Speaking to Toomas Sildam on ERR's online broadcast "Straight from the News Building" earlier this week, two-time European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas (Reform) outlined some theoretical talking points for Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of his upcoming meeting in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump.
"First of all, I would express satisfaction that this kind of meeting is taking place at all," Kallas said. "When you are otherwise seen together with [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko and others of his kind but aren't invited to the G7 and are ignored at the G20, then the meeting alone is in itself a positive fact. Secondly, I would congratulate Trump on the breakthrough he achieved with North Korea. And add that we, Russia, also did a great deal for this.
"Thirdly, I would say that we didn't want to take away Crimea at all, but rather were forced to do so due to the fact that NATO planned on having Ukraine join the alliance, with which Russia would have lost its military base in Sevastopol. Fourth, I would mention that there is a similar situation along the Baltic Sea, as Finland may want to join NATO."
With these four talking points covered, according to Kallas, Putin could move on to the matter of greatest importance to him. "And finally I would say that NATO is shifting its military capabilities closer to Russia," he explained, "And that it would be necessary in the interests of further cooperation to pull back on this. In the Baltics and Poland, for example."
Kallas added that this was purely a thought experiment and based on his own opinion regarding what Putin likely wants from his 16 July meeting with Trump. He noted, however, that the bilateral meeting in Helsinki would in all likelihood amount to the two heads of state feeling one another out and not result in any deals at the time.
Trump wants Russian support on Iran
What Trump may want out of this meeting could be connected to Israel and Iran, Kallas speculated, noting that the US is a strong supporter of the former.
"When you consider Trump's positions regarding Iran, they are fairly hostile," he noted. "As Iran is shifting its influence closer to Israel, the US president may seek Russian cooperation in keeping Iran in check. And should the US at one point want to bomb Iran, it needs Russia's understanding."
Kallas on his part does not believe that Ukraine will be up for discussion at the Trump-Putin meeting.
"I don't think that Trump will start bringing up Ukraine," he explained. "Nothing will change with regard to sanctions imposed on Russia either. Regarding the sanctions, the economy in the US is in the hands of the president, but sanctions are in the hands of Congress. Trump has seen repeatedly how Congress defies him. This is why, when it comes to sanctions, Trump will keep within the current framework thereof."
No winners in Trump's trade war
On the subject of tensions between the EU and the US, Kallas said that there was ultimately nothing to be won by either side in a trade war.
"Trump is a simple man," he explained. "He is a man of simple and short-term decisions. He doesn't consult very much with anyone. He decides and does things himself, and then announces it on Twitter. Trump looked at foreign trade numbers and said and did what Obama had actually said in talks with Europe — that your trade surplus with us is large and growing, and American voters don't like that. Now Trump was elected president and he is looking for a solution to this. Tariffs are a fairly typical solution. This will benefit Trump in the short term, but not in the long term. Ultimately everyone will lose as a result of these trade tariffs."
Trump to force allies to increase defence spending
Kallas added that the logic is similar behind Trump's views on NATO allies that are incapable of fulfilling their obligations before the alliance.
"American defence spending is around 4%," he noted. "For many others, it's below 2%. And if something serious happens in the world, it's the American boys who have to go handle it. Trump is now saying let the others do something themselves — and American voters are once again eating it up."
At the same time, he noted that Germany is already increasing its defence spending, as will other countries who have been the target of Trump's criticism.
"Germany was initially to increase its defence spending by €4 billion, but this amount will be increased even more," Kallas noted. "Germany's restraint when it comes to defence spending has historically been due to the fact that its neighbours still have their own memories of Germany's military power."
While Estonia's own defence spending exceeds NATO's 2% target, totalling nearly €500 million, Kallas believed that it is not the place of a country of Estonia's size to criticise others.
"Can you imagine our prime minister meeting with the German chancellor and asking when Germany intends to increase its defence spending to 2%?" he asked, adding that this could not be taken seriously.
Russia won't militarily attack Estonia
On the subject of Russia, Kallas said that Russia's great interest is in participating in world politics, which it can only do in cooperation with the US. He also found that fears that Russia would militarily attack Estonia are overstated.
"I for one don't believe that Russia plans on directly militarily attacking us," he said. "There is, however, an ongoing fight over spheres of influence, and Russia would certainly like to see Estonia as an ally and under its sphere of influence."
According to Kallas, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995-1996, all Estonian foreign policy leaders, including himself back in the day, have tried to get along with Russia, but to no avail.
"It's like a tango for two," he described. "If you don't receive friendly responses, it's difficult to build anything up."
Russia's motivation for undermining the unity of the EU can also be sought in history, he continued.
"When the EU was first formed in 1957, the Soviet Union and later Russia has since then already wanted to see the EU fall and break apart," Kallas noted. "Russia's strategic approach is to bypass the EU and seek direct contact with member states separately. The background on this is that the Soviet Union was in some respects also a project of various peoples but failed. And now Russia cannot wrap its head around how these 28 European states can cooperate."
Russia's motivation for undermining the unity of the EU can also be traced back to historical reasons, he continued.
"When the EU was first formed in 1957, the Soviet Union and later Russia has since already wanted to see the EU fall and break apart," Kallas noted. "Russia's strategic approach is to bypass the EU and seek direct contact with member states separately. The background on this is that the Soviet Union was in some respects also a project of various peoples but failed. And now Russia cannot wrap its head around how these 28 European states can cooperate."
That Trump would support this type of policy today is illogical based on the US' behaviour up until now, Kallas found.
"Historically, things have been the other way around with the US," he recalled. "George W. Bush said in one speech that the United States of America supports a strong EU, because the US found that if Europe is united, they won't fight among themselves and the US won't have to intervene there."
Editor: Aili Vahtla