Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) on Monday rebuffed criticism from former President Kersti Kaljulaid and EKRE leader Martin Helme over Estonia's decision to expel a number of Russian diplomats and embassy staff.
"Achieving parity in terms of diplomats in Tallinn and Moscow is entirely in Estonia's foreign and security policy interests. Parity in representation makes it harder to put pressure on Estonia," Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu told ERR via a press representative.
President Kersti Kaljulaid on Sunday questioned the decision to require Russia to dial back the number of diplomats in Tallinn, which saw Russia ask Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre to leave the country.
"And it seems to me that this step was perhaps less mature than our foreign policy and diplomacy have been in the past year," the ex-president added after suggesting she is not up to speed with all the latest processes.
"It [the decision] makes our partners and allies wonder what it was specifically in that moment. And whether it could have something to do with elections in Estonia in five or six weeks' time," Kaljulaid also said.
Urmas Reinsalu assured that the decision has not raised eyebrows among Estonia's allies.
"The principled decision to seek parity in diplomatic relations with Russia was made by the previous government last spring – this decision was now executed. Therefore, Kaljulaid and Helme are both wrong to suggest the elections had any effect on this decision," the foreign minister emphasized.
Reinsalu also replied to EKRE leader Martin Helme and Varro Vooglaid, running for the parliament in the opposition party's list, who find that Estonia is going too far contrasting to Russia.
"Helme is also wrong when he suggests that Estonia is to blame for the tense state of Russia-relations. That is simply not true. Estonia-Russia relations are most affected by the fact that Russia launched a widespread and unjustified war of aggression in Ukraine, which is a direct attack on the pillars of our security," the foreign minister remarked.
"Moscow has made it no secret that it wants to upend recent European security architecture and plant Eastern Europe in its sphere of influence. For obvious reasons, we cannot stand for that. Helme's recommendation for Estonia to adopt a more passive stance in opposing Russian aggression is shortsighted and dangerous, as is Vooglaid's wish to prefer closer relations with Russia to allied presence and developing national defense."
Helme told ERR in an interview on Monday that he agrees with Kersti Kaljulaid's criticism of seeking parity. "While I almost never agree with Kersti Kaljulaid on anything, I do believe she is right in this matter," the EKRE chairman said.
Helme also defended Vooglaid who has criticized both the decision to expel Russian diplomats as well as Estonia's security policy and weapons aid for Ukraine in general.
"In my understanding, national defense does not start with piling weapons and other countries' military units in Estonia but rather with responsible diplomacy. Unfortunately, our government is doing the opposite, always trying to be the first through the door with hostile actions aimed against Russia," Vooglaid has said.
Helme told ERR that he does not understand the polemic revolving around Vooglaid's positions and that he largely shares his criticism for the government.
Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski