“The West was very naive about Russia. We, the Baltic states and Romania have warned of Russia’s behavior for many years. “Now is the time for the Western world and us to work with the West to understand what Russia’s ideas are and do our job,” he said. Estonian Aler Carris in an exclusive interview for DG24. The Estonian head of state was on an official visit to Romania on Thursday.
Christina Cilicu: Mr President, Russia’s occupation of Ukraine is on the rise, which certainly raises questions as to whether NATO countries in the east have other potential targets. How high is the surveillance level in Estonia?
Alar Carris, President of Estonia: At this point, we do not believe we should face any military threat, and I think the same is true in Romania. I also spoke to your President yesterday (Thursday). But what is important? It is important to increase the military presence in the region and increase the military budget in Estonia, perhaps just like in Romania, which is exactly what we did. Also, next year, our budget will reach 2.4 percent of GDP. We have already added money for military purposes in this year’s budget, so we need to strengthen our security, and that’s what we are doing.
NATO must move one step forward
Christina Cilicu: The Russian army is still fighting in Ukraine. They make a lot of mistakes and we find that the morale of the fighters is low. But at the same time, if Vladimir Putin decides to use weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine, what will the rest of the world and, of course, NATO countries do in this regard?
Aller Garris: As you mentioned, if something similar happens, Putin breaks the red line and I think NATO will step back. It is difficult to predict, and I think it was Putin’s fault that he started such a war. That was a mistake, and now many civilians and children are suffering or already dead. These are terrible times.
Christina Siligu: Yes, but should NATO intervene in this matter or not?
Aller Garris: In this case, I think we need to take a step forward. Yes.
Christina Cilicu: Russia has already taken over parts of Ukraine, of course, I’m talking about Crimea, Donbass and Lukansk. For example, he had this habit before with other countries like Georgia or the Republic of Moldova. Is it not time to show Russia once and for all what regional unity and solidarity means?
Aller Garris: Definitely. That is, the West was very naive about Russia. We, the Baltic states and Romania have warned of Russia’s behavior for many years. Probably now is the time for the Western world and us, the Western world to come together, understand what Russia’s ideas are, and do our job, do what needs to be done.
“I think we need to stand up straight and show who we are.”
Christina Siligu: Estonia was one of the first countries to send weapons to Ukraine, including the famous Javelin anti-tank missiles. Russia says military vehicles were also targeted. Sure, caution is always recommended, but do you have to be careful or stand up straight and show who you are?
Aller Garris: I think we need to stand up and show who we are, because it is important not only to send Javelin anti-tank missiles, but also ammunition, because basically they need a lot to defend their country. Like the atomic bomb, it is a threat. Sure, this is a threat and just rhetoric, of course, but we need to be aware of these things as well.
“I hope Ukraine and Moldova become members of the European Union.”
Christina Cilicu: Ukraine wants to be a member of the European Union, and although the EU has helped Ukraine in many ways, it still considers itself a member in this particular case. What is Estonia’s position on this?
Aller Garris: I myself, along with other Presidents, have proposed that this idea, Ukraine’s accession to the European Union, should be discussed. And these are the first steps, i.e. the red light of negotiation is lit. But, of course, there is a long way to go to achieve this goal. But Ukraine understands this, and Moldova, too, understands the need for reforms. I spoke to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, who said that about 63-65 percent of these criteria have already been met. Apparently, now it’s war, which is a completely different situation. But I hope this war will end and that both countries will continue on this path and become members of the European Union.
“Intelligence services are right”
Christina Cilicu: Your country’s experience with Russia is immense because Estonia has been under Russian occupation for almost 50 years. What does your country’s intelligence expect from this war?
Aller Garris: It is difficult to say how long this war will last. But, of course, we have information, and we get information from other states as well. The same is true in Romania. In this case, the US intelligence services were right, because we did not expect this to happen, including me. I was in Kiev two days before the start of the war, and I talked to Zhelensky, President Zhelensky. He did not expect this kind of war to break out in Kiev and other cities. He expected military moves in Lukansk and then Donbass were possible, but not on a scale now. So yes, it is difficult to say what will happen next. But again, we must do everything we can to stop this war.
What can ordinary people in NATO do?
Christina Cilicu: Definitely. But until this war is stopped, we look at the population and see what people are afraid of, which is a normal reaction even in our countries. What should be the level of training of civilians, not the military, for the potential for aggression?
Aller Garris: Everyone should be prepared, have supplies at home, food and maybe water and so on. But it is useful not only during the war, but in general there should be some kind of source in the house. That’s what ordinary people can do, we do in Estonia. This is important because it is probably here in Romania.
Christina Siligu: The sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the whole world and the European Union will affect us too, because we live in a global, interconnected economy. How big of an impact will this have on our countries?
Aller Garris: We are already seeing the consequences, but it is not much compared to the pain experienced by the Ukrainian people at this time. Therefore, we hope that if energy prices rise, we will find resources to help people find and diversify our energy resources, rather than take them from Russia. There are many ways we can use it today, and it is the only one. And barriers, barriers really work. We did not expect this to work so fast. We expected it to have a long-term effect, but its impact is already being felt.
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