Hard times lie ahead but ‘freedom is priceless,’ says Estonian PM
European leaders have to be “honest” with their citizens about the negative effects that EU sanctions against Russia might bring upon people’s daily life, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an interview with Euronews, warning that “hard times lie ahead.”
“One could say that gas might be expensive, but freedom is priceless,” the prime minister said.
“I’m coming from a country where we didn’t have freedom. I was born in Soviet Union. I know very well what it means. It is said that you understand the value of freedom [until] it’s taken from you,” she added.
“It’s going to be hard and we have to be honest with our citizens, as well, that the hard times lie ahead. And so far, our discussions in the European Union have been focussed on targeting the war machine of Putin and not hurting the people so much because we also need the people’s support behind the decisions. And, if it is for the people something that they can’t tolerate, it’s also hard to keep the sanctions up.”
The prime minister said the unity and speed with which the sanctions have been slapped on Russia surprised both Putin and the world because the EU “has not been a particularly nimble organisation.”
“The sanctions are hurting, but we also need strategic patience in order for the sanctions to kick in and really have their effect,” she underlined.
Kallas spoke with Euronews right before heading to an informal meeting of EU leaders hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in the Palace of Versailles.
The packed agenda for the two-day summit includes the latest developments on the war, sanctions against Russia and Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc, which Kallas has explicitly endorsed.
“We need to give Ukraine a European perspective. We need to give Ukraine hope. They are literally fighting for Europe. So we should also give them a tangible trajectory to join our European family,” Kallas said.
“We shouldn’t give empty promises, that’s for sure,” she clarified, “but to give [them] some tangible steps on the way to give hope to the Ukrainians. Because hope also gives strength. Therefore, I think it’s our moral duty to give that hope. It’s the least we can do.”
Leaders will also discuss plans to bolster the EU’s common defence capabilities, an initiative that has for years remained stagnant but that now enjoys a fresh momentum.
“We have to think about cooperation between armies: doing more military exercises together, but also procuring mutual capabilities because, for example, there are some military capabilities that are too expensive for any individual state to buy on their own,” Kallas said.
“We should try to do this together and that would make Europe stronger and also European defence stronger. I don’t think that we need an alternative to NATO — an alternative as a European Defence Force. But all those armies can act together under NATO’s umbrella.”
Asked whether her country, which borders Russia, could be Vladimir Putin’s next target after Ukraine, Kallas said attacking a NATO member state would be a step too far even for the Kremlin.
“Is NATO next when Putin succeeds in Ukraine? We are part of NATO, so we have Article 5 in NATO that says an attack on one is an attack on all, which means that if we are attacked, then it also means that the US or France or Germany is attacked. And I think this is too big a bite for even Russia to take,” she noted.
“We are not afraid, but we are preparing.”