Maintaining unity among western allies over Russia’s war against Ukraine is getting harder amid growing concern over signs of appeasement in some countries, Estonia’s prime minister has warned.
Kaja Kallas, one of the most high-profile leaders from the Nato states that border Russia, said in an interview that “we definitely have to worry about” appeasement.
“We have been united so far, and that has been great,” she said. But, she added, “keeping unity is more and more difficult over time, because everybody wants this war to stop and there is a question about what [will] really stop it. If some think we will make this one last effort and then draw the line and [not] do anything else, this is definitely a worry.”
Kallas, who is preparing for national elections on Sunday in the country of 1.3mn people, has been one of Europe’s leading voices on the current security crisis, warning before and after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year of the dangers of Moscow’s revanchism.
Estonia, which was illegally annexed after the second world war by the Soviet Union and regained its independence in 1991, has been on the front line between Nato and Russia since it joined the western security alliance in 2004.
In the early stages of the Ukraine war, the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — expressed concern about the willingness of France and Germany to talk to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and are worried that they want to push Kyiv to negotiate with Moscow. The Baltics’ position is that Russia must be defeated and return all territory it has taken from Ukraine since 2014, including Crimea.
“So far we have been managing to convince France and Germany to see the picture the way we see the picture,” said Kallas. “We have to keep on explaining what we should do to disrupt the historical cycle that Russia will attack one of its neighbours.”
The key to deterring Russia in the future was “accountability”, Kallas said: Without holding Russia’s leaders accountable for the war, she said, “we will see this happening again and again”.
A western diplomat in Tallinn said that like Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, Kallas was “loved abroad, but liked less at home”.
However, Kallas’ liberal Reform party is topping opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s elections, although the gap with the second-placed far-right Ekre party has narrowed in recent weeks.
Reform was the largest party in parliament after elections in 2019 but was initially unable to form a government after Ekre allied with the Centre party, which has historically received strong support from Estonia’s large Russian minority. Their coalition collapsed in 2021, bringing Kallas to power.
Ekre was acting “a bit like” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán by saying “we don’t need anybody, we shouldn’t help Ukraine, we should look for our self-interest in everything we do”, she said.
Ekre’s previous spell in government was dogged by controversy as party chiefs insulted world leaders from US president Joe Biden to Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin.
Kallas accused Ekre of espousing the same narrative as the Kremlin by saying it favoured neutrality rather than supporting Ukraine or Russia. “The Russian narrative coincides with Ekre’s narrative. If your biggest enemy has the same goals as you, then I don’t think it’s good for the country,” she said.
Kallas has led calls to prosecute Russian leaders for war crimes and for European countries to jointly procure arms and send them directly to Ukraine.
Addressing warnings from US officials and western intelligence that China might send weapons to Russia even as Beijing promoted itself as an honest broker in the conflict, she warned: “Those two things can’t go hand in hand . . . If China wants to be the peace broker and at the same time give weapons to the aggressor, it goes against the possibility of achieving peace and goes against the principles in the UN Charter.”
There was “clearly one aggressor and one victim in this war”, she added.
The three Baltic states are hopeful that July’s Nato summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius will lead to further troop reinforcements in the region.
Kallas noted that the alliance’s summit in Madrid last year had approved moving from deterrence to a defence posture, meaning the Baltics would be defended from any Russian attack immediately rather than having to wait for additional weapons and troops to arrive from Europe.
Pointing in particular to the need to position more military equipment in the region, she added: “Those were political decisions. What we need is the execution of the plans . . . so we are fully prepared to defend the country from the first minute.”