AP interview: Don’t let Russia down, says Estonian prime minister

TALLIN, Estonia (AP) – Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kailas has told The Associated Press that the West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, adding that Moscow is in it for the long haul as the war is in its fifth enters the month.

Kalas said in an interview on Wednesday that Europe should ensure that those who commit war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and annexation of eastern Ukraine. The Donbass escaped punishment for supporting an insurgency in the region, in which more than 14,000 people died. Even before this year’s war started.

“I’ve heard things that, you know, are no longer a threat because they’ve exhausted themselves. No, they didn’t,” he said of the Russian army, which was taking Kyiv in the early stages of the war. and is now focusing its firepower in the East.

“They still have a lot of soldiers that can come (to fight) – they’re not counting the lives they’re losing. They’re not counting the artillery that they’re losing out there. So I don’t think we should underestimate them in the long term in order to keep it up,” Kallas said, despite the low morale and corruption plaguing Moscow’s military.

Kailas praised the unity that Europe has shown in punishing Russia for the offensive that began on February 24, even though he said it was clear from the start that it would be “more difficult over time”.

“Earlier, we imposed restrictions which were relatively easy. Now we move on to the restrictions that are far more difficult. But so far, we have managed to achieve unity even though we have different opinions,” she said in an interview at the Steinbock House, a government building where she holds her office and holds cabinet meetings.

“This is normal for a democracy. We argue, we discuss, and then we arrive at a solution. So far, it has been a negative surprise to Putin that we are still united,” said Kalas.

He said he expected Ukraine to be given candidate status for the European Union at the bloc’s upcoming summit to be held in Brussels, despite initial divisions over it. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, put its weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week.

Some countries “were very confused two months ago,” Callas said, but now “there are different indications coming from different member states … that they are on board.”

Estonia, which shares a 294-kilometre (about 180 mi) border with Russia, has taken a tough stand on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kailas has criticized other European leaders for talking to Putin and has advocated for complete isolation of Moscow except Ukraine’s decision to end the war.

As the war has progressed, some in the West have suggested reaching a negotiated peace deal with Russia – even if it means that Ukraine will leave the region. Kalas has warned against this.

In her comments to the AP, she explained that this is exactly what happened after Moscow annexed Crimea, supported separatists in the industrial Donbass, and annexed territory in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“For us, it is important not to make that mistake again like we did in Crimea, Donbass, Georgia,” she said. “We’ve already made the same mistake three times in saying that, you know, negotiated, negotiated peace is the goal. … From this Putin only hears ‘I can do this because there will be no punishment’ .’

“And every time, every next time will be accompanied by more human suffering than the last time,” she said.

In Ukraine, those who commit war crimes and “commit or attempt to commit genocide” must be prosecuted.

Sanctions against Russia will take effect over time, she said, and “strategic patience” is needed.

Callas defended criticism that the sanctions hurt ordinary Russians by failing to stop Putin so far.

“And I still think that, you know, the impact should be felt by the Russian population as well, because if you see, the support for Putin is very high,” she said.

Kailas said Russian soldiers are bragging about the war crimes they commit “to their wives and their mothers”. And if wives and mothers say ‘that’s exactly what you’re doing there’… I mean, this is also the war that Russia and the Russian people are holding in Ukraine,” she said.

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