Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Estonian Prime Minister on how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has impacted her country


Estonia is on the front lines of tensions with Vladimir Putin's Russia. There's that shared border, but also a shared history that's taught this former Soviet republic to fear its huge and aggressive neighbor. We're joined now from Washington, D.C., by Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, thanks so much for being with us.

PRIME MINISTER KAJA KALLAS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Are you concerned that Estonia might be next for Vladimir Putin if the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not halted?

KALLAS: No. I'm concerned that NATO might be next. I mean, because in NATO we don't have, you know, different countries. We just have NATO's countries. So if there's attack on one, there's attack on all. And that's why we really have to prevent this happening. We have to support Ukraine as much as we can so that this war will not go any further, because if Ukraine is able to defend itself and push Russia back to its borders, then there will be no next. If Russia wins, then there's going to be complications for the overall global security, because if aggression pays off somewhere, it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere.

SIMON: Should NATO commit, at some point, air power or troops?

Sponsor Message

KALLAS: Well, this is the question, of course, that has been also put forward by President Macron recently, asking that - what more can we do in order to really help Ukraine win this war? I think we have been in a situation where we have been guessing. We, as West, have been guessing what Russia's next steps are.

I think it's also important that they will guess, or it's time for them to guess, what are our steps forward. I think there is so much more that we can do - I mean, giving military aid, support so that they can defend themselves. They haven't asked for troops on the ground, and this is not under discussion this way. But training of soldiers, I mean, military aid, air defense - all these things are questions that they have asked.

SIMON: Are you concerned about the delay in U.S. aid for Ukraine and the lack of support from some American political figures, I guess, most prominently former President Trump?

KALLAS: It is clear that the price goes up with every hesitation, with every delay. I mean, if we are able to do more faster, then the cost will not be as huge. I also think that is applicable to United States, because, you know, eventually, we want this war to end. Everybody wants this war to end. But it will end when Russia goes back to their borders, and there is, you know, accountability for the crimes committed.

It will not end if we will stop supporting Ukraine, because then, Russia will get - first of all, they will get the victory. That means that all the Western powers are not the ones who are winning here. And the second thing is that they just have a pause of some years, and then they will take a bigger step, a bigger bite, because every next time, they are bolder. So - and then the price for all of us will be much higher than to help Ukraine military right now.

SIMON: Prime Minister Kallas, what do you say to Americans who might be listening to you today and say, look, I wish Ukraine, and for that matter, Estonia, all the best. But those are countries on the other side of the world. That doesn't affect the U.S., and the U.S. has its own security concerns.

KALLAS: Well, I would say that history rhymes. And if you look at 1930s and 1940s, the history of the world, then you can clearly see that America also tried to isolate itself from what was happening in Europe. But eventually, also, America got to pay a very high price for this, because if aggression pays off, what we have learned from the 1930s is that all the aggressors or would-be aggressors around the world are carefully taking notes and also going after their neighbors' territories. And we are talking here about, you know, players like China, like Iran, like North Korea. And then it's definitely going to be a higher price for all of us.

SIMON: Of course, Russians are voting in an election this weekend. There doesn't seem to be much mystery about the outcome. Opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, of course, died last month in a Russian prison. From your experience in Estonia, what would it take for political change to come about in Russia?

KALLAS: First, I refused to call it elections. It's not elections. And it's a different topic - why are they playing this game of elections? And I think that this is just to undermine our democracy, saying that, you know, all the elections are the same. Whereas we know it's not. What it takes is to be really accountable, if people admire dictators, there's no obstacle in submitting to one or becoming to one. And that is the problem with Russia.

SIMON: And are you concerned at this particular moment that Americans and Russians - Americans and Estonians have a different view?

KALLAS: No. No. I don't think that we have different views. I think majority has the same view. I mean, America has been the one who was guarding the freedoms of people around the world. And I think this is what is at stake here, worldwide. So I think we are on the same side here.

SIMON: Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas. Thank you so much for joining us, Prime Minister.

KALLAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARRIS HELLER'S "DARK MATTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.