German Chancellor Angela Merkel should not be condemned over her recent phone calls with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Center leader and Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas says, not least because the topic under discussion was humanitarian aid to the thousands of migrants trapped on the Belarus-Poland border.
Speaking to ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday evening, Ratas said that he: "Does not condemn the chancellor of Germany in this way. The discussions concerned particularly technical issues, which [Merkel] has also relayed to her partners today in terms of what was talked about. This was primarily concerning how humanitarian aid might be provided to these people."
This did not mean that Merkel was negotiating with the Belarusian leader, Ratas added.
"It is clear that no negotiations can happen at a time when we are not dealing with anything other than a hybrid attack," he added.
"Now we can already say that this is in our backyard. As we can see, the government has also made some decisions, and the Police and Border Guard Board has already taken preemptive, respective steps."
Interviewer Mirko Ojakivi also asked what might have been spoken about in Merkel's conversation regarding EU unity.
Ratas said: "If we look at how the EU has acted on sanctions against Belarus, I remember the end of last summer. We have said many times with the Baltic states that we really want to act faster, it didn't come.
"It took a few months then. I remember that I suggested to my colleagues to go and support the people of Belarus, the Belarusian society, those who wanted to overthrow the regime, then we were not allowed into the country and the next steps at EU level when it comes to sanctions policy were much faster and certainly good, "replied Ratas.
On Wednesday, Merkel announced in October 2018 she was stepping down as chancellor after the September 2021 federal elections, bringing to an end nearly 16 years in office.
She is remaining as caretaker chancellor while coalition negotiations in Germany continue, and held her second phone call with Lukashenko in the space of three days.
It was also the second call by any western leader since Lukashenko was returned to office in August 2020 for a sixth term, after elections widely condemned as rigged, and followed by a brutal crackdown by his state security forces.
Kaja Kallas told ERR Thursday that humanitarian aid for migrants trapped on the Belarus-EU border is a good thing, Additional sanctions could put an end to the Lukashenko regime's activities in precipitating the crisis, which began mid-summer, and itself in response to earlier EU sanctions.
Thousands of migrants have congregated at border crossings between Poland and Belarus in recent days, with Polish authorities resorting to the use of tear gas and water canon to disperse them on at least one occasion. Some migrants have also been taking return flights to Iraq, one of the main countries of origin.
Kallas' party-mate, Reform MP and Riigikogu foreign affairs committee chair Marko Mihkelson called the original Merkel-Lukashenko phone call "disappointing", and has queried the basis on which the German leader is authorized to unilaterally reach out to the Belarusian president.
The other topics covered included the recent criticism of Kaja Kallas as prime minister and in particular from former Reform prime minister, Andrus Ansip, over her and her government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Ratas said that this was something for Reform to fight about internally, though he did also insert an oblique reference to Kallas handling of the crisis too.
He said: "The fact remains, we have been a world leader twice in the last six months," referring to Estonia's coronavirus rate, which has been at or around the highest in Europe and beyond, on more than one occasion.
"However, the question is not in that fact of it, the question is what this has brought with it. It has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, the illness of many more, and difficult recoveries. That has been the price," Ratas, whose party is in coalition with Reform, continued.
As to Center's other major coalition, in the capital, Ratas said the new lineup featuring his party and the Social Democrats (SDE) features many commonalities of position.
Center had until the October 17 local elections ruled Tallinn city government alone, with all the other parties in opposition, for well over a decade. SDE unveiled their own city government figures at a rather overcast Nõmme rail station Thursday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte