Today, the Riigikogu discussed foreign policy as a matter of significant national importance, with focus on the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets admitted that in light of the developments of recent days, an imminent attack against Ukraine cannot be ruled out. “This means we need to deal with these threats and stand up for Estonia and the entire democratic space of values. In this situation, Estonia must be completely prepared to deal with the consequences of the crisis,“ said Liimets.
The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine have been blatantly violated. The country has faced years of political, economic and military pressure and this has escalated into a stand-off that affects all of Europe.
“Our support for Ukraine in enacting political, economic and military reforms goes beyond words,“ the Minister of Foreign Affairs affirmed. She explained that Estonia is supplying defence equipment, investing in cybersecurity and digital systems, offering diplomatic support to Ukraine’s efforts, and also providing humanitarian and development assistance through increased cooperation and supporting them politically in NATO, the EU, the OSCE and the UN. “We are doing all this to make sure Ukraine is a free, sovereign and democratic European country,“ Liimets stressed.
Minister of Foreign Affairs said that in the geopolitical stand-off unfolding in Europe and posing a direct threat to us, Russia is trying to meet three objectives at the same time. First of these is to stop democracy from taking hold in Ukraine and the country’s continued integration with Europe, to use this conflict to restore spheres of influence in Europe and ensure that NATO led by the United States gives up its military presence in this imagined Russian sphere of influence. “These wishes were presented by the leadership of our neighbour in the form of an ultimatum demanding security guarantees,“ Liimets remarked. According to her we have responded to the ultimatum with a joint response that there can be no bargaining over Europe’s security and international law and the policy of spheres of influence has no place in Europe today.
In the current tense security situation, the West and Estonia cannot afford any strategic lethargy, confusion or dithering. “We must be prepared for a continued and prolonged crisis and escalating confrontation, where diplomacy has weight thanks to credible deterrence not acquiescence,“ she said. “Only the resolve of the West, including boosting the defence capabilities of NATO’s Eastern Flank, efficient work on the sanctions package and comprehensive assistance to Ukraine help prevent a further escalation of the situation.“
Reinforcing transatlantic cooperation and cohesion is an important pillar of our foreign policy. We must be prepared for Moscow testing the unity of NATO in one way or another. “This is why we are constantly working on increasing Allied presence in Estonia and boosting defence and political cooperation among the Baltic States,” Liimets said. “All this is a precondition for making sure the opponent does not make a miscalculation about how collective defence works. NATO’s deterrence and defence measures are strengthened in line with Russia’s military positioning and the arrival of additional forces from the United Kingdom is a good example of that.“
Liimets emphasised that security begins at home. In 2022, the defence spending rises to 2.3% of the GDP, that is, €748 million, and the government has decided to allocate an additional €380 million for national defence for the upcoming years in light of the current security situation.
Like other allies, Estonia always supports dialogue. Diplomacy must be given a chance because it is the frontline of security. “Naturally, we are in favour of dialogue with Russia in all forums and formats created for that purpose, including bilateral,” she said, adding that Estonia’s constructive approach is also evident in our continued readiness to move forward with the border treaty.
In addition to military threats, the Minister also drew attention to the unconventional threats which have also increased in Europe. “Estonia thinks the European Union can and should support the efforts of member states in boosting their military capabilities and offer tools for increasing their resilience in face of hybrid threats,“ she said.
Liimets expressed happiness to note that last year Estonia reached an agreement on establishing e-Codex, the European Union solution for digitalising justice, in Estonia, expanding the mandate of the eu-LISA agency based in Tallinn. Tallinn was also chosen as the location for the Baltic Regional Coordination Centre of electricity systems.
Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed in particular Estonia’s experience in the UN Security Council and emphasised that the protection of human rights and advancing democracy worldwide is among the most important foreign policy activities of Estonia because it reinforces the values-based international order on which our security directly depends.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs also mentioned climate diplomacy, Estonia’s increased activeness in Asia and the Pacific region, relations with China, promotion of foreign trade and economic diplomacy, but also the global Estonian diaspora action plan and consular services.
Liimets concluded by affirming that Estonia’s foreign policy is working tirelessly to ensure the protection of Estonia’s security, economy, and citizens, and maintain our security and the unity of the West of which we are an integral part.
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson spoke about Estonia’s security and the unity of our allied space, as well as protecting it through Estonia’s actions in foreign policy. He spoke at length about Russia’s aggressive foreign policy in regard to the democratic West, and ways to influence Russia to end the aggression.
Mihkelson compared the enlargement of NATO and the expansion of Russia. “While the first takes place on voluntary terms and with the agreement of its members for the sake of defending democratic countries, the second shows an authoritarian nuclear power in the grip of nostalgia for its empire trying to extend its limits (of influence) through a brutal breach and self-serving interpretation of international law,” he explained.
Russian authorities are in fact fully aware that NATO is not a threat. Just like no democratic neighbouring country is a threat to Russia’s security or territorial integrity. Mihkelson believes that if Moscow has even the slightest wish to step back from the edge of the cliff, this is the last moment to do so. “Giving up threats of violence and ending the aggression against Ukraine paves the way for a functional dialogue. However, the alternative road leads to the deepening of the dangerous confrontation and the closing of a new curtain, which certainly feels like iron.“
Mihkelson encouraged letting Moscow know in no uncertain terms that this extortion tactic, which is more common in the prison environment and which Russia is currently applying as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is highly divisive for international security and as a whole erodes the principles of the UN Charter. “Absolutely no country, including the authoritarian Russia, can have the right to hegemony in Europe, nor the veto right when our security is shaped. The European security architecture has withstood the test of time well and there is no good reason to change it.“
Mihkelson sees the unity of the West, especially the NATO countries, as holding particular significance in the current situation. He interpreted the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as showing that all 30 allies agree; however, the real strength test of unity is in actions – the readiness to stand up against Russia’s aggression, determination to defend one’s allies and support democratic partners like Ukraine.
In order to persuade Russia to end its aggression, the West needs to act right now. This mostly has to do with enhancing deterrence on the NATO eastern flank, including the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland should intensify their defence cooperation in the NATO framework as soon as possible, and work towards eliminating the possible legal obstacles standing in the way of military mobility. It is crucial to apply the US defence assistance as soon as possible, and increase the further financing for the Baltic Defence initiative to at least 200 million dollars a year.
Mihkelson does not see assisting Ukraine with weapons as an escalation of the events but rather as setting up a preventive deterrence. Handing over the Crimea or blocking Ukraine off from NATO, as some analysts recommend, will not prevent the spreading of war in his opinion. “We must not show Ukraine the door, but a road map on how to join the European Union and NATO” Mihkelson said. The fall of Ukraine would affect the security of the whole continent very negatively and would point the future pressure of Russia directly against NATO countries.
The Chairman of the Committee also briefed the Riigikogu on the work of the Committee over the past year, when it continued to actively monitor the foreign policy activities of the government, providing guidance to even out the emerging flaws when needed. The Foreign Affairs Committee has also been internationally active in the last year and has worked towards strengthening the unity among the closest allies and raising the awareness about the situation among the colleagues both in Europe and in the USA.
In conclusion Mihkelson warned that the coming days, weeks, months, and maybe even years will seriously test Estonia’s foreign and security policy. “There is no reason to insist that the existential threat to our security would fade away in the near future. We need to be prepared for all eventualities. For this, all of us here need to commit to what really matters – ensuring the sovereignty and security of Estonia.“
The reports were followed by questions to the speakers and comments by the representatives of factions and members of the Riigikogu. Mihhail Lotman took the floor on behalf of the Faction Isamaa, Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski on behalf of the Centre Party Faction, Ruuben Kaalep on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, Eerik-Niiles Kross on behalf of the Reform Party Faction, and Indrek Saar on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction.
Oudekki Loone (Centre Party), Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Siim Kallas (Reform party), and Paul Puustusmaa (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) also spoke.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)
Photos of the sitting.
The video recording of the sitting will be available on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)