Kallas: We knew our neighbor then and we know our neighbor now

Kaja Kallas speaking at the European Commission on March 9, 2022.
Kaja Kallas speaking at the European Commission on March 9, 2022. Source: European Commission.

Addressing the European Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas spoke about further support for Ukraine, how the EU has acted as a "geopolitical union", and why she won't say "I told you so".

Honorable President Metsola,

Esteemed Members of the European Parliament,

Dear guests,

It is an honor and a privilege to be able to address you today. The European Parliament is not only a great house of European democracy; it has also been my political base for four years. So here I feel at home, among friends. 

Sadly, our fellow Europeans in Ukraine cannot say the same thing. They are fighting for their homeland, for their loved ones, their freedom to choose their own destiny. The Ukrainian armed forces are putting up a fierce resistance that President Putin did not expect.

Ordinary people are on the streets showing the flag to the invading army, inviting them to go home. Ukrainian farmers have become famous for towing captured tanks back home. One story circulating on social media even speaks of a woman who downed a Russian drone from her balcony by throwing a jar of pickles at it. (She contested that it was actually pickled tomatoes) "How," asks the commentator, "did they expect to occupy this country?"

At the same time, many others are streaming across borders — over 2 million have reached safety in the European Union.

These refugees will keep coming. In the words of one humanitarian worker, "in a conflict, always watch which way the refugees are going." In the current war, they are headed for the EU, not Russia.

Putin's war is an act of raw military aggression against an independent and sovereign country that wants nothing more than to fulfill its own European dream. The aim is to terrorize civilians. We have seen it before in Grozny and Aleppo: kindergartens, hospitals, residential buildings are targeted, in contravention of international humanitarian law.

You have been doomscrolling on your phones just like I have. So I do not need to tell you of the atrocities taking place now, every day, in places like Kharkiv, Mariopul as well as Kyiv, where many people are without water, electricity, food. 

Putin's war has also left ordinary Russians without access to the truth, they are living in isolated infospace. We thought that in times when we have the internet, this is no longer possible. But it is. Our task is to break this wall of lies. It is a complicated task, we need to mobilize our technological potential to win the war for truth. And it goes without saying that global Internet platforms have a huge role to play.

If you allow me Madam President, I would also like to address the Russian population directly.

Dear Russian friends, the European Union is not acting against you. Our measures are intended to isolate President Putin and his government, which is conducting a brutal war against Ukraine. You are now seeing only the beginnings of a deprivation which will become much worse as our sanctions kick in. Your government is already instituting practices that are familiar to me from the Soviet past. Like censorship. Like threatening journalists with 15-year prison sentences for speaking about war. Like rationing of foodstuffs. Like asking teachers to report on the political sympathies of their pupils and their parents. Global companies are pulling out of Russia, airlines are no longer flying, you can no longer use your VISA and Mastercards. 

None of this is directed against you. It is directed against President Putin and his government. We understand that it hurts you, as it also hurts us. 

It hurts you because an autocrat does not care for the people, he only cares for his power. That is something that is so hard to understand in the democratic world.

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitri Muratov called this a question between, and I quote, "people for the state, or the state for the people." 

Dear Russian friends, we continue to hope for a democratic and stable Russia that is respectful of its neighbors and is governed by the Rule of Law.

* * *

Madam President, dear Members, 

Since February 24, which coincidentally was the 104th anniversary of Estonia's independence, the world has changed. President Putin's invasion of Ukraine has ushered in a period of insecurity on our continent that we have not seen since 1939. And like we saw after the Second World War, our world will not return to the status quo ante.

Russia's relationship with the outside world will be different.

How to restore the trust in respecting international law and order? European attitudes toward security will be different and our institutional set-ups will need to adjust. And we might just have re-discovered what the liberal, international rules-based order was all about in the first place.

In short, we will, in the future, speak of the Before Times and the After Times.

The free world has already begun to respond. And the European Union has been at the forefront of this response. Which itself is a welcome change. The EU is not normally known to be a particularly nimble organization. But in terms of security, we have changed more in the last two weeks than during the previous thirty years.

We have imposed three packages of tough sanctions on top of those existing since Russia's invasion of the Donbas and annexation of Crimea in 2014. We have frozen assets, stopped Moscow's access to its reserves held abroad, and thrown Russia out of SWIFT. We have closed our airspace to Russian-registered, owned, and operated aircraft. We have shut down disinformation channels masquerading as media outlets. And we have acted to use the European Peace Facility to send half a billion Euros in much-needed defensive weapons and non-lethal aid to Ukraine.

The EU has acted with an urgency, conviction and unity that has surprised President Putin. And the world. And I dare say we've surprised ourselves. We have, indeed, acted as a Geopolitical Union.

Our citizens have responded as well. By opening their pocketbooks and their hearts. By welcoming refugees, often into their own homes. By volunteering on humanitarian missions. By collecting food, clothing and medicines for those fleeing the war. Let's not forget the Irish fishermen. Our citizens are showing a generosity of spirit that makes me proud to be Estonian and proud to be a European.

