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No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister

No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Urmas Reinsalu (all photos: Vitaliy Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

In an interview with RBC-Ukraine, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Urmas Reinsalu talked about supplying Ukraine with weapons, fears of nuclear war, Russia's defeat in the war, the inadmissibility of territorial compromises, and the timing of Ukraine's accession to the EU and NATO.

Estonia has provided assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of Russian invasion in an amount exceeding 1% of the country's GDP. According to this indicator, the Estonians ranked first among all Western allies. Estonia decided to give Ukraine all of its 155-mm howitzers. More than 60,000 Ukrainians have found refuge in Estonia, which is almost 5% of its 1.3 million population.

When discussing any issues related to Ukraine, including anti-Russian sanctions, European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Tallinn always takes the most pro-Ukrainian position.

Speaking to RBC-Ukraine, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu has consistently called for assessing Russia's aggression against Ukraine in a broader historical context: not only as a war for the preservation of Ukraine, its statehood, and the security of the entire Europe.

"In peaceful times, we love to talk sentimentally about the values that define us. But now it is time to decide whether we are worthy of and are ready to defend these values," Reinsalu said.

The Estonian Foreign Minister has a very clear answer to many issues that European politicians and diplomats often give evasive answers to: whether it is the inadmissibility of any "painful compromises" with the aggressor country or the fact that Ukraine has no alternative to joining NATO.

- Many Western countries explain the impossibility of supplying Ukraine with certain types of weapons by saying that they will not have the weapons to defend themselves. Meanwhile, a relatively small Estonia has already provided Ukraine with $400 million of aid, which is more than 1% of your GDP. Does this mean that these other countries are just looking for an excuse?

- Yes. Last spring I was a member of parliament and wrote a report on Ukraine's military needs. I actually predicted what would happen and what kind of military assistance Ukraine needed. And then I tried to resist certain, so to say, zombie or rote arguments from different countries. These arguments arise from time to time, depending on the type of weapons.

As we all remember, the first such argument was not that we don't have enough of our own weapons stockpiles, because Ukraine was not given enough at the time.

It was that the escalation would be too big. If we give Ukraine howitzers, Russia will do something in response to it and there will be huge consequences. That's what happened with the cannons, but then military advisors told these Western political leaders: if you don't give howitzers to Ukraine, Ukraine will lose. And your indecision will actually turn into a political decision to let Ukraine lose. So, the decision was approved.

We have seen similar debates around tanks, modern Western fighter jets, and long-range missiles. My answer to this is very clear: Russia is already using the full range of weapons against Ukraine. Russia has already increased the level of escalation without any context.

The second argument that is used is that Western weapons systems are so complex that they cannot be operated by untrained or incompetent Ukrainian soldiers. We have seen all these sophisticated weapons systems being used during the war. We have seen that this argument falls flat even in the case of Abrams tanks.

And the third argument you mentioned is that we have run out of stocks. If we take a look at the deficit of shells in Ukraine, we can see that the reserves of Western countries are huge. It is quite a logical decision to provide what Ukraine needs in a tactical temporary sense and create a new, strong, sustainable joint arms procurement system that should replenish the stocks of Western countries, as well as provide stable supplies to Ukraine.

Therefore, these arguments do not work because the war has been going on for a year, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future, and everyone should intend to bring this war to an end sooner rather than later, and the only way to do this with dignity is to give Ukraine a chance to win. For this, we need to provide a sufficient amount of weapons without any political cautions.

No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister- When you and your colleagued discuss the threat of "escalation", what are you talking about in particular?

- A nuclear bomb.

- Has the fear of nuclear weapons become stronger or weaker, say, over the last six months?

- I would say I look at it in a broader perspective. It is greater than during the Cold War. During the Cold War, our generation, our parents and grandparents, everyone in our Western community knew that you cannot surrender in the face of nuclear terror. And I think that should be the basis of our nuclear concept today. Because, if you recognize that the nuclear threat can be used as an excuse to give up something, it means your psychological ground is slipping away.

Of course, different countries have different points of view in this context. But during this war, Russia has voiced such threats regarding nuclear weapons that even Leonid Brezhnev did not make. It is important to understand that in Russians’ opinion, using this psychological terrorism is their only leverage over Western governments.

- After giving Ukraine so many of your weapons, do you feel quite secure? Do you believe in the power of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and that your allies will protect you in case of emergency?

- Yes, we believe in Article 5. We are happy to see that in the near future, at least Finland, I hope, will join NATO, and this is very important for the security situation in our region. Of course, we are also investing more into new military capabilities and ammunition stockpiles. Our defense budget has grown from 2% to 3% of GDP, and we are also looking to update NATO's defense plans for our region.

We also have some allied units, troops, including the US, the UK and so on. But again, let's look at the broader perspective - is anyone safe right now at all? No. It would be crazy to say we are safe now, when there is a large-scale war going on. Our safety on the European continent will be decided on the battlefields in Ukraine.

- What could be the next big thing in terms of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine? Is it possible to get F-16s in the coming months?

