Kaljulaid: Europe should be able to rely on itself more

Evelyn Kaldoja
, välisuudistetoimetuse juhataja
President Kersti Kaljulaid at the Munich Security Conference.
President Kersti Kaljulaid at the Munich Security Conference. Photo: Kaidi Aher

Because China needs to be paid more attention on the global level, Europe must be better able to contain Russia and other regional threats, President Kersti Kaljulaid says in an interview given at the Munich Security Conference.

Among more important topics addressed by the president at the conference was populating with content the Three Seas Initiative summit to be held in Tallinn on June 16-17.

The Office of the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are making efforts for the initiative between Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and their special partner USA to manifest as more than a rhetorical project after the Tallinn summit. To that effect, Kaljulaid also attended a closed session that clearly demonstrated differences between USA and Germany and between Germany and Poland.

The head of a German state said during the conference today (Sunday – ed.) that the world is bipolar – between USA and China. Have we reached a point where the Russia factor no longer plays a part for the wider world?

In some ways, I have been saying for a while now that our regional risk we perceive from a country that can be unpredictable and fail to honor its international obligations is no longer a global one because Russia is not an economic and technological superpower, even though it invests heavily in military technology.

However, it remains a strong adversary in our region and NATO must consider its response and how to ensure security. We need to take charge since it is no longer a global risk but a regional one that we must manage regionally.

And that is why all European countries are boosting defense spending. It is something that is widely understood. That constitutes major change. We can now all phrase it together and are on the same page.

Does defining Russia as a regional risk mean it has become a bigger one for us?

Not necessarily, because the liberal and democratic world still stands together. The transatlantic bond is and will remain important.

We simply need to keep in mind that there is another big player that must be paid attention. We need to take that much more responsibility ourselves. [USA] has its hands full, and it does not have as much time to look after our region as it used to.

Why shouldn’t Europe, as the world’s largest and wealthiest market, take full regional responsibility at least? It should be capable of that. Moreover, it should also be able to project power beyond the immediate region.

If you want to help solve nearby conflicts, such as Libya or Syria, you need strength. We are participating in Operation Barkhane in Mali with the French today who are among only a few European countries with the strength to do such things.

But Europe as a whole has little power for accomplishing things in its vicinity. It is not just as case of having to boost defensive capacity because of Russia. It [Europe] must grow in strength to be, like the United States, a global foreign and security policy player.

What President of France Emmanuel Macron said [at the conference] left one with the impression that Europe must develop its military strength for the U.S. to take us more seriously while pursuing a separate policy when it comes to Russia. Do the French, with whom Estonians are serving in Mali, still believe Russia is a security policy matter?

They definitely do. And, of course, it is important to maintain close contacts with Germany and France.

To some extent, we are seeing the return of the Cold War paradigm that while the Baltics were indeed occupied, we had to normalize relations because of the nuclear threat. Back then, it happened at our expense. The danger today is something like that happening at the expense of Ukraine. We must remind them that this cannot be allowed to happen.

Yes, we need to talk to the Russians, but it needs to be done from a position of strength that is something Europe can afford. By concentrating on developing NATO, boosting defense spending, Europe can afford to speak from a position of power.

And speaking from a position of strength is very important as our voice, when addressing countries regarding whom we have no certainty that their intentions are benign, cannot ring out on any other level than that of a union where we have power. I wholeheartedly agree with Macron on this.

It is another matter how to phrase Europe’s Russia policy for the coming decades. But the important thing is to be included in these discussions. And in order to be included, you must be one of 27 member states dealing with Russia. One of those holding meetings, making efforts to explain where we stand.

Otherwise, we will not be given a seat at the grownups table by others we want to discuss these things with. If you are a country talked about and not one doing the talking, you are not really in the same room. We need to be in the room where we talk to Russia. Precisely because we do not subscribe fully to these positions.

How to make sure we are treated as adults? The West sometimes views us as hysterically Russophobic. Is demanding reparations or occupation damages from Russia helping?

I do not find anything wrong with calculating occupation damages to have a picture of what it cost us. When it comes to all manner of claims, this could rather be a topic meant for domestic consumption.

The most sensible thing we can do is communicate calmly on the future. Try to move forward while upholding principles we have agreed on in the European Union. And stand together with all partners and allies at all times. That is especially important.

Today – thinking back if only to the days of the Treaty of Tartu – we have more room to work with other countries.

Back then, we took the first steps and other countries followed our lead in making peace with Russia. That is why those who say that the Treaty of Tartu is also the midwife of Russia, in addition to being the birth certificate of Estonia, are right.

Today, we have partners and allies with whom we can discuss these things. And all the more reason to discuss them when we see that they are perhaps too optimistic or enthusiastic.

However, usually, when you’ve had a meeting with the French, you nod and agree that it’s sans naïveté (without naivety – ed.). I believe it helps a little.

How to simply explain the Three Seas Initiative discussed here in a panel you also participate in?

It is a win-win investment fund. European Union countries that hold great growth potential as they make up the less developed part of the economic union can utilize more additional capital than the region has today.

Private and institutional investors could be interested had they a tool for investing. That is the Three Seas Fund. Its goal can be cross-border investments and those with the potential of boosting economic cooperation between the said countries.

The EU is already pursuing something like that?

That is true. But the EU cannot satisfy investment needs in full. Besides, we are not talking about public investments in case of the Three Seas Initiative. Yes, seed capital will come from institutional investors and in the form of public funds, but we are still talking about private capital.

We are not talking about EU projects that are not required to meet productivity criteria and don’t have to be repaid. We are talking about an investment fund, which is likely the biggest difference.

Where should the taxpayer money Estonia has pledged for the fund go from there?

It needs to make more money. The goal here is not just to surrender money for the project.

The participation of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Tallinn summit has been confirmed. Who of your colleagues have also said they will be attending?

I believe that Alexander van der Bellen is the only one who will not be attending as they have an important national event in Austria at the time. Everyone else has confirmed their participation to the best of my knowledge.

How likely are we to see President Donald Trump in Estonia to represent USA? (Trump attended the 2017 Three Seas summit in Warsaw – ed.)

That’s hard to say, considering it’s an election year. We are working toward the Americans being represented on a high level. Come to think of it, the announcement they made here in Munich could be worth a lot more.

Their energy minister is present. He has also supported this initiative. We also talked about the Three Seas Initiative with German investors. We got the chance to explain to them what it contains. We will see.

Translated from Estonian by Marcus Turovski (BNS).