I know a bit about the kindness of strangers. As many of you know, I am the child of deportees whom Stalin sent away to Siberia. My mother was just six months old when she was deported on a cattle car, along with her mother and grandmother, to what Estonians call "the Cold Land." It was a stranger who gave my grandmother a jar of milk that kept my mother alive on the journey. It was strangers who dried the baby's diapers on their skin as it was the only warm place in the cattle car. And it was strangers who helped in untold ways when they were allowed to return to Estonia.

So you could say we Estonians have some experience in being deported and fleeing wars. And we also have some experience with Russia, which we have been trying to share with the rest of the EU since we joined. It was 78 years ago today that the Red Army bombed my hometown Tallinn to the ground.

But my mother, that same baby who took her first trip abroad to Siberia, always taught me that it was impolite to say "I told you so." 

* * *

Madam President, dear Members,

We are in this for the long haul. We will have to exercise strategic patience because peace is not going to break out tomorrow. Russia expects us to make a step back soon. As Dmitri Medvedev explained to Putin in a recent public meeting of the Russian Security Council and I quote: "Sooner or later they (the West) will get tired of their own initiative, they will come to ask us about returning to discussions and negotiations regarding all the matters of strategic security". End of quote. Putin will come to test us and yes, we will have to resist.

That means that we need to keep supporting those fighting for Ukraine's independence, while giving time for the sanctions and isolating measures to work to their full capacity.

This will require a sustained effort from all of us. But we need also to think about what comes next.

I see two areas for action. 

First, we need to hardwire our fundamental change of heart into a Policy of Smart Containment.

We all want a democratic and secure Russia. This house expressed that desire last year when it honored Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with the Sakharov Prize.

But what I mean by hardwiring is that we need now to consolidate what the free world has accomplished in the last weeks and build on it. We need to do this together with our trusted transatlantic partners and others who are like-minded.

And there are many like-minded partners: last week at the UN General Assembly, the vast majority of the world community, 141 states, voted to condemn Russia's military aggression against Ukraine. This vote demonstrates not only a victory for multilateralism but a win for the Rule of Law. 

We also need collectively to give our strongest support to the International Criminal Court once the time comes. Last week, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced that thirty-nine State Parties to the Rome Statute had referred the situation to his office. This enables him to go ahead with the investigation into any past and present war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed on any part of the territory of Ukraine.

Here in the EU, we need to push harder and faster to cut our energy dependence on Russian gas and oil. Because we have already committed to a Green transition, this will be a win-win for our energy independence as well as the planet. We also need to move quickly to synchronise Ukraine's power grid with that of continental Europe. And make sure all parts of the EU are synchronised into the continental grid as well.

Turning to defence: our decisions last week to use the European Peace Facility to assist Ukraine are but a first step toward strengthening our continental security. We must transform our deterrent posture into a defense plan. 

I am mindful that not all EU Member States are NATO allies. When my father was leading the Estonian negotiations to join NATO, he was often asked "Why do you need this? Russia does not pose a threat anymore". Well, we knew our neighbour then and we know our neighbour now. I can only be grateful for the decision to join the defense alliance.

But being part of the alliance also comes with obligations. The two percent of GDP defence spending target must become an absolute minimum requirement, that I am happy to say Estonia Estonia is fulfilling already for number of years.

And allow me here to thank Germany for having taken the previously unimaginable step of raising its defence spending to two percent. All of Europe thanks you.

Let me say here clearly that as we strengthen European defense, we need to work hand-in-hand with NATO. Time after time we have agreed that a stronger Europe means a stronger NATO, just as a stronger NATO implies a stronger European defence. I look forward to a third joint declaration between the EU and NATO on the matter.

A stronger European defense means planning our spending wisely and in coordination. We must concentrate on those capabilities that are too expensive for any individual Member State to develop on its own, such as long-range air defense, including missile defense.

Our European capabilities need to be mobile, so we can move them quickly if we need to. And they need to be state-of-the-art. Russia may have an enormous military force, but we can compete with quality, breakthrough technology. I urge all Member States to submit only PESCO projects that bring a technological innovation to the table. 

And here is a sobering thought: in stepping up European defence, we must find consensus within the EU that sometimes, the best way of achieving peace is the willingness to use military strength.

These are my thoughts on the need for a Policy of Smart-Containment. 

Let me now turn to the second area we should concentrate on as we think of the new post-war order. 

This is the future of Ukraine.

Madam President, dear Members,

Ukraine came under attack in 2014 because it wanted to join the European Union. It came under an armed attack on February 24 because it seeks to take its rightful place among us. It is in our interest that Ukraine becomes more stable, more prosperous and solidly founded on the Rule of Law. I know from Estonia's own experience that this is how it works.

But it is not only in our interest to give Ukraine a membership perspective; it is also our moral duty to do so. Ukraine is fighting not just for Ukraine, it is fighting for Europe.

If not now, then when? 

I thank you for your attention.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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