Kaljulaid on Putin meeting: Unfair to leave hard topics to other countries

President Kersti Kaljulaid on ETV's Välisilm on Monday. 22 April 2019.
President Kersti Kaljulaid on ETV's Välisilm on Monday. 22 April 2019. Source: ERR

Speaking in an interview with host Tarmo Maiberg on ETV foreign policy programme Välisilm on Monday night, President Kersti Kaljulaid said that Estonia's job is to join those EU member states whose leaders have visited Moscow and not leave discussions on difficult topics up to other countries.

Tarmo Maiberg: What objective did you ultimately go there with, and did you achieve it?

Kersti Kaljulaid: Yes. I have repeatedly said that the biggest goal of this visit was that it occurs — and this was achieved. For several reasons. One reason is that, in my opinion, Estonia is a regular European country who, like other European countries, participates in talks with all of its neighbouring countries, regardless of whether the topics are more or less to our liking.

That is our role as well — to join our German colleagues, Finnish colleagues, Austrian colleagues, and other colleagues who have gone and spoken of Ukraine, Georgia and those difficult topics while respecting the five principles of the EU. It isn't fair to leave this work to be done by other people.

TM: But no personal ambition was involved as well — that you would like to be on the same level as other Western countries' leaders?

KK: Not personal ambition, but rather I want Estonia to be on the same level as other EU and NATO member states. We will not be talked over; we will speak for ourselves.

We ourselves talk a great deal about Russia when we meet with other heads of state. It's also significantly more honest to do so if you are prepared to communicate these thoughts directly to the Russian head of state yourself as well. And thus we are simply a more typical country, is what I'd say about that.

TM: But that two and a half hours — I agree that the Russian president paid a great deal of attention and you were able to talk at length, but doesn't this on the other hand divide EU unity as well as the Baltics' unity?

KK: If we hadn't discussed Ukraine and Georgia, if I hadn't begun each topic with this within the framework of EU sanctions, then one could say that this no doubt could have divided the unity of our positions.

But my positions were fairly clear, and naturally my positions were known ahead of time there. Not once did I deviate off course from the words that I have said to other countries in talking about Russia and the Russia situation. I presented those exact same thoughts in the exact same way there as well.

As pertains to cooperation with other Baltic countries, almost immediately before this visit we had a luncheon with EU ambassadors at Kadriorg, where all the ambassadors were invited, and I told them about the goals of this visit as well. And so actually all of our partners were informed. Likewise, when I visited the US, where I spoke with Defense Secretary [John] Bolton, I said that this visit would take place. They were informed as well. So this was broadly coordinated.

TM: Who did you call after the meeting to tell about the results?

KK: Nobody yet. There have been those who have asked, but you don't necessarily have to call to do so. We have many meetings here attended by heads of state; we'll get around to talking about it.

As I said, the main goal of this meeting was its taking place. There were no burning matters there that I would have immediately had to contact anyone about.

TM: When might the next meeting take place? For some reason I doubt that Vladimir Putin will come to Tartu next year.

KK: It's true, President Putin has never attended the World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples when it has taken place outside of Russia's borders. But I'd say we'll see.

We also discussed economic issues that we can promote during this visit, and that wouldn't necessarily require meetings between heads of state, but rather interministerial contacts in order to renew the contractual basis for the transit sector, for example, or move forward with the double taxation agreement.

And so some loose threads remained to which to hang on, if desired, which also fully take into account the policies of the EU and our allies and partners. And so in that regard this was a typical meeting of a typical EU member state with the president of one of its neighbouring states.

TM: I remember when the first time we spoke, when you took office and attended the Munich Security Conference, you said at the time that you gained a lot of new contacts. Did you develop the sort of contact with Vladimir Putin that at some point you can call each other directly and talk?

KK: From what I remember, [Mr Putin] definitely was not in Munich.

TM: Not with him specifically; I meant other heads of state.

KK: I think that without a doubt, once you have spoken at length with someone, it's possible for you to speak with them in the future as well.

But no friendship of any kind resulted from this dialogue. We are still very different people when it comes to very many fundamental issues. But no doubt, if the need arises to talk, then I believe we would be able to manage just as we managed it this time.

TM: Speaking of Georgia and Ukraine — what was his message?

KK: Precisely that which we are used to hearing, unfortunately. Naturally it would have been strange to expect any sort of progress on those positions.

TM: So you didn't hear about any sort of possible solution in the direction of how to come out of this deadlock?

KK: I certainly wasn't left with the impression that one could hope for any sort of paradigmatic change in that regard. But it would also be very strange if I heard about it before the initiators and parties of the Normandy format did.

No, honestly, it was very typical, and Minister of Foreign Affairs [Sergey] Lavrov took this part of the presentation upon himself at lunch.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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