Kaja Kallas at the Matthiae-Mahl dinner: President Meri warned of Russian danger 30 years ago

Kaja Kallas at the Matthiae-Mahl dinner in Hamburg.
Kaja Kallas at the Matthiae-Mahl dinner in Hamburg. Photo: Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg

In her speech delivered as a guest of honor at the Matthiae-Mahl dinner in Hamburg on Tuesday evening, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas pointed out that exactly 30 years ago, President Lennart Meri addressed the people of Germany in the same hall, warning against wishful thinking about Russia and stressing that Russia's imperialist ideology has not gone away.

«What if we had listened -- I mean, really listened -- to his words back then? Are we listening now? Do we recognize what is actually at stake also for all of us on the battlefield in Ukraine?» the Estonian premier asked.

«Thirty years ago, there was one person in the room who listened and reacted. Some of you may remember it. Among the guests in this hall back then, sat the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin. Upon President Lennart Meri's speech, Putin did something that had never happened at this ceremony: he abruptly got up and left. It has been described how the look he gave the host was full of contempt, how his every angry step creaked on the wooden floor,» she said.

Kallas said that 13 years later, in 2007, at the Munich Security Conference, as Russia's president, Putin outlined his expansionist ambitions very clearly. Georgia, Crimea, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine followed. And in the last few weeks, he has been making it loud and clear again that none of his plans have changed.

The Estonian head of government, who arrived in Hamburg almost directly from the Munich Security Conference, recalled the words said by President Zelenskyy there: «Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself why Putin is still able to continue it.»

«We need to answer that question -- not just in words but actions,» she said.

«We must be brutally honest with ourselves -- as long as Russia is still bombing Ukrainian towns and marching through its towns and villages, we have not lived up to our promises and principles. We must tell the truth to ourselves. The truth is that Ukraine is running out of ammunition unless we come up with quick deliveries. Long-term commitments are important, but it is also a fact of war that the side having the most ammunition will win,» Kallas said.

She said unity is West's hardest currency, and together we can help Ukraine win this war, as we have the resources, the economic might, the expertise.

«Dictators also know that democracies have elections. They think that makes us weak, but if we have a clear goal of victory and a winning strategy in place, our democracies are also our strength and force. Hence, our focus should also be on making sure Ukrainians receive help regardless of party-political distractions and realities within our own countries. Regardless of the comings and goings of elections,» she said.

«For that, we need to have our public on board, so it is highly important to keep them informed of how our adversaries act and what they think -- in short; of what the threats around us are,» the premier said.

She said that not all intelligence services within NATO share their assessments with the public. Estonian services do it once a year. Why?

«Because information sharing makes sure the whole of society, including friends and partners abroad are prepared, aware and see the developments in rogue regimes through a realistic lens. Being open is a strength of our societies, it makes it impossible to use a surprise as a weapon,» she said.

Matthiae-Mahl is a high-level banquet which has been held since 1356. Its guests of honor in recent years have included Jean-Claude Juncker, Justin Trudeau, David Cameron, Helle Thoring-Schmidt and, in 1994, Estonian president Lennart Meri. The other speakers at this year's event were German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Mayor of Hamburg Peter Tschentscher.