Kersti Kaljulaid: Unity of West's response to Ukraine crisis is surprising
The western countries' quick and unanimous decision to impose new sanctions on Moscow following Russia's 'recognition' of the 'independence' of eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk has been surprising, former President Kersti Kaljulaid says
"The concern is that if the western public has any chance to say that something bad didn't happen, simply a minor conflict, then maybe our unity and the steps we've taken would not prove strong enough. But I am very glad that already that the response to the recognition of the so-called republics of Donetsk and Lugansk took place," Kaljulaid told Vikerradio's morning program on Wednesday.
"I wouldn't have been so optimistic [until then], because the Munich Security Conference at the end of last week also discussed when it would be the right time to apply sanctions. But since a modern war doesn't start with a declaration, then we could have been in a situation for a long time where there were accusations that Ukrainian forces has been seen in Russia, and other things that we do not understand, and we are always waiting for the right moment," she said.
"The right moment could have come a few days earlier, when the provocations began, but the western reaction came quite quickly. So I think the western reaction has been adequate and instead of guessing, it is clear that the leaders have dealt with coordinating each other's responses and this is very important," Kaljulaid continued.
"And I wouldn't have believed that the announcement of the suspension of Nord Stream 2 would come. But it did" she added, referring to German Chancellor Olav Scholz's decision to halt work on the controversial gas pipeline.
"Yesterday is a proof that Russia will not be able to wedge between western countries. And this is also important additional information for Russian decision-makers," Kaljulaid stressed.
"It is also very important that the imposition of sanctions also restricts the normal and free functioning of those close to the power in the free world. Because the majority of the Russian elite functions in a way that the money is taken from Russia to the West. If this could be stopped, the consequences would be interesting," she said.
Kaljulaid said that the West and Russia speak a completely different language: The language of Russian power versus the language of our values. She said that Russia thinks about its spheres of influence; Western leaders think about defending values.
Kaljulaid added that Western countries would not be in the current situation if they had already been as resolute as they are now, in 2008, when Russia attacked Georgia.
"Unfortunately, the democratic processes and understanding that are against us may take time, and unfortunately we are here today. But the sanctions imposed for the annexation of Crimea have also had an economic impact on Russia," Kaljulaid said.
Crimea was annexed by Russia and away from Ukraine, in 2014.
Kaljulaid said that those sanctions have, for example, helped the Ukrainian army to develop and strengthen in the intervening years.
"We must hope that the sanctions will work in such a way that diplomatic channels remain open and possible," she stressed.
Kaljulaid said that it is not certain that Russia has a clear plan to follow, but the next steps will be taken according to what the West is doing. The message from the West that Russia will be very difficult economically will certainly be an important factor in shaping Moscow's decisions.
"But the question is whether we are dealing with a rational or irrational adversary - we do not know that today. Because I have long hoped that the Russian authorities will also know how the Ukrainians are prepared, and although they have no chance - if Russia uses its air force and every opportunity - to win this war, the very scary and ugly bloodshed will come anyway and something the autocratic leaders must take into account, are dying soldiers. The Russians can cope economically, even in very difficult circumstances, but the soldiers cannot be ignored," Kaljulaid said.
She added that there is no point in analyzing the pronouncements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but instead we must prepare to repel Russia, and NATO has shown this recently.
"I believe our leaders who confirm that there is no threat to Estonia. The same is confirmed by our forces. We must also remember that NATO has always succeeded in that no NATO member countries have been attacked," Kaljulaid stressed.
Kersti Kaljulaid was President of Estonia from 2016 to 2021.
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Editor: Roberta Vaino