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Analyst: Estonia has managed to influence Western Europe's Russia opinion

Flags.
Flags. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonia has managed to make an impact in the European Union in connection with Russia's actions in Ukraine, said analyst Bruno Lete, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Brussels. ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" looked into the drivers behind Estonia's foreign policy success and how long it may last.

Nearly one year ago, Russia issued a list of demands that included NATO essentially withdrawing from Eastern Europe. One year later, Eastern Europe is more influential in the West than ever before, as Russia's war atrocities in Ukraine virtually proved us to be psychics.

"Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state," President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement last week. "This is why, while continuing to support the International Criminal Court (ICC), we are proposing to set up a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute Russia's crime of aggression."

It is with these words that the president of the European Commission introduced the idea of establishing a dedicated tribunal for the investigation of Russia's crimes of aggression. In other words, the EU is seeking a way to make Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and everyone else involved stand trial.

The Commission also proposed how nearly €300 billion in frozen Russian assets could be used for Ukraine's benefit.

"We will use them, start managing them, and we can allocate that net profit to help Ukraine, but of course in the long term, we have to achieve these frozen and blocked assets going, once the war is over, to Ukraine as reparations," said Vivian Loonela, head of the European Commission's Representation in Tallinn.

In other words, we cannot rule out a scenario in which some Russian billionaire's yacht is sold off to a Middle Eastern prince somewhere and the money from the sale is used to benefit Ukraine.

"It would only be fair that all those sanctioned oligarchs and the Russian state pay for all of the damages done to Ukraine, naturally," Loonela said.

Both are ideas that Estonia has very clearly been pushing.

"This is once again a very good example of how crucial a role Estonia has played in the shaping of EU policy this year," the Commission official highlighted. "We have several examples from throughout the year of how Estonia has with its proposals pushed European policy toward what seems right to us, and that is without a doubt one of them."

Several countries in close proximity to Russia have increased their influence in the EU during the ongoing war in Ukraine, among them Finland and Poland, for example. But this in no way undermines the importance of Estonian politicians' and officials' persuasive speeches at the Europa building in Brussels — the seat of the European Council and Council of the European Union — which have also garnered significant foreign media attention.

"Estonia has managed to influence Western European countries' understanding of Russian actions and has also explained the root causes of the war in Ukraine," said Lete.

Behind the country's successful action have been the chance to act quickly and the courage to speak frankly.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has at several European Councils taken the initiative and outdebated hitherto dominant powers.

"We had a very heated debate on calling Putin," Kallas told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" following one such instance at the end of May. "Also on what arguments were presented — namely that it should be demonstrated that you can see that we have good intentions, but Putin doesn't want to take a single step. I was also able to express my own views regarding of what benefit it has ultimately been thus far."

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu's (Isamaa) ardent action has continued to ratchet up the pressure on his own counterparts to increase their ambitions.

"European countries have to provide a different angle of approach, a different paradigm to this supporting of Ukraine," Reinsalu said. "This current tempo is nowhere near sufficient."

All of this has been has been sorted out at the operational level by Estonian Ambassador to the EU Aivo Orav, who has spent hundreds of hours negotiating with his colleagues.

"The political center of influence in Europe may have changed, and is no longer in Berlin and Paris, but also lies in Eastern and Central European Countries as well, including the Baltic countries, together with U.S. support," Lete said. "This window of opportunity may be not be closed, as Berlin and Paris are rather isolated in some of their views."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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