Russia has enough resources to wage war in Ukraine for several more years and the west needs to take this into account, President Alar Karis said on Monday.
The president spoke about defense and security, the upcoming independence day on February 24, and the visit of a high-profile guest during an interview with Vikerradio's foreign affairs show "Välistund".
Karis said Russia's military activities in Ukraine may continue for years as the country has the resources to replace killed and injured soldiers.
"This means that no matter how poorly trained a Russian soldier is today, he will still be firing in the direction of the Ukrainians," the president said. "It could well drag out this war for a very long time, to the point where Russia still has reserves in its back pocket to fight a war that could last for several years. You just have to take this into account."
Raising defense spending to 3 percent of GDP a challenge
Touching on security topics, Karis said it is necessary to think about civilian defense — such as emergency shelters.
The president said Estonia "still has a long way to go", especially when compared to countries such as Finland which have been preparing for decades.
He said raising defense spending to 3 percent is a challenge but that readiness and deterrence are very important.
"In order not to be attacked, we have to be at exactly the right level in our defensive capabilities so that this desire to attack us disappears. I believe that if Putin had known that Ukraine would put up such resistance, I believe that this war would either have been postponed or he would have tried elsewhere. That is why such deterrence was, is, and will remain important," said Karis.
Relations with Moscow
Asked about the recent downgrade of relations with Russia, which saw both Estonia's ambassador to Moscow and Russia's ambassador in Tallinn return home, Karis said he was in favor of retaining a presence in the country.
"I have also spoken with [Estonian] Ambassador [Margus] Laidre, and I agree that it is always wise to be there, even if you are on the enemy's side. After all, we want to know what the enemy is thinking and what its plans are. And if we don't have that opportunity, if we can only guess or read about it in the press or through third parties, it is certainly not the same as being there," the president said.
"On the other hand, if that is the decision, there is no point in regretting it. You have to think about how you can move forward. That is how it has gone this time. Whether it is good or bad for Estonia, only time will tell," he added.
The president said he had consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) before the decision was made but the decision ultimately lies with the ministry.
Karis also said the lack of new foreign policy experts in Estonia is problematic. The MFA could also be more open about its activities, he said.
The president said a "high-level" visit is expected on February 24, Estonia's 105th independence day anniversary.
He would not be drawn on who.
"When the time comes, a corresponding announcement will be made. Although it has not been our custom to have distinguished foreign guests at our birthday celebrations. But then, customs change. And when people do come, it is a sign that we are respected and that they want to celebrate our birthday with us," he said.
Responding to a question about speculation Estonia could come under attack in the future and if this could damage future investments, the president said not scaring investors away must be taken into account.
"There is always an alternative to choose from, after all, even if it is perhaps not as favorable as, say, Estonia or another Baltic country," Karis told "Välistund".
He said that a magnet factory has agreed, in principle, to open in Narva despite the security situation and that such examples should be highlighted to show other investors it is not dangerous in Estonia.
The president said Estonia no longer needs to prove anything to the international media anymore.
However, he suggested: "Maybe sometimes something could be left unsaid, or it does not have to be said through the media but directly to a partner."
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Helen Wright