President Alar Karis: Turning back the time on NATO to 1997 inconceivable

President Alar Karis speaking to NATO earlier this month.
President Alar Karis speaking to NATO earlier this month. Source:

Responding to a TV journalist's question as to when war will start, referring to the placement of significant numbers of Russian military personnel and equipment on that country's border with Ukraine, head of state Alar Karis said that Estonia, along with the other 13 nations which have joined NATO since 1997 refuse to be cowed in the face of the Russian Federation's demands that the clock be turned back on the alliance's membership to that year.

Karis also said he backed fully the Estonian government in its handling of the current international crisis, in an address which follows in its entirety.

This clearly shows that our people are worried. Each of the three crises we are currently facing – the pandemic, the enormous rise in energy prices and the security situation – brings its own uncertainty, and collectively, perhaps, they bring fear.

On my foreign visits, the most recent of which I made to Sweden (this week - ed.), I have come to realize that the whole of Europe is concerned and seeking dialogue to ease the tension. However, I do not know the answer to the journalist's question. Naturally, I want diplomatic efforts to bear fruit and the war not to begin.

At the same time, the situation around Ukraine is extremely tense because of Russia's actions. Hoping that Russia will not launch another attack on Ukraine, we do not really know what the coming weeks and months will bring. Estonia and its allies are constantly and closely monitoring the situation, we have our eyes and ears on it, and we are prepared to respond promptly and accurately.

But what I do know is that Estonia has done everything to ensure that our security is guaranteed and that we need not be afraid. Estonia is a member of both the EU and NATO. Russia will not attack either the EU or NATO.

However, Russia's demand that we "turn history back to 1997, or else" is a political attack against NATO, and it is an attack we firmly oppose.

Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have all joined NATO since 1997.  Fourteen countries, almost half of the countries currently in the alliance.

Turning history back to 1997, a time before NATO's enlargement towards the east, is unthinkable and will not happen because the alliance will never make such a decision. This would mean the end not only of NATO itself, but also of the EU, since many countries are members of both. Undoubtedly, there are nations outside of NATO and the EU that would be happy to see the two crumble and who act to bring this about, issuing threats and delivering ultimatums. No way.

Russia should rethink once again why those 14 countries sought to join NATO, why they saw it as the assurance of their security and whom they sought protection against.

Just as NATO allies do not seek to dictate who can join the Collective Security Treaty Organization or how precisely members themselves can go about ensuring their own defense, nor will we countenance anyone else dictating who in Europe may or may not belong to the alliance or what NATO may do to protect its allies. We make no secret of the fact that in light of Russia's actions it is important that we reinforce NATO's deterrence and defense position on its eastern flank.

That is something we are currently working on with our allies. And it is just as important for us to maintain transatlantic unity, where Europe and the U.S. are unequivocally together.

Of course, we and our allies are prepared to pursue dialogue with Russia, if that is truly what Russia wants and they are prepared to de-escalate the situation in Europe. But again, we will not discuss the dismantling of NATO with them.

I fully support the actions of the Estonian government in the midst of this security crisis, with the coalition having agreed to take additional steps to further national defense over the coming years – steps that will strengthen our deterrence and defense capabilities and increase Estonia's contribution to NATO's collective defense. This is one example of how Estonia ensures its own security and that of the alliance as a whole. I hope that all parliamentary parties support such a policy.

In my New Year's address, I said that apprehension and fear do not help, neither for domestic nor for international concerns. Let me say again: Estonia is not alone, and never will be again, so long as we remain capable of seeing the world around us and noticing the dangers it presents, as well as the opportunities. And just as importantly, Estonia will not leave its friends alone if they need help.

With thanks to the Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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