Eva-Maria Liimets (Tallinn, 47 years old) wears a colorful bow with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Estonian Foreign Minister for just over a year and a staunch Europeanist, the war surprised her in Kiev, where she witnessed the “strong desire of the Ukrainians to defend themselves from the Russian attack.” She managed to escape the country by car, although it took her a day to reach the Polish border. She receives EL PAÍS shortly before meeting in Madrid with her Spanish counterpart, José Manuel Albares, whom she thanks for the presence of Spanish troops in a neighboring country, Latvia, as part of a NATO mission to reinforce the eastern flank of Europe. Estonia, one of the five countries of the European Union bordering Russia, looks with “concern at the evolution of the war in Ukraine”, a threat that affects European security and in the face of which the Atlantic Alliance, according to Liimets, “must strengthen their deterrence capacity.
Ask. The Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, has called for greater involvement of the European Union and NATO in the defense of Ukraine. Do you think they have done enough to force Russia to end the aggression?
Answer. We in the EU started preparing for the Russian threat at a very early stage, as soon as we realized that Moscow was massing soldiers along the Ukrainian borders. The strong sanctions that it approved against Russia, in coordination with the United States and the United Kingdom, were implemented on the second day of the aggression [el pasado 25 de febrero]. We have acted very quickly and have tightened the sanctions, because we believe in the strength of these civilian measures to get Russia to stop the war.
P. Do you think that the European Union and NATO should be more active on the military front?
R. We have provided Ukraine with weapons. More than 20 countries have supported sending military aid, but at the same time neither the EU nor NATO is ready to expand the war or enter the war against Russia.
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P. Estonia is one of eight countries that have called for Ukraine’s accession to the European bloc to be speeded up. Because it is important?
R. We have always supported the open door policy of the European Union and NATO because we ourselves are an example of the success of this policy. Furthermore, those countries that are implementing democratic reforms should be invited to join the EU. And Ukraine is making progress in democratic reforms and in defending freedoms. Although already in 2013 the Ukrainian people made it clear that they wanted to live in a democratic society during the protests against the decision of the then president, Victor Yanukovych, to suspend the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. Of course there is a long process ahead, but we must offer them this moral support, especially as they are fighting right now to defend their country and European values.
P. One of the possible scenarios after the war is that Russia annexes the Donbas region, and even manages to open a corridor to Crimea. How would this outcome affect the security of Estonia, a country bordering Russia?
R. We do not feel a direct military threat, although this security crisis, caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, worries us, because this type of scenario would be a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. There is a broad consensus on the need to continue supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but at the same time, NATO must continue to strengthen the defense of its territories.
P. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have activated, precisely, NATO article 4, which can be invoked when a member state feels threatened. How has NATO strengthened its defense of Estonia?
R. NATO has made very quick decisions and already on the second day of the war in Ukraine the Alliance leaders decided to strengthen defense systems. In Estonia, we have received additional troops from the UK, France and the Netherlands and more military defense equipment is coming. Although NATO already decided to strengthen its eastern flank after the protests in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, and also last year, when we saw the build-up of Russian troops in front of Ukraine’s borders.
P. Do you feel safer that way?
R. Yes, as members of NATO, especially since the Alliance has reaffirmed its principle of “one for all and all for one”.
P. Russia’s attacks are getting closer and closer to NATO. Is Putin ready for a confrontation against the Alliance?
R. It is very difficult to assess what exactly Putin is planning, but the evolution of the war worries us. They have justified his attack with disinformation campaigns, but it is clear that Russia wants to intervene in all internal affairs of Ukraine.
P. Could Russia use nuclear weapons?
R. It is also difficult to assess, but we are concerned to see how it is violating international agreements.
P. Do you have plans to strengthen your energy security and thus reduce dependence on Russian gas?
R. We began to diversify our energy resources a long time ago. But it is true that most of the gas we import from Russia is for private consumption, so a cut would be problematic. We are looking for quick alternatives to abandon this dependency.
P. Putin has made clear his imperialist idea of recovering Great Russia. What do the Russian-speaking population of Estonia think about this ambition?
R. The Russian-speaking community in Estonia accounts for 27% of the population and includes Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and people of other nationalities. The majority is well integrated, and we even have Russians in the Estonian Parliament. And all of them have chosen to live in Estonia, where the standard of living is much higher than in Russia, as is the pension they will receive when they retire. According to our calculations, 80% of the citizens who live in our country want to belong to the European Union.
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