might and muscle force Lukashenko into a corner and cause him to stop what he is doing?
Strength is all a dictator understands, which is what the EU must demonstrate. If we believe we can take a step back, dictators do not yield ground and will take a step forward. This cannot be allowed to happen. Looking at might, economic power especially when it comes to sanctions, the EU is definitely the stronger side and must under no circumstances give in to a dictator's demands.
Is this universally understood in Europe?
I hope so, yes.
But you're not sure?
Europe has 27 different member states with their own political opinions and currents. However, the EU has been united in its actions so far, and I very much hope this unity will continue.
D you approve of Merkel's conduct?
It is not my place to approve of the actions of another country's leader. What matters is whether it will yield results. For humanitarian aid organizations to access the territory of Belarus and people to be able to return home and stop clogging up the border.
What interests us, however, is for Lukashenko to cease his activities.
Exactly. But that cannot be achieved through negotiations but through sanctions hurting him enough to render further escalation impossible.
When will the immigration crisis between Belarus and Poland end?
It is not a migration crisis but a hybrid attack Belarus is orchestrating against Poland. They are weaponizing people. It is clear that the regime will have to rethink its decisions once it is no longer coping economically or able to handle the flow of people getting stuck in Belarus. If the way out is to allow humanitarian organizations access and to take people home, which the Belarusian regime is not currently allowing. Even people who want to leave currently cannot do that. Once the inflow of migrants stops and it becomes clear this is not a viable way into Europe, the situation should unravel.
Editor: Marcus Turovski