Head of the Reform Party, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and opposition leader the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) chair Martin Helme argued over national security on the "Esimene stuudio" evening talk show on Thursday.
Martin Helme suggested that the Reform Party are hitching national security to their campaign wagon.
"I am indeed very critical of Kaja Kallas. Her and her entire party's saber-rattling has been turned into a campaign ploy, which I find to be both cynical and irresponsible," Helme said.
"We have armed ourselves only to give these arms away, while earning the title of the most aggressive small state. While this might be well and good for medals and awards in Western media, it is not the right way to bring the country out of this conflict," he added.
Helme said that EKRE believe that Ukraine needs help and Russia must be stopped but added that the Kallas administration has pulled part of the Ukraine conflict onto Estonia.
Kallas said that the national security focus is not aimed at boosting the party's rating, nor did she agree that the government is importing the conflict to Estonia.
"All of our efforts are aimed at ending the war. But it is clear we cannot remain neutral in such a conflict because neutrality means indifference, indifference towards the injustice and barbarity being committed. We will only perceive the price of indifference when we will need help ourselves," she said.
"However, our actions have shown that we are investing in national defense, we have ramped up our defenses to make sure this war doesn't spill over, with preparations aimed also at deterrence," the PM said, emphasizing that the war will not go further if Ukraine manages to repulse Russia.
"I think we have no reason to be ashamed of the fact that Estonia is an equal among equals, that we are heeded and considered. Because in a situation where no one knows you, they don't know to miss you when you're gone," she added.
Helme criticized the government for giving Ukraine weapons before replacing them at home.
"What I am very critical of today is that when other countries give Ukraine weapons, they make sure they're not left empty-handed, that they will get as many or newer and better weapons from the West in return. We've surrendered our weapons, run out of howitzers, which we will be able to replace two or three years from now. What are we to do in the meantime? We are without weapons in the interim. It's all well and good to say we're setting an example, while the fact of the matter is that we have fewer guns today than we had a year ago, which is irresponsible, especially as we see this aggression increasingly also aimed at us in Russia," Helme suggested.
Kallas argued, saying that Estonia has procured more munitions in the last two years than in the past 30. She also said that every weapon Estonia gives away will be replaced.
"For example, the howitzers we have given Ukraine will be replaced by K9 mobile artillery systems. We took delivery of 18 last year for a total of 36 down the line. We have U.S. HIMARS, British weapons. We have entered tenders and created air defense capabilities. The situation has improved, including the contributions of allies. There is no such gap," she commented.
"For example, we are swapping out our Carl Gustaf M2 recoilless rifles for M4s, 400 of which arrived in Tapa in January. We will replace the things we have. A gap of a few months should not incite a panic according to which it will be war tomorrow. There will be no war here tomorrow," she said.
The EKRE leader countered by saying Kallas is misleading people. "The decision to procure K9 [Thunder] systems was made three years ago, and only now are they arriving. The rest of what you listed will also happen in two or three years. A situation where we surrender our guns, the EU will compensate us in a year, with tenders to be launched and weapons secured two years from now should not be presented to the people as something we already have. We don't. All we have right now are empty warehouses," he said.
"The warehouses are not empty. The commander of the Estonian Defense Forces can assure you we are not creating gaps in our defensive capabilities. Estonia is protected, and it's protected because we have more allied troops, more munitions and more weapons than before," Kallas replied.
The guests also briefly touched on the issue of the Nursiapalu Training Area expansion.
Helme said he does not support the expansion plan as the process of getting there has been faulty. For example, local communities have not been heeded and there have been no efforts to find alternative locations.
Kallas countered by saying that the process started with consulting the locals, which discussions are ongoing.
Both Kallas and Helme also suggested their party is the one to support at elections [in March].
"It is between the two major parties in terms of who can form the incoming coalition. That is the reality today. The recent Turu-uuringute poll has just one point separating Reform and EKRE," Kallas said, adding that the two parties represent two very different directions for Estonia.
"I agree. We offer contrasting alternatives for Estonia, and we are naturally talking about coalition alternatives, not single-party governments in Estonia. What I would add is that it makes sense to vote either for EKRE or for Reform if that is a better fit because all other parties are just attachments to one or the other. In Reform's case especially, we have seen the Social Democrats, Eesti 200 and also Isamaa ready to join them in a coalition. We have also seen the Center Party go with them," Martin Helme said.
Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski