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Prime minister: Austria, Estonia key examples of European freedom and solidarity

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also attended a formal ball while in Vienna.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also attended a formal ball while in Vienna. Source: Terevisioon/ERR

That freedom comes at a cost is something which both Estonia and Austria are well aware of, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a recent official visit to Vienna.

The prime minister was invited by Chancellor Karl Nehammer, where both countries reaffirmed their "our long-term support for Ukraine," Kallas tweeted on Thursday.

Parts of present-day Ukraine were in fact once under Imperial Austrian rule, for instance the city of Lviv.

Austria's president, Alexander Van der Bellen, also has Estonian roots.

"We also had a good exchange on EU enlargement, strengthening EU competitiveness, and cooperation between Estonia and Austria, including in the digital sphere," the prime minister noted Thursday.

Austria is not a NATO member state but is in the EU and has strong relations with the transatlantic alliance.

On Thursday, February 8, Prime Minister Kallas gave a speech while in Vienna which follows in its entirety.

Thank you for inviting me to discuss about freedom, about the joint freedom Estonia and Austria are enjoying in our common European family.

Estonia and Austria are vivid examples of how a shared space of values ​​has been reached through different – sometimes opposing – developments in the course of one century.

After World War Two, and in 1955, Austria escaped from the control of the Soviet Union by pledging neutrality in its constitution.

Austria joined the EU in 1994.

Estonia escaped fifty years of Soviet occupation when it restored its independence in 1991. We joined the EU and NATO ten years later, in 2004.

We have both become prosperous, peaceful and democratic countries – both members of the EU and of the Eurozone.

The European freedom and solidarity that we share is grounded in democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. And we also know that these values are required not only for individual freedoms and the well-being of our people, but also for our own security.

Estonia and Austria are both strong supporters of the rules-based international order and international law – a defensive shield against a vision of the world where might makes right and where bigger neighbors can overrun smaller ones with impunity.

Freedom is one of those things people don't think about until it's gone. Freedom for many obtained another meaning after Russia began its large-scale attack against Ukraine on the February 24 2022, two years ago this month.

Russia's aggression is a reminder to us that for freedom to prevail, one must be ready and able to fight for it. Freedom itself is priceless, but to keep it always comes with a price.

Estonia has had a painful lesson about freedom in our history – we lost our freedom, and we lost a fifth of our population to Soviet terror.

In fact, before World War Two, Estonia declared itself neutral, balancing between two evil empires. Despite this, we were occupied by both.

Back then we felt we were forgotten and abandoned behind the Iron Curtain, forced into the Soviet Union for half a century.

We have learned a few things from this, and this also explains our policy decisions:

First, you need to fight for your freedom, whatever the odds. Because not fighting is worse. Today, the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy are proving the same thing to the entire world every single day.

Second, in Estonia we believe that, if you want peace, you must also show that you are prepared for war. Estonia has been spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense for many years, and now we have increased our defense spending to 3 percent of our annual GDP. We have long had a conscription service and our armed forces are based on reserves.

Third, as soon as we made good our escape from the Soviet prison, we decided we would never be alone again. Never again without friends and allies. For this reason, we decided to join NATO and the EU.

Politicians have the responsibility to formulate hopeful yet realistic visions for the future. During the course of the past two tragic years, there have been several hopeful developments: Ukraine has put the free world's military, humanitarian and economic aid to great use. Ukraine is an EU candidate country now.

Putin is the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, and we are discussing international tribunal modalities between leaders.

There are clear movements within the G7 and the EU on how to utilize Russia's frozen assets in reconstructing Ukraine – which is not only strategically, but also morally and legally the right thing to do.

Ukraine's reconstruction must take place already and right now. Kindergartens, homes for foster families for children orphaned by the war, and infrastructure projects like bridges are among those things which Estonia has already helped to build.

Reconstruction combined with European integration and reforms is the perfect boost to Ukraine's economy and it also helps Ukraine move closer towards the EU.

We must continue isolating Russia in the international arena, be it economically or politically.

There should be no business as usual; in fact, there should be no business at all with war criminals. Every euro that continues towards fueling Putin's war machine helps to prolong his war of conquest in Ukraine.

Let's not act as if an outright aggressor is just one of us.

Unity is our hardest currency. Together, we can help Ukraine win this war. But we must be brutally honest with ourselves – as long as Russia is still bombing Ukrainian towns and aiming to conquer the country, we have not done enough.

The hard truth of war is that the side who has more munitions will prevail. This means Ukraine needs our long-term support.

This means assistance which reaches them, regardless of party-political distractions and realities within our own countries, regardless of the comings and goings of our democratic elections.

For this reason my government has pledged to spend 0.25 percent of annual GDP on military assistance to Ukraine, over the next four years.

This all costs money, and I am aware it is politically difficult to explain the situation in countries who have better neighbors. The hard truth is that objective circumstances today don't give any reason to believe Russia will change its policy of conquest. This means it would be a false hope that there will be peace in Ukraine tomorrow.

The explanation we owe to our people is that this difficult security situation within Europe is here to stay, and we must all adapt accordingly.

Our primary focus must be on making sure that Russia´s aggression ends in defeat. Only then can we be sure that it will not continue or expand its aggression in the future.

We should be learning from history that what happens elsewhere will quickly happen here. Unless aggression is stopped, deterred, and contained. That is why the best way to secure ourselves is to make sure we help Ukraine to win its fight for freedom.

Our Europe is something that will never be finalized, in fact. After each crisis, after each enlargement, after the formative experiences of each new generation, Europe has to reinvent itself over and over again.

This is needed to remain meaningful and relevant to our people. And this is necessary to deliver not only hope in a better future, but also tangible benefits, including security to our own people.

The Covid pandemic led us to think out of the box, and thanks to joint procurement, we managed to secure vaccines at a revolutionary pace. The same should apply to our thinking now, given that there lies a seriously worsened security environment right behind our borders.

And indeed, the Russian war against Ukraine has brought along serious shifts in thinking among European countries. It has shifted the security policy of Finland, now a NATO member, and Sweden, a soon-to-be member. Austria's decision to join in the German-led Sky Shield air defense program is another example of a changed approach.

Within the EU, we have agreed to jointly procure one million rounds of artillery shells to Ukraine, and we are discussing joint procurement and joint ownership of defense capabilities within the EU.

This all is a clear illustration of this paradigm shift in thinking.

There will be no freedom, no economic prosperity without national security. Hence, the direction is clear – European countries must make sure that they are able to deter and defend themselves also from outside threats and attacks. This is necessary to secure our common market, economic prosperity and the well-being and freedom of our people.

I am well aware that there are many fears linked to these tremendous and speedy changes. Uncertain times are full of traps.

There's the trap of hope – the hope for quick solutions. It is only human that we all want this war to end quickly. I do not know anyone in Ukraine who is "for war."

The people I know are for their freedom, for self-defense, for living their lives peacefully. They want the war to end. But history has shown time and again that not every peace dove carries a real message of peace. And not every peace treaty secures a peace that lasts.

Then there's also the trap of negotiations. This involves the hope that once we allow Russia to get away with a land-grab, its appetite would be satisfied.

This desire to negotiate also stems from those who wish to stabilize relations with Russia, no matter the cost.

Then there's the trap of fear. Threats issued by Russian leaders and pictures of nuclear detonations on Russian state TV are aimed at scaring our people. By sowing dread, they want to change the perception of war within our societies.

That leads us to what has been called the trap of self-deterrence.

Fear of escalation creates this self-deterrence. As a result, some argue that to help Ukraine defend itself from aggression means to escalate things.

My response to this is: Defense is not escalation. Resistance does not provoke Russia – weakness does.

And finally, there's the trap of disinformation. While fear is one tool that the Kremlin uses to prevent democratic leaders and societies from supporting Ukraine, disinformation and influence operations are another.

The front-line of Putin's so-called shadow war is located in the hearts of our own democracies: In the universities, legislatures, media and in other institutions.

The Kremlin's disinformation is reaching wide audiences via social media; it sits literally within our pockets, phones and apps.

The aim of Russia's influence operations are to create distrust and change our policies, they aim to deter our societies from supporting Ukraine, spark domestic divisions, and influence democratic decision-making – including decisions we make at the ballot-boxes.

The latest example is from Germany where a vast anti-Ukraine disinformation campaign against the government via the social media platform X (formerly Twitter – ed.) has been uncovered.

The target was the support of the German government for Ukraine – more than one million German-language posts were sent from an estimated 50,000 fake accounts.

There have also been several recent examples of influence operations. Among the latest examples are a European Parliament member from Latvia who the European Parliament is now investigating for decades-long cooperation with Russian intelligence and security services.

A joint journalistic investigation recently revealed that an adviser to the German Bundestag deputy of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party might be a Russian intelligence agent.

In my own country, our internal police recently detained a long-time university professor from Russia, who is suspected of engaging in intelligence activities.

The best vaccine against such threats is to speak openly about these incidents. For this reason, the Estonian internal security authority has a lengthy track record of revealing the stories of caught spies also to the wider international public.

Freedom is not free. We all have to pay for it. And we need to explain the cost to our voters.

We mustn't be afraid – in fact, it is fear itself that we must fear the most.

As my father has always told me, only freedom will give certainty, will conquer fear and will guarantee a fair economy

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Government Office

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