Parliamentary groups debate allowing Estonian citizens to fight in Ukraine

MPs in the Session Hall of the Riigikogu.
MPs in the Session Hall of the Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The parliamentary groups of Estonia's Riigikogu are currently debating whether to allow Estonian citizens to volunteer to fight for Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday issued an invitation for foreigners to come fight for Ukraine, for which Ukraine is establishing an international territorial defense legion.

Reform parliamentary group chairman Mart Võrklaev said that his parliamentary group would be discussing the matter on Monday. "This is certainly one thing that we will be discussing today — whether to allow for this possibility and offer help and what this will mean," Võrklaev said. "We will definitely be talking about enabling Estonians to go help the Ukrainian side if they wish."

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) parliamentary group member Mart Helme said that this issue requires analysis, however in principle he supports such a step.

"Amendments don't work that fast," Helme noted. "We still need some kind of expert analyses here. I would not be against this as such."

The EKRE MP said that this matter nonetheless demands a more thorough legal analysis, as it likely involves a whole slew of laws. "It's not as simple as us saying that whoever wants can go and then they'll be freed from any sort of consequences under Estonian law," he said. "The legislative work here is a little more time-consuming and complicated. But I suppose it's possible to expedite the processing of everything — committees will convene and if a consensus exists, then it will move immediately. In that sense, I believe that if there is a will, there is a way."

Center parliamentary group chairperson Jaanus Karilaid said that discussions are underway regarding enabling Estonians to go fight in Ukraine. "Such calls must be taken seriously, and we must create the legislative opportunity if needed," Karilaid said. "The Riigikogu's National Defense Committee in cooperation with the Legal Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Justice would be best suited to lead this process."

Isamaa parliamentary group member Urmas Reinsalu said that he would be bringing up the matter at Monday's Foreign Affairs Committee and National Defense Committee meeting.

"I think that the legislative aspects need to be clarified regarding what these individuals' status is," Reinsalu said. "At minimum, it must definitely be ensured that people have the ability to do this, and naturally some kind of registration system would be reasonable to have as well."

Social Democratic Party (SDE) chair Lauri Läänemets said that members of the volunteer Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit) would not be able to go fight in Ukraine.

"We are definitely of the position that we should utilize all possible opportunities for supporting Ukraine in this difficult situation," Läänemets said. "But I'd like to say one very important thing — while Denmark or some other country can permit their citizens to volunteer to go to war in Ukraine, so to speak, then in Estonia we will be more cautious and we will analyze more, because we have the Estonian Defense League. That is something that not many other countries have. In other words, those same volunteers are a part of Estonia's defense force."

As such, Estonian Defense League members should not end up in Ukraine, the party chairman said, to avoid a situation in which they are in direct opposition with Russia.

Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) said on Monday that Estonian law is unclear in regards to serving in a foreign military and whether doing so is punishable.

"Based on Estonian laws, nobody can be punished as soon as they go to serve a foreign country," Lauri said. "We don't have a single clause that states that a person should be punished or that they must for example be granted permission or that they must go through some kind of procedure in order to go volunteer."

The justice minister did note, however, that rules exist according to which if someone joins another country's military to fight, then they should inform  the state and be granted specific permission to do so.

Should anyone go fight on the Russian side, she added, then that is a punishable offense.

"If these are people who are residing in Estonia on the basis of a visa or residence permit, then they simply cannot come back here again," Lauri explained. "And if people come back who received [Estonian] citizenship via naturalization, then they may be stripped of their citizenship."

She added that anyone who has gone to fight who commits war crimes will likewise face punishment.

According to the minister, this matter is scheduled to be discussed at this week's government meeting as well.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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