Estonian President Alar Karis has urged fellow NATO countries to prepare for a potentially rapid and significant change in Russia’s political landscape, as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine falters.
Any sign of Putin’s demise, the president warned, could create a dangerous power vacuum in Russia and jeopardize the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Carris also warned NATO that the Russian threat to Ukraine would last until the end of the war, necessitating a “permanent” coalition response in Eastern and Northern Europe. However, the president said that it is not possible for the West to completely isolate Russia and – even if it takes decades – it is important to work with Moscow.
speak with newsweek On the sidelines of the Lennart Meri conference in Tallinn, Estonia, on Sunday, Karis said all EU and NATO states must understand that there can be no return to “business as usual” with Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s latest attack. Ukraine regardless of the outcome.
“It’s not just a war in Ukraine, it’s our war too. And we have to stop it right there,” Karis said. newsweek, “The most important lesson, perhaps, is that we cannot continue after the war like we continued after the annexation of Crimea, as if it is going to be business as usual.”
But, Karis said, some business will have to continue. The European Union, NATO and partner nations are imposing more stringent sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Moscow is more economically isolated than ever, though it can still count on major trading partners outside the West, including China and India.
“Of course, we cannot isolate Russia completely,” Karis said. “We have to find ways to communicate with Russia in different ways and do some business with Russia. But it takes time, and it can take decades.”
Finland has traditionally been a diplomatic bridge between Russia and its western adversaries. But Helsinki—along with neighboring Sweden—has abandoned its decades-old policy of neutrality and announced its intention to join NATO, much to Russia’s dismay.
Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats to torpedo Finnish and Swedish applications, NATO development appears imminent. If successful, this expansion could burn one of the few remaining bridges between the West and the Kremlin.
“It depends on Russia,” Karis said on whether Finland’s accession to NATO would close the east-west diplomatic conduit running through Helsinki.
“They have some experience dealing with Russian politicians. In one way they have been successful, but on the other hand you see they are joining NATO now. So I think that’s kind of a bridge for Finnish politicians. Time has run out, as it used to be.”
Estonia and its Baltic neighbors have enthusiastically supported Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Their admission as the 31st and 32nd NATO states would change the strategic picture in Northern Europe.
The Baltic Sea will become what some are referring to as the “NATO Lake”, and the eyes of the Alliance will be able to see all Russian aircraft and ships operating from the Kaliningrad enclave and the important port of St.
“Of course military-wise, it makes a big difference,” Karis said of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. “It’s all NATO countries around the Baltic Sea.”
But the importance extends beyond the military sphere, Caris said: “It changes here. And maybe we can get rid of this ‘East European’ kind of concept. It’s not geographical, it’s political. We’re a big Baltic Sea.” belong to the field.. and that makes a difference.”
On Friday, Karis praised Estonia’s contribution to Ukraine – the country has given aid equal to a third of its annual defense budget – and “invited all my NATO and EU friends to try to overtake us.” “
“It’s always realistic to ask,” Karis said on whether it was a realistic request.
“We’ve been together in this big family at some point. And we know what it means to be captured. And we even know from our parents and grandparents what war really meant.
“Very many Estonians—volunteers as well as politicians—have been to Ukraine, and seen all these horrors and crimes against humanity… In a way I was also surprised that the Estonians were so helpful. It doesn’t happen. Every day.”
The Baltic states and their Eastern European counterparts have been at the forefront of Western response to Russian aggression. Estonia’s first delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles took place in Kyiv a week before the Russian attack, and Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Lemets was in the capital with her Latvian counterpart when Russian bombs began to fall on February 24.
His warnings to Russia were long ignored by their larger Western allies, with officials in the Baltic states now feeling they have become the moral heart of the European Union and NATO. At the LMC meeting in Tallinn this weekend, several speakers suggested it was time for Easterners to fill the top coalition roles. “Of course it’s time,” Karis said.
“The EU and NATO not only have positions for the big countries. So it’s about time, yes absolutely. candidates.”
In the West, large and wealthy countries are expanding their support for Kyiv, although calls for talks and immediate ceasefires in Paris and Berlin are causing panic in Ukraine and fellow NATO and EU states.
“These big countries are already starting to bring more money and more help to Ukraine,” Karis said. “So it probably takes longer for these countries than smaller countries like Estonia and Latvia.”
“I will say I am disappointed, but I understand what ‘big’ means,” the president continued.
“Germany has had so many ties since 1975, when it signed a deal with the Soviet Union to get this cheap oil from Russia. And they are left with no choice these days, either wind parks, or nuclear Plant, or oil, or coal. So that’s where Germany is at the moment.”
Change is slow, but change is evident. “I understand that this 180-degree turn has happened,” Caris said of the German currency.
“Maybe sometimes you get mixed signals from Germany.
“Countries and politicians, we develop. And the same thing happens with Germany and other big countries that have different relations with Russia.”
The Baltic states are urging Germany, France and other top EU powers to demonstrate their commitment to the Ukrainian cause by approving Kyiv’s EU candidate status.
The European Commission is expected to publish its analysis in June, after which Ukrainian leaders expect member states to approve what will be a major step on a potentially long road to Kyiv’s accession.
“It’s a long way to go,” Caris said of Ukraine’s EU ambitions. “That’s why I don’t believe in this ‘fast track’ – it doesn’t exist. But we have to show the Ukrainians the green light, to open the door so that they can make all the necessary changes and meet all the necessary criteria. EU To join in. And we have to encourage them to do so.”
Several Russian units that had been stationed on the Baltic borders are now fighting in Ukraine, fighting to advance Moscow’s Donbass offensive against Ukrainian defenders increasingly armed with Western weapons.
But it will not be a lack of force, and the Russians will learn from their mistakes, Karis warned: “We have to take this seriously. Russia’s challenge will remain. Even after the Ukraine war is over, it will be there. You have the army here.” And to have permanent soldiers.”
Estonians and fellow Baltic officials and commanders are among those pressing NATO to abandon its “advanced forward presence” concept at the upcoming Madrid summit in June.
The EFP approach is based on small “tripwire” joint units in the Baltic states, which would be expected to disband in the event of a Russian invasion before a full NATO response is possible.
“It’s important to have soldiers everywhere for defense,” Karis said. “I don’t like the idea of something like the ‘Eastern flank’ and the ‘Central European flank’ and maybe the ‘Nordic flank’. It’s all NATO, and it has to be the same everywhere. Of course, on this border with Russia, your Should probably have more troops, I don’t know, Belgium.”
“It’s one thing that they were completely unprepared for,” Karis said of the Russians’ conflict in Ukraine. “It doesn’t mean that their military might is over. There may be a new regime that’s pretty much ready to start a war. We don’t know. There’s military power. I wouldn’t underestimate Russia like that.”
Meanwhile, the president said, the Western coalition must be prepared to deal with sudden seismic political changes within Russia. “It happened before, it happened 30 years ago too,” he said.
“We have to be ready. Things can happen suddenly. Even internally, something can happen, or externally. We have to be ready. We don’t want this kind of void out there. They have nuclear power and everything “
The political situation in Russia is difficult to interpret from the West. There appears to be little organized resistance to Putin, and no clear candidate to take over from the aging dictator.
The war prompted significant public demonstrations in February and March, but state repression made it difficult to measure the extent of anti-government sentiment.
“We don’t know what people really think, if they like Putin or if they are pro-war in Ukraine,” Karis said.
“We’ve been in a similar situation in Soviet times. Sometimes if you change your leader it doesn’t mean so much change in the political sphere … It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in Russia. But as I said, we have to be ready for everything.”
newsweek The Russian Foreign Ministry has been contacted to request comment.