Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at Paasikivi Seura – “The Battle of Our Time”
November 15th 2022
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
You might be wondering why I titled this speech “the Battle of Our Time.” This is in reference to the scene from the Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf and Pippin are standing at the balcony at Minas Tirith, looking East. And Gandalf tells the young hobbit: “We have come to it in the end – the great battle of our time.” The wizard knew the challenges ahead. He knew what would happen if the forces of good failed. He knew that no effort was to be spared to make the world safe for the living.
So, let us ask: do we grasp the magnitude of what is happening in Ukraine and what is at stake here? Is our response adequate and what would be the price of failure?
Open war of aggression and annexation is back in Europe. This war is not just about Ukraine, it is about the international rules-based order and the future security architecture of Europe. Let us keep in mind that Russia targeted the ultimatums to us – to NATO and EU Member States. That was in December last year. Back then, the Kremlin demanded an end to NATO’s open door policy, it demanded that NATO returns to its pre-1997 borders, and it demanded limiting military equipment on the territories of sovereign countries.
To achieve their aims, Russia has shown the willingness to resort to military force. Things that we thought belonged to history are happening yet again in Europe. Atrocities that we thought were memories of the past have become the nightmares of today. In Ukraine, Russia is targeting civilians, is destroying civilian infrastructure, masses are being killed, tortured, raped and deported.
This is no accident but a feature of the Russian way of war. We are witnessing state-orchestrated war crimes. The Kremlin has made it clear that their aim is to wipe Ukraine off the world map. “Denazification” is the example of its hate speech – an official Russian label of the policy of destruction of the Ukrainian state and its people. This is all too similar to incitement to commit genocide – a distinct crime whether or not genocide actually follows. And such calls are working – in the areas liberated by Ukrainians, we see evidence of mass killings, torture, rape, deportations. In this part of Europe, we remember this face of Russian occupation painfully well.
Imperialism and colonialism are the Kremlin’s long-term ideologies. They did not emerge on 24 February this year. The warning signs and deeds were long there.
Russia justifies and veils its actions under the label of “liberating” people. Liberating those who have not asked for liberation. They justify this messianic zeal with the defeat of Nazi Germany and with the explanation that the Soviet Union helped save Europe and the world from Nazism. But they always forget to mention that it was the Soviet Union, together with its then-ally Nazi Germany, who started World War II together. It was Moscow who attacked Poland on 17 September 1939, and Finland on 30 November.
History matters. Although the Soviet Union collapsed, its imperialist ideology never did. While our history books were rewritten after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was not the case in Russia.
While the crimes of Nazism have been unequivocally condemned and tried before tribunals, this has not been done with the crimes of Communism. We had the Tokyo and Nuremberg tribunals, but there was never a Moscow tribunal. Instead, Putin has built a strong revival of Stalinism in Russia and as a result opinion polls suggest that 70 percent of Russians approve of Stalin and his policies.
If people admire dictators, there is no moral obstacle to becoming one or submitting to one. If people’s minds and eyes are shut before past atrocities, there are no limits to committing new ones in the future. This is exactly what we see Russian soldiers doing right now in Ukraine.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Estonia has a border with Russia, so does Finland. We both have a long history with our mutual neighbour. Large countries can make mistakes and survive. For small ones, the margin of error is much smaller – the policy to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine is an existential matter to us.
In the last century Estonia and Finland had a very different experience with Russian violent imperialism. I want to pay tribute to Finland who decided to fight in 1939. Finland lost a lot of people and a lot of territory, but you retained something sacred – your statehood. Estonian volunteers of the infantry regiment 200 were fighting in the Continuation War under the banner “Soome vabaduse ja Eesti au eest”, “Suomen vapauden ja Viron kunnian puolesta”! Estonian freedom was gone, they were fighting for its honour. Finland lost a lot but Estonia lost everything – we lost our territory, freedom, and a fifth of our population to Soviet terror. And we felt we were forgotten and abandoned behind the Iron Curtain for half a century.
We have learnt a few things from this:
First, you need to fight for your freedom, whatever the odds. Because not fighting is much worse. Today Ukrainians are proving the same thing to the entire world every single day.
Second, if you want peace, you must prepare for war. Estonia has been spending 2% of its GDP on defence for many years. By next year Estonian defence spending will be approximately 3%. By 2024 it will be over 3%. Like Finland we have retained the conscription service and our armed forces are based on reserves. We are buying Himars, long-range shore-to-ship missile systems, mid-range air defence and much more.
Third, when we restored our independence after 50 years of occupation, we decided we will be Never Alone Again. Never again without friends and allies. That is why we are in the EU and in NATO.
Estonia was among the first to ratify Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO. Finnish membership in the Alliance will open-up new horizons in our countries’ bilateral as well as Nordic-Baltic regional defence cooperation. Most Finns live in the southern part of Finland, most Estonians in the northern part of Estonia. This is the reason, in one sentence, to strengthen our bilateral defence cooperation.
