Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on war in Ukraine and the Russian threat

The tiny nation of Estonia shares a 180-mile border with Russia. During World War II, the Soviet Union occupied the country and then annexed it until Estonia regained its independence. Now, it is a NATO and European Union member on the front lines with Russia. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how her nation is responding to the war in Ukraine.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    The tiny nation of Estonia shares a 180-mile border with Russia. During World War II, the Soviet Union occupied the country. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, Estonia regained its independence. Now it is a NATO and a European Union member on the front line facing Russia.

    For more on how it is responding to the war in Ukraine, I spoke with the Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas, earlier today.

    Prime Minister Kallas, thank you very much for joining us.

    At the moment we're speaking, the Russian Defense Ministry is saying there will be significant military pullbacks in the north of Ukraine, around Kyiv and other areas.

    What do you make of this?

    Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia: First of all, they haven't told the truth before, so we have to be very skeptical if they are telling the truth now.

    But if they are telling the truth, then it means that they are struggling because Ukrainians are fighting really, really hard, and they are assessing that they can't take Kyiv.

    But we must understand that, if we look at the map, they have progress in very many areas of Ukraine, and they have not pulled back from Ukraine. So, the aggression is still there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What more, at this point, do you believe the West, NATO can do to stop Vladimir Putin, to stop the Russian military, and especially to stop them from killing civilians?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    First, we definitely have