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Russia wouldn't attack NATO state, Estonian president says

Zhanna Nemtsova
May 18, 2017

In an interview with DW's Zhanna Nemtsova, Estonia's President Kersti Kaljulaid explains whether Russia is a threat and why she supports sanctions - even if they do not work.

Estland neue Staatspräsidentin Kersti Kaljulaid
Image: Reuters/I. Kalnins

DW: Madame President, in your opinion, what external challenges does Estonia face?

Kersti Kaljulaid: There are no challenges particularly related to our country. But the security situation surrounding the European Union (EU) is unpredictable and volatile. There is Russia, and Russia has shown with the occupation of the Crimean peninsula that it is ready to use force. Also, we know now that Russia does not respect its international obligations and its own signatures. The Minsk agreement continues to go unfulfilled, so the sanctions against Russia need to remain in place.

All this shows that the security environment is difficult. It's the same if you look to the south at the conflict in Syria. And Libya - it's not a state anymore, it's a failed state. The world is not stable. You may say it has never been stable, there have always been challenges, and this is kind of normal. But Europe experienced a more peaceful era, which made people hope it could be the new normal. I regret it isn't, but on the other hand, I am proud of the resolve and the unity the EU has shown. Once again, I am thinking particularly about the Minsk agreement and the sanctions regime, but also of NATO, which has generated quick decisions to make sure that its deterrence responses are proportional to risk profile and risk analysis.

Estnische Präsidentin Kersti Kaljulaid, Interview durch Zhanna Nemtsova
DW's Zhanna Nemtsova (left) interviews Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid (right)Image: DW

In an interview with the Washington Post, you said that Russia is a threat to the international security architecture but not a threat to any NATO Country. Can you tell me if Russia is a physical threat to Estonia or not?

I don't believe Russia would attack a NATO country or NATO as such, no matter which country we are talking about. You can not divide security; NATO security space is indivisible.

In June a NATO battalion will be stationed in Estonia…

You are mistaken, it's already here. A battalion was deployed on April 20.

Why do you need this battalion if Russia is not a threat and you don't believe Russia will invade Estonia one day?

It's actually the other way around. NATO is safe if it provides deterrence against potential adversaries. NATO has a one-hundred-percent track record of providing adequate deterrence, which is why I think there will be no attacks on NATO from anywhere. But that, in and of itself, explains why a required level of deterrence protecting all NATO territory is needed.

Read more: Poland welcomes 'historic' NATO deployment near Kaliningrad

You used the word adversary. Is Russia an adversary country?

Estnische Präsidentin Kersti Kaljulaid, Interview durch Zhanna Nemtsova
Kaljulaid has a holistic perspective on securityImage: DW

I am talking more about potential threats in a 360-degree sense. This could include terrorist threats, among other things. Adversary is a general word.

You raised the question of sanctions targeting Russia. I know you strongly support their remaining in place. But the Russian economy has largely adapted to the sanctions regime. Do you think sanctions that are of symbolic significance can make Russia fulfill the Minsk II agreement?

The Minsk agreement has not been fulfilled; hence the sanctions regime remains in place. The fact is that partners came together and decided they would utilize the sanctions regime. They recognized why they were doing it, and they also recognized what needs to be done in order for the sanctions to be removed. This has not been achieved, so the sanctions remain in place.

There would probably be other tools to make Russia fulfill this agreement, since the sanctions do not appear to be having an effect.

Periodically, partners come together and discuss such issues. There have been debates around strengthening the sanctions. But so far, the common position has been to keep to our stance, and I strongly support this position.

Kersti Kaljulaid, born in 1969 in Tartu, Estonia, was elected Estonian president in October 2016. Before that, she was a member of the European Court of Auditors for 12 years and worked as an economic advisor to the Estonian prime minister.

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