Estonian president: Russia trying to force Europe into a corner

Russia is using energy to force Estonia and Europe into a corner with the aim of reducing support for Ukraine, President Alar Karis said on Monday after a rare meeting of the National Defense Council.

Speaking at a press conference, the head of state said the Nord Stream leaks, which have been attributed to sabotage, are an escalation organized by Russia.

"It is [Russia's] understandable wish and goal to force Estonia and the whole of Europe into a corner so that we withdraw from certain principles and actions in supporting Ukraine," he said.

Karis said the Estonian government will do everything possible to make sure no problems with energy security arise. However, risks still exist.

Following Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' (Reform) warning last week, he said the population must think about how they can cope during possible blackouts, not only in relation to war, but also during other emergencies such as storms.

Energy consumption should also be reduced where it is reasonable, Karis said.

President Alar Karis. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The prime minister said, after the Nord Stream explosions, there is no question that Russia is using energy as a weapon in the hope the West will change its mind.

She said Estonia is making plans and taking decisions in relation to energy security. These include ensuring the security of supply, diversifying energy sources, and transitioning to green energy.

Additionally, the state is paying attention to the security of its own undersea pipelines, Estlink and Balticconnector, and is cooperating with other countries. Kallas said no unusual activity has been detected in Estonia's territory so far.

The prime minister highlighted that defense is an important part of next year's state budget and defense costs will rise by more than 40 percent.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) said energy issues have been the main focus of the government's discussions over the last two months. Central topics have been the security of critical energy infrastructure and supply.

Kaja Kallas and Riina Sikkut. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Sikkut repeated that Estonia wants to switch to the European grid at its own pace and follow plans already in place, but Russia could also suddenly disconnect Estonia from the grid if it wants to.

"If this were to happen unexpectedly, then within six to 12 hours, the Baltic countries would be able to connect themselves to the continental European system. Most probably, people would not even notice it," the minister added.

She said, looking ahead to winter, the most important thing is that Estonian homes are warm. When it comes to electricity, hospitals, nursing homes and vital services have been designated priorities that must be kept running. Sikkut said Estonian can guarantee this.

The minister also pushed back on the idea that telling people to prepare for a crisis is scare tactics, saying it is just common sense.

"We are facing a difficult winter, and those who can mitigate the risks for themselves or a company should do so. The state is working hard so that everyone will have electricity throughout the winter," said Sikkut.

Hanno Pevkur. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said he had discussed Nord Stream with ministers of the Nordic and Baltic countries, UK, and the Netherlands. Everyone understands that attention should be given to attacks on infrastructure, he said.

Pevkur added that countries must be ready to check their own infrastructure.

"However, we must understand that the attack is a simple wish on Russia's part to divert attention from the main events in Ukraine," he said.

Speaking about security, the minister said it was agreed at NATO's Madrid Summit in June that new defense plans would be implemented in Estonia as soon as possible.

He said meetings are being held with the UK and its promised brigade-sized unit. "In addition to the presence of the British, we will continue bilateral negotiations with others so that Estonia is as secure as possible," he said.

The National Defense Committee is convinced by the president when important issues arise.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

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