Positions held by Varro Vooglaid — who is running for election to the Riigikogu on the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) candidate list this March — calling for improving relations with Russia do not reflect the party's official security policy positions, EKRE chair Martin Helme told ERR on Monday.
Vooglaid is EKRE's number two candidate in Electoral District 1 — Tallinn's Haabersti, Põhja-Tallinn and Kristiine city districts — and in 18th position in the overall nationwide list of candidates.
In recent months, after joining EKRE's candidate list for the upcoming Riigikogu elections, Vooglaid has expressed in social media posts the need to move toward improving relations with Russia. "The need to take steps in this direction is obvious," he wrote. "But that position has been so demonized via stratcom that no one dares talk about it."
Responding to questions regarding his own views, Vooglaid sent ERR a long response in which, among other things, he noted that in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, many of the Estonian government's activities aren't serving in the interest of keeping the way away from Estonia, but as such rather favor the expansion of hostilities into Estonia.
"To the best of my understanding, national defense begins not with stockpiling arms and other countries' military units on Estonian territory, but rather with responsible diplomacy," he said. "Unfortunately, our government is doing the exact opposite, trying to constantly be at the forefront of calls to take hostile action against Russia."
Vooglaid has likewise criticized Estonia's security policy as well as its providing Ukraine with military support. For example, he claimed that a gap in capability was left by giving all of Estonia's howitzers to Ukraine.
"By the same token, they're talking nonsense as though Estonian weapons were being used to defend Estonian freedom in Ukraine, as though Estonia and Ukraine constituted one and the same political entity — which is simply wrong," he said.
Vooglaid likewise criticized Estonia's decision to expel 13 Russian diplomats, which he claims prompted the Estonian ambassador's expulsion from Russia, the abrupt escalation of tensions and the drying up of diplomatic channels.
"It's very difficult to see what real need in Estonia's interests could have led to this move," he said. "Rhetorically, however, one might ask how disagreements between countries in a very tense situation are resolved when diplomatic channels are blocked or languish."
Kunnas: I'll definitely be talking to Varro about this
MP Leo Kunnas, the current deputy chair of the National Defense Committee of the Riigikogu who is likewise running for reelection as a member of EKRE, told ERR that there can be no talk of improving relations with Russia right now.
"We have declared the Russian regime terrorist in the Riigikogu," Kunnas stressed. "There's nothing to discuss with Russia here right now. But I will certainly be talking to Varro about this."
"We can start talking to Russia when Russia itself has ended the war in Ukraine and when Russia has clearly repented its current as well as past Soviet-era crimes and crimes of communism," he continued. "Until then, there is absolutely nothing to talk about with Russia — not regarding the border treaty or any other matters."
Helme: Vooglaid didn't say anything scandalous
In an interview with ERR, EKRE chair Martin Helme said that he can't understand the public controversy that has been sparked by Varro Vooglaid's security policy positions. He also by and large shared Vooglaid's criticism regarding the Estonian government.
At the same time, the party chair stressed that when sharing his security policy positions, Vooglaid does not represent EKRE's views.
Helme believes that the Estonian government should be rapidly arming itself while maintaining a low diplomatic profile.
What is the party's position on the security policy positions of Varro Vooglaid — who is running for election to the Riigikogu on EKRE's candidate list — in which he calls on taking steps in the direction of improving relations with Russia?
First of all, I'd of course like to say that I'd like to understand whether people want us to worsen relations then, or—? Is improving relations something we should immediately start canceling people over, then?
Right now we're talking about relations with a country waging a war of aggression and conquest in its neighboring country.
No we're not; we're talking about the behavior of the Estonian state. I don't see a single other state in Europe whose ambassadors have been expelled...
But they haven't been expelled yet, though.
Lithuania did so several months ago already. Latvia announced its decision to expel the Russian ambassador a few hours after it became apparent that Russia and Estonia are expelling one another's ambassadors from the country.
I'm still gonna come back to the question of what do we want, then. Do we want to strain our relations, as the current government is doing? Or do we want relations to not get any further strained? This is a very simple question — do we want to strain these relations ourselves?
If the answer is "yes," then maybe the current government is a good fit for people. If the answer is "no" and that we want relations not to get any further strained, that they're bad enough already and the next stage from here is war already, and if we'd like to avoid that, then I don't understand what the problem is.
I also don't understand why we're talking about Varro while not also talking at the same time about the fact that we have [interior minister and Social Democratic Party (SDE) chair Lauri] Läänemets engaged purely in presenting Kremlin talking points in [an interview with Delfi in] Estonia's Russian-language media — purely Kremlin talking points. [Prime Minister] Kaja Kallas won't take a position on it; no one sees an issue with it.
Then we once again have a Social Democrat, Raimond Kaljulaid, who accepts money from Kremlin-connected businessmen; no one is seeing any huge serving of the Russians in this.
And then there's Varro's post saying that it's worth thinking twice about whether we want to end up at war or go to war on our own initiative and that is a problem. I think people are a bit mixed up here somewhere.
In your opinion, how should Estonia change its current security policy in order to avoid increasing the threat of war on our border with Russia?
By doing two things exactly the opposite of what Kaja Kallas' government has done. Firstly, arming ourselves. Kaja Kallas' government continues to give weapons away, give ammunition away; replacements will be arriving two or three years from now. In other words, the current government is disarming Estonia. And at the same time is very diligently sharpening tensions at the political and diplomatic level.
Both behaviors are exactly contrary to Estonia's interests. Of course we need to arm ourselves faster and more. The current government is giving weapons away, and that is very dangerous.
Weakness provokes an attack, and this current weakness has been caused by Kaja Kallas and [defense minister] Hanno Pevkur and [Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces Gen.] Martin Herem. We have weakened ourselves, and that is inviting an attack.
Your party's Riigikogu National Defense Committee deputy chair Leo Kunnas says that there can be no talk of improving relations with Russia until Russia itself has ended the war in Ukraine.
What we can do is one thing and what we can't do is another. Russia is Russia and we cannot direct Russia's actions. If they decide to attack us, they'll find an excuse and do it. If they want to sharpen relations with us, they'll find an excuse and do it. We can guide our attitude, conduct and steps.
We shouldn't be further escalating tensions on our part; I just don't think that's sensible. And despite the fact that Russia is currently waging war in Ukraine, the majority of countries, both in NATO as well as in the EU, haven't gone as low or as much into a state of conflict in their diplomatic relations as we have.
It's interesting how France, Germany, America, the U.K., all of whom are also arming Ukraine... They still have their ambassadors, but we don't anymore. So it's not like nothing in these relationships depends on us ourselves. There must be aspects of our own behavior that should be more thoroughly considered after all.
Editor: Aili Vahtla