Today, at the joint seminar of our two governments, we discussed the report on future bilateral relations. The report covers a lot of issues, but it lacks one chapter – it does not touch security and defence. It was written before 24 February and published in March. In the future, security must be front and centre of our cooperation. Especially as it’s linked to so many areas – energy security, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure protection.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
From the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, my government has based our response on three tracks:
First – supporting Ukraine militarily, economically, and politically.
Second – increasing the price of aggression, isolating Russia, and ensuring there’s no impunity for war criminals.
And third – strengthening our own defence.
We started the process of sending arms to Ukraine in December last year. With Javelins it went smoothly – they played a key role in the battle of Kyiv. Unfortunately, it took longer for our delivery of the howitzers. Now, let’s imagine a scenario where the free world had sent the arms and ammunition we are sending now already in January or February. Many lives would have been saved. Back then, we saw too much self-restraint and too much self-deterrence.
The Russian strategy vis-à-vis the Euro-Atlantic community is built around three weapons – pain, fear, and hope.
The pain of starving Europe from energy.
Fear of nuclear war.
Hope to pressure Ukraine into a peace agreement granting Russia parts of conquered territory.
What should our response be?
When it comes to pain inflicted on us by Russia with the energy weapon – we will survive, and we will prosper. Russian aggression has demonstrated what happens when you connect to partners who weaponize trust. Trust may come at a price—but it is a price worth paying. The European Union and its Member States have learned lessons from dependence on Russian fossil fuels and there has been a sharp move away from it.
Concerning fear, let’s remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If we allow nuclear blackmail to work even just once, we will wake up in a much, much more dangerous world.
So why not call for peace? What about freezing the conflict and looking for a diplomatic solution?
I really hope that Europe has learnt that appeasement only strengthens the aggressor. And that the aggressor will never stop unless it is stopped. The longer it takes, the harder it gets. In Estonia we know from our painful history what Russian peace really means – executions, torture, and deportations.
Any pause today in Ukraine would allow Russia to prepare, rest and regroup only to continue the aggression later. And in the end, we would – paraphrasing Churchill – have both dishonour and the war. After all, we had the chance to prevent future aggressions by Russia in 2008 and 2014. But the response from the free world then was weak. Principles were exchanged for cash, truth for gas. And the aggressor’s confidence only grew. And now we have come to this – a large-scale genocidal war.
As for peace, unless the Kremlin gives up on its goal of conquering new territories in Ukraine, it is difficult to believe in the prospect of any real peace talks. I do not believe in the goodwill of an outright aggressor and a cold-blooded war criminal. As President von der Leyen recently said and I quote: “This is the time for us to show resolve, not appeasement.” End of quote.
Ukraine has shown that this war is winnable, but it needs our support – military, political, moral, and financial. We need to be at the forefront of helping Ukraine integrate with the Euro-Atlantic community, and we should help Ukraine as an EU candidate country as much as possible. Ukraine needs to be rebuilt and we must find a way to use Russia’s frozen assets for this already now – of course strictly based on the rule of law. And we must support Ukrainian path towards NATO membership, based on commitments made in Bucharest in 2008 and in Madrid in 2022. Ukraine’s full post-war Euro-Atlantic integration is fundamental for its future and essential for European security.
The perpetrators of this war of aggression and other war crimes committed in Ukraine need to be brought to justice – the International Criminal Court has an important role here. But we also need to establish a tribunal for the crime of aggression – as the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over this crime. The EU should play a leading role here.
Finally, we should never take our attention away from strengthening our own defence. And we must not forget that Russia is also waging a global hybrid war on Europe and beyond. It hopes that high energy prices and flow of refugees will weaken our publics’ support for Ukraine and leave us with less resources to support it. Russia is spreading disinformation globally, it keeps interfering in our elections, and weaponizing dependencies. It keeps targeting us with cyberattacks. Freedom from Russian dependency means freedom from Russian blackmail.
Let me come back to the questions I posed at the start. What is at stake in Ukraine – it is our own freedom we are protecting there. It is freedom from repressions, freedom from war crimes, freedom to decide over our own security arrangements and foreign policy direction.
This freedom is not cost-free. Ukrainians are paying with their lives. We pay in euros and must keep repeating to ourselves that gas might be expensive, but freedom is priceless.
I will wrap up with two short sentences I know you all agree with:
Peaminister Kaja Kallase kõne Paasikivi-Seura Paasikivi-Samfundet Paasikivi Societyle on järelekuulatav (ja -vaadatav): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA309aaY1Gk
Kõne tekst Valitsuse kodulehel: https://valitsus.ee/…/speech-prime-minister-kaja-kallas…
Viron pääministeri Kaja Kallas puhe Paasikivi-Seurassa 15.11.2022. Tilaisuuden tallenne on katsottavissa linkistä: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA309aaY1Gk
Puheen teksti: https://valitsus.ee/…/speech-prime-minister-kaja-kallas…