Interview: Estonia PM warns against "peace at any price" with Putin
The international community shouldn’t push for “peace at any price” with Vladimir Putin, Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Axios in an interview on Tuesday.
Why it matters: Estonia, like Latvia and Lithuania, is a member of NATO and the EU but also a neighbor to Russia. The Baltic states fear if Putin is not defeated in Ukraine he could become more aggressive.
- Kallas, 44, became Estonia's first woman prime minister in January 2021, following in the footsteps of her father, Siim Kallas, who served as prime minister from 2002 to 2003.
- She's been one of Putin's most vocal critics in Europe, particularly since the invasion of Ukraine.
What she's saying: Speaking to Axios two days after images of a reported massacre in the town of Bucha emerged, Kallas said occupied areas of Ukraine were "not only a battlefield, but also a crime scene."
- She said Russia's targeting of civilians should be prosecuted as war crimes, but stopped short of calling Putin himself a war criminal, as President Biden did.
State of play: Kallas expressed concern that pressure to reach a ceasefire would allow Russia to claim victory and keep the territories it has occupied. In such a scenario, she stressed, Putin’s “appetite” would grow.
- “If he is not punished for the crimes committed, then he will just go on. There will be a pause of one year, two years and when he gets his act together, it will all repeat in a much harder or harsher way," she warned.
- "We have already made this mistake twice, that if there's peace in place, then let's forget about what happened," she said, referring to Putin's invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
Rather than pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to reach an immediate ceasefire on any terms, she's urging the international community to do more to help Ukraine and stop Putin.
- “We can give more military aid, we can give more humanitarian aid and also politically isolate Russia in order for this to stop," Kallas added.
The big picture: Kallas said she was reassured by statements from U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken and leaders of other NATO powers that they will defend "every inch" of the alliance's territory.
- “We have no doubt about this. No NATO country has ever been attacked. So we feel safe," she said, adding that the Biden administration had not rejected any requests from Estonia.
- Still, she said more needs to be done to strengthen the Baltic states on NATO's eastern flank to deter Putin.
What to watch: Kallas said she wants to boost NATO’s presence in Estonia to have a “division-sized” military force in the country made up of Estonian and allied troops.
- Kallas said she hopes such decisions will be made at the NATO summit in June in Madrid.
Worth noting: Asked about the position of the Israeli government, which has tried to play the role of a neutral mediator in the conflict, Kallas said Israel should call Putin out for “playing on the suffering of the Jews."
- "One thing maybe that is very specific to Israel is that Putin is using this argument of de-Nazification. And I think it deeply undermines the sufferings of your people, and you could be more vocal about this and saying that this is not OK," she said.