President Alar Karis: Our security starts with us

Alar Karis speaking at the Victory Day Parade in Viljandi, June 23, 2023.
Alar Karis speaking at the Victory Day Parade in Viljandi, June 23, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonia's security starts with us, President Alar Karis said during his Victory Day speech on Friday. A sense of togetherness and the certainty that Estonia is a home to all of us who live in it will be our first line of defense, he added.

Members of the Defence Forces, the Young Eagles and the Home Daughters, people of Estonia,

The full-scale war of aggression launched by Russia against Ukraine on February 24, 2022 has brought our own security, national defense, and willingness to defend the country to the fore in many of our debates. Those discussions have been held everywhere, from the halls of parliament to kitchen tables around the country. That is as it should be since the security of our land and our people is a matter for us all. Perhaps the most important thing I have taken from these discussions is that which is set out in the document forming the basis of Estonia's new security policy: that our security starts with us, from what each and every one of us does and how prepared we are. The members of the Defense Forces, the Young Eagles and the Home Daughters standing before me here today are a perfect example of that. 

There is another key principle at play here, of course, which we see reflected in every victory parade – the willingness of thousands of people to voluntarily take action to preserve Estonia's security. This started more than 30 years ago when the young and indeed younger still Riho Ühtegi and Martin Herem took the time alongside their work and studies to contribute to the restoration of the Defense League. That passion, that faith, is something we need today.

Only recently there came a gratifying example of the wide-ranging defense of our country. Just a few days ago 50 or so companies were recognized for the first time for their outstanding contributions to national defense. 

The attitude that employers take towards workers being called up for reserve training has a direct impact on our ability to defend ourselves, since it is important to them to maintain their income while they are away on exercises. I am glad to see that more and more companies are promoting the involvement of their employees in such training in one way or another. The private sector is also supporting our national defense personnel in other ways: offering technology and machinery for exercises; enabling flexible working hours for their partners; providing free catering during the training; and obtaining thermal imaging cameras for them. And just think how many entrepreneurs are involved in the activities of the Defense League on a daily basis. Many thanks to you all!

My friends, 

On this special day, when we celebrate one of our most important victories in securing Estonia's freedom, I am proud to be able to say that the willingness of people in Estonia to defend their country is impressive. Surveys have shown that 83 percent of us would support armed resistance should Estonia come under attack. The number of those who are willing to directly contribute to military defense is remarkable. 

This is a crystal-clear message to potential adversaries: we are unwavering in our determination to fight for our country. 

Here I would paraphrase Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who once wrote that the annihilation of military power and the conquering of a country alone do not constitute the end of a war: a war can only be considered over when the people of said country drop all resistance.

Russia's attack on Ukraine has not instilled fear in the people of Estonia, but reinforced their determination to defend their own country.

I use the term 'people of Estonia' deliberately, since I include those whose native language is not Estonian. Russia's aggression has made them more willing to fight for Estonia, too. Every Russian rocket, every Russian attack on a Ukrainian kindergarten or hospital or apartment building or reservoir turns people away from the country that Russia has become. The Kremlin's bloody war is not strengthening but rather undermining Moscow's attempts to culturally or politically bind Russian speakers outside of Russia to the motherland. 

For our part, we must redouble our efforts to make Estonia a caring and inclusive society whose strength is many magnitudes greater than even the most powerful of evil forces. A sense of togetherness and the certainty that Estonia is a home to all of us who live in it will be our first line of defense. 

My fellow countrymen, 

In a deteriorating security environment, Estonia as a whole must make quicker and more significant efforts to reinforce its security, but in this we are not alone. With our NATO allies we can guarantee for our country credible deterrence and military protection. Victory Day is an appropriate occasion on which to thank those allies who work alongside us to maintain Estonia's security.

The forthcoming NATO summit in Vilnius will bring with it decisions affirming a defensive position commensurate to the constant threat posed by Russia. These will include agreements on new regional defense plans, an updated defense model and approach to military management, and increased pre-positioning. 

NATO's enhanced forward-presence defense posture – that every ally shall be defended from the very first meter – will bring more troops to the alliance's eastern flank, along with increased capacity and additional supplies. But that demands of us greater readiness to accept all of this. Such a military posture is based on NATO's analysis of how big a military force would be required in Estonia to fend off an attack by an opponent on our own soil. Only by implementing these decisions can we convince a potential attacker that any military provocation would fail. 

In order to guarantee such a defense and deterrence posture, Estonia and all of the member countries of NATO must invest more in their armed forces, weaponry, supplies and infrastructure. For the first time, 2022 saw Europe's defense spending exceed the level last seen in 1989. The West as a whole is aware that the security situation is deteriorating and is making long-term plans to make the world a safer place. This is based on the fact that there is clearly no negotiating with Russia, which was so quick to launch its war of aggression, and which will only be brought to heel by losing that war. 

The decision we have taken to increase our defense spending to 3 percent of GDP was not an easy one. History shows that any period of military opposition brings with it a higher tax burden. At the same time we are witnessing the arrival of harder times in the Estonian economy, with companies closing, entrepreneurs being less willing to invest and foreign investors having their own doubts. Our 3 percent investment in defense should make them less hesitant, because the better defended Estonia is, the more secure the country is for the economy, investments and everyone in it. 

Unfortunately, national defense also impacts on our living environment. The security situation has made it imperative that we enhance training opportunities for the Defense Forces and Defense League. It is also vital that we give our allies the chance to conduct here in Estonia the sort of exercises that will prepare our servicemen and -women to defend the country. Our neighbors are already acting in this regard: Latvia is constructing the Selonia training area, covering 25,000 hectares, while Lithuania is developing the Rudininkai training area over 17,000 hectares. Our own extension in Nursipalu will increase the size of the training area to more than 9000 hectares. 

The last 18 months have not only shown that security comes at a higher cost than before, but also that matters pertaining to national defense are increasingly affecting the day-to-day lives of us all. 

The War of Independence gave a cast-iron coating to our national pride and confidence. Today too we have every reason to believe in Estonia and to be prepared to defend it. Thankfully, for the time being, we are only required to rehearse that scenario as part of the military exercises that take place in our country. And the more assured we become in rehearsals, including those with our allies, the lower the likelihood that Estonia will become a battlefield. 

Finally today, Victory Day, I would ask everyone to turn their thoughts to the Ukrainian armed forces who have launched their counteroffensive. It is clear that they face a very difficult task and that they will incur losses. But let us hope that with the support of Estonia and other friends they are able to build on their initial successes and achieve victory, since our own security depends on it.

Enjoy the parade, and enjoy Victory Day.

Long live the Defense League! Long live Estonia!


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Editor: Helen Wright

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