- I really hope that based on the results of the last year, we have realized that we should be proactive rather than reactive in this sense. As for the F-16, pilots are pilots, we are not talking about some kind of spacecraft. You have pilots in Ukraine, they will be trained in a short time. And what's very important is that these F-16s can also be an air defense platform, because their speed can be used to launch missiles against the Russian S-300s. So they are definitely a part of an air shield to protect Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and people.

I think we are over-dramatizing when we take one piece of weaponry and think that it will be a game changer. It is a game changer in the military sense, Ukraine totally needs it, but it is not a game changer in the strategic sense. So I would really urge those countries that own these weapons systems to put a real strategic perspective on investing in Ukraine's victory.

In my report that came out last April, I wrote about fighter jets, tanks, long-range missiles, and that $100 billion is needed for direct military support to Ukraine. And I think that by the fall of this year, perhaps by early winter, the Western community will get there.

The question is whether this step-by-step philosophy of military support is reasonable in terms of cost-effectiveness. It is one thing to have material cost-efficiency, but there is also cost-efficiency for the sake of humanity, because this will just prolong the war. To continue with this approach of gradual support for Ukraine would mean a huge human cost to the Ukrainian people, because Putin's strategy may be to invest on his part by prolonging the war.

No matter what we say, the reality is that the war is in Ukraine. Russian cities are not under constant threat. And, of course, Putin's strategic goal is also to undermine the sustainable existence of Ukraine as a socio-economic unit, and we should not give Putin that impetus for sure.
No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister
- We are now in the second year of a full-scale war. Do you see Western countries maintaining their unity about how much to help Ukraine, deter Russia, what goals should be set in the war, etc.? Are there any serious contradictions between the Baltic states and Poland on the one hand and some Western European countries on the other?

- I think there are differences at the level of modus operandi. And they cannot even be grouped in the way you described. Even in regards to the timing of Ukraine's accession to Euro-Atlantic projects and so on. But at the level of modus vivendi, there is a firm approach of the Western community that we should support Ukraine as long as it is needed. I can't believe after all the events that have happened that someone would turn their back on Ukraine.

- Ukraine's goals in this war are quite clear: restoring our territorial integrity within the 1991 borders, bringing to justice all those responsible for war crimes, etc. But what are the real goals of the West, if any, in this war? Or is it all about "let's help Ukraine and see what happens"?

- Well, it depends on who you talk to. I think we have always been looking for practical solutions and practical results, for example, to hold them accountable (Russia for the war against Ukraine - ed.). I think there no one, by and large, denies the notion of responsibility.

But again, the question is what the modus operandi will be. There is no consensus here in the Western community. I hope that it will be reached in the future, whether it is the creation of an international tribunal on the crime of aggression under a UN mandate, or whether everything will take place in Ukraine under your national legislation. I personally strongly believe, support and defend the first option.

We all remember that the Atlantic Charter was written years before the end of World War II and the defeat of Hitler. So, of course, we need to have a strategic perspective on the future of Europe after the war. You have clearly outlined the prerequisites for this, and I fully agree with them. In my understanding, it is very important that Russia must lose this war, and we must build a new European security architecture in a way that Russia cannot dominate the decisions and lifestyles of its neighbors in the future.

- Do you think that Russia will be able to survive a catastrophic defeat in this war, including in terms of its territorial integrity? And are there any fears among your colleagues in the European Union about the possible collapse of Russia in one form or another?

- Firstly, Russia has fallen morally. Secondly, I have not seen a single statement or publication this year that Ukraine or any third country would like to get even an inch of Russian territory. No, we just want to protect what belongs to Ukraine, to protect our territories.

When we talk about the future of Russia and Russian society, it surely depends on the outcome of the war. Speaking about this international tribunal and the responsibility of Russian leaders for the crime of aggression, I think it is very necessary not only for the victims and their families in Ukraine. It is also very necessary for the future of the Russian people.

After World War II, denazification, and a clear legal assessment of what happened and who was responsible for the atrocities of World War II, was actually a psychological way to restore the reputation of German society and to find itself on a more prosperous, humane and moral basis.

This is something that Russia lacks, if we talk about a longer time frame. We had Nuremberg, but there was no international legal assessment of the crimes of communism. If that had happened, I cannot imagine a KGB colonel becoming the supreme ruler of Russia. If you don't learn from history, history will come back, and that's exactly what happened.

If the world community fails again in this sense, the evil from the past will come back to us again. It's like karma in the sense that we can't run away from ourselves. Of course, this war is about what will happen to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian statehood, and European security. But in a broader perspective, I personally believe this war is about us as modern generations of people. In peaceful times, we love to talk sentimentally about the values that define us. But now is time to decide whether we are worthy of and are ready to defend these values. If we lose, our children's generation will pay the price.
No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister
- Let's go back to the issue of Ukraine's territorial integrity. All Western officials always emphasize their support for the full territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Donbas, Crimea, etc. But there are a lot of reports about some compromises being voiced privately. That the de-occupation of Crimea by military means would be a red line for Putin, and then there would be a real threat of nuclear war. Do you think these talks about "painful compromises" can be put into practice?

- There’s a constant fight between cowardice and courage inside us. Even inside governments. The question is which one will win. Maybe someone could imagine it from a sadistic point of view: okay, we gave the Ukrainians weapons, we gave them time. And if they are unable to liberate their territory, then a "political solution" is needed.

But this 'political solution' would only be a euphemism for giving away a part of your flesh, like Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice: what part will you give away? I think Ukrainians would give their heart, like in the play.

This is sadism, completely irrelevant from a moral point of view. This is the philosophy of the times of geopolitics, and we must avoid such thinking. In order to avoid the threat of legitimizing such a scenario, we need to openly condemn it and voice this possible threat.

- Do you see opportunities to increase sanctions against Russia, or should we instead focus on combating the circumvention of existing sanctions?

- I like both. On Monday, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, I called for preparations for the 11th package of sanctions. I also think that the most important element of further restrictive measures is to cut off the sources of the Russian raw materials business. The International Energy Agency has estimated that at current prices, Russia makes a net profit of about $135 million a day from crude oil exports, plus add hidden ways of circumventing sanctions.

So, first of all, we have to impose new sanctions, especially on the revenues of the Russian energy sector. Second, we must deal with the problem of sanctions circumvention. For instance, when considering the price ceiling for Russian oil, we should sanction any sale of oil tankers to Russia. We should also impose secondary sanctions in case someone circumvents the price ceiling, so that no European port can be used by such a company.

On the bright side, Russia is experiencing a large budget deficit. This year they have to think about their social services system. If they cut it, it will cause serious unrest. And in that sense, that was also the purpose of the sanctions. So they are working, just not so much, so they need to be improved.

- Could Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow seriously affect the course of the war and the sanctions, particularly in terms of circumventing them?

- Putin visited Beijing just a few days before the war started, remember? We do not know what was discussed in that tea room, we were not there. Some kind of communiqué was written, and there were interpretations that it was something like an authorization for Russia to act.

Now China has presented its "peace plan". Of course, it cannot be interpreted as a peace plan. And, of course, Western countries have to show China in a convincing way that they will pay a huge price for any involvement in the arms trade with Russia. We cannot just let this happen.

We also have to take a tougher stance against Iran, which has supplied thousands of drones and provided instructors to Russia. Everything is at stake in this war, especially our dignity and our security, our way of life, and the freedom of the world.

In the end, it is always a battle of willpower, of stronger determination. Putin's strategic plan is based on the fact that the willpower of the Western community is weaker than his. So, in the long run, we should not act in a way he expects us to.
No alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO - Estonian Foreign Minister
- A few questions about Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Can negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the European Union start this year?

- This is a political decision. Just as it was a political decision to grant you candidate status last June. Objective criteria are one thing, and I am confident that Ukraine, with its determination, will fulfill all these seven goals that have been named.

Then it will come down to political decision-making. There is a hidden or open indecision among some European countries in this regard. It's not about Ukraine specifically, but about EU enlargement as such.

The point of my message is that if we cannot do this in such psychologically dramatic times, we will not be able to do it in more psychologically peaceful times. In these harsh times, we have to use the momentum and apply pressure to revitalize these negotiations. No one would dare to say they are politically opposed to Ukraine. But there is an endless list of technocratic nuances and arguments. So, frankly: this is a question of political will, not of some kind of technocracy.

- Will war be a problem? I mean, will we be able to join the European Union before the end of hostilities?

- Negotiations should not be linked to current actions on the battlefield. If we do so, we are essentially saying that Putin has a veto. This was his main demand - to keep Ukraine out of Euro-Atlantic structures. If we say that all these achievements and processes will be frozen until the war is over, then in a sense Putin will get what he wanted, roughly speaking.

It took Estonia more than seven years to join the EU after we were granted candidate status. I think that the enormous efforts that Ukrainians are making could shorten this time. Of course, we are not talking about months, we are talking about years. But to say that we need to freeze this process or its elements since the war is ongoing is unreasonable.

- Our government says that Ukraine will be able to join NATO before joining the EU. Do you agree with this?

- According to objective criteria, it is certainly easier to become a NATO member. It's interesting how quickly Ukraine is now turning to NATO standards; life basically dictates it.

The political aspect is another matter. It is very important that the Vilnius summit gives a clear signal about NATO's further actions to see Ukraine as a full member of NATO. And not just the rhetoric that "the door is open". Everything has changed. The war broke out. President Zelensky signed an application for NATO membership. This is an objective reality. NATO must respond to this. Of course, no one is saying that Ukraine will become a full member of NATO during the war. This is the reality of security.

- Immediately after the war is over?

- After the war is over, when the situation is stabilized, I see no alternative way. If someone proposes to postpone this for an indefinite future or to freeze the practical processes of accession, such indecision could be interpreted as Russia attacking Ukraine again. This would mean a possibility of a second war in the midst of the first war. This is unacceptable. We cannot allow a gray zone in the center of Europe. This should be our first lesson to learn from this war. We failed before the war and we must not let it happen again.

- No international security guarantees can be an alternative today, can they?

- It is like a replica of a car that isn’t working. The only alternative would be a fully armed Ukraine with nuclear weapons. But, of course, due to nuclear proliferation restrictions, international principles and order, this is impossible.