Estonia’s prime minister said Tuesday that the West must not give in to Moscow’s nuclear threats or premature peace proposals but stand firmly in support of Ukraine as the invaded country fights to rid its occupied territories of Russian soldiers.
Kaja Kallas, who has led Estonia’s government since last year, told The Associated Press in an interview that “very dangerous” calls for negotiations and peace in Ukraine have come from “very prominent people” lately.
She didn’t specify anyone by name, but her comments came a day after Tesla CEO Elon Musk floated on Twitter a proposal for ending the war that elicited fierce opposition from Kyiv.
Musk, who has been involved in an on and off and reportedly on again deal to buy the social media platform, argued that Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimean Peninsula that it seized in 2014. The four regions Russia annexed following Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” last month should hold repeat votes organized by the United Nations, he said.
Musk also said that to bring about peace, Ukraine should adopt a neutral status, dropping a bid to join NATO.
In her interview with the AP, Kallas recalled the Soviet occupation of Estonia, during which a significant portion of the country’s political and social elite was imprisoned, deported or killed.
“Even if there is peace, it doesn’t mean that the human suffering for those territories will end,” Kallas said.
Russia’s war in Ukraine appears to have entered a new, more dangerous phase in recent weeks. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a call-up of military mobilization of reservists, moved to illegally annex Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and promised to defend Russian territory “with any means at our disposal,” including nuclear weapons.
Such threats must be taken seriously “but not in a sense that, ‘Oh, let’s give in,’” Kallas said, adding that attempts to appease Putin when he escalates may send the signal that “when you threaten, they will give in.”
“The nuclear powers of the world have given a very clear signal to Russia: ‘When you use (the nuclear weapons), there is no way back.’”
The prime minister expressed hope that Russia’s embarrassing battlefield setbacks in Ukraine, domestic resistance to Moscow’s military mobilization and mounting criticism from Putin’s allies mean “we are seeing the beginning of the end of this war.”
The decision to call up reservists is “meant to intimidate, but it also shows signs of panic on the Russian side, that they have to do this, really. And it’s not going in accordance with the plans,” Kallas said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise move to apply for fast-tracked NATO membership in response to Putin signing annexation treaties with the Kremlin-installed leaders of the four regions.
Nine NATO members — including Estonia and the Baltic countries where the war in Ukraine stoked fears about their own security — have backed Ukraine’s path to membership in the Western security alliance. All NATO members need to approve the request, which has been complicated by the fact that Ukraine is currently at war.
Kallas reiterated Estonia’s support for Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, even though it’s “a long way from the application to membership.”
She said she expected a difficult winter in Europe, which is suffering the side effects of the war in Ukraine in the form of rising energy costs and sky-rocketing inflation.
“It’s going to be very, very hard. But we have to prepare our public and be very clear (as to) why it is so. It is because Putin is waging a war on a European country,” Kallas said. “That’s why we are all suffering. So to end the sufferings, our sufferings which are much milder than the sufferings of Ukrainians, we have to put our efforts to end the war.”