Kaljulaid on reconciling with Russia: We cannot go along with this game

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: ERR

Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week, President Kersti Kaljulaid talked Ukraine and Russia in an interview with ETV foreign affairs program "Välisilm" host Astrid Kannel.

Astrid Kannel: What does Ukraine expect from us today, and can we offer it?

Kersti Kaljulaid: This was actually my second meeting already with the president, but [at the time of the first], he did not yet have his administration in place.

They're not expecting anything of us in the sense of, 'Okay Estonians, start doing this for us and help us do that.' I went moreso to find out whether the fields to which we've contributed, such as healthcare reform — private companies have offered e-solutions, but the entire concept for the restructuring of their healthcare system is based on our approach — digital reforms, and the addressing of corruption, reforms to which Estonian officials and Estonian companies have contributed, whether the plan is to  redo everything, or whether current trends will continue. Because there is no doubt that there were many things during the previous president's term in Ukraine that failed, but nonetheless there were a small handful of little birds that nearly took flight. The question, first and foremost, was whether or not the baby would be thrown out with the bathwater as well.

And also, of course, to get a feel for whether we have reason to hope that the economic model that has been kept in a stranglehold by oligarchs will begin to change now — whether we would really begin to see a reduction in corruption.

I was actually left with a fairly positive impression. Whether or not these plans will work out — it can't be the case, of course, that the other side won't resist — is very difficult to say right now, but there's no equivocation going on to the effect of, "We'll do it eventually, and understand that things are hard for us, and everything takes time."

On the contrary, the biggest risk we're facing right now is that the doers themselves want to do things very quickly. This can mean that they can't always involve the opposition, and that the people may be left behind on some issues. But they definitely want to move forward very quickly.

AK: Have Ukrainians heard that our interior minister has suggested that Estonia should reintroduce visas for Ukrainians?

KK: Yes, I answered questions about that. First of all, visa freedom, naturally, is between the EU and Ukraine. You'd then have to go through this long chain and start discussing it there, but from what I understand, based on the foreign minister's position, Estonia has no such plans, and that is exactly what I said there when journalists asked about this.

AK: How do you feel about French President Emmanuel Macron's idea to start reconciling with Russia in a situation in which Crimea remains occupied and, let's be honest, the war in Eastern Ukraine is still ongoing?

KK: I will continue pursing the stance of telling all of our partners and allies that we cannot go along with this game — even if we want to demonstrate success, or results, so to speak — that the Russians do 2 percent and then we do 20, because we love acting like look, progress has been made and now there's a reason to back to business as usual.

We have to keep the entire chain in mind here — Georgia, Ukraine. And if we now give Russia a reason to calculate that if it was three months after Georgia, and years before the Ukrainian War that we spoke with the Russians again of planning visa freedom, then it can't be the case that it was now five years after Ukraine, and we'll see what happens next time. We'd be giving the Russians a very clear signal with this. This needs to continue to be discussed.

More importantly, in my opinion we must remain among those countries who speak with Russia directly, and with whom other allies and partners discuss what we should do with the Russians or Russia — what direction we should take. If we were a country that didn't communicate itself at all, we'd end up stuck in a role where you don't know, you don't understand, and you're saddling us with the difficult work of communicating with the Russians.

But, having myself contributed to understanding what is going on and what people are thinking in Russia, I now realize that I have better access to this information, and a significantly more powerful position in making our views known, whether to the French or anyone else.

AK: Aren't you worried that we, the Baltic states and Poland may end up isolated within the EU with our Russia concerns?

KK: It certainly isn't isolation if you have the Baltic states, Poland and the Nordic countries. Yes, we know that the Finns' approach is very different on a tactical level, but our risk analyses regarding what kind of threat Russia is and what kind of threat is a Russia that comprehends the closing of its own window of opportunity due to a lack of economic clout, poor demographics, other world regions outstripping it in terms of development — how big of a threat such a neighbor can be — the Swedes', Danes', Finns', Estonians' and other Baltic countries' or Poles' stances are no different. So we're not actually alone after all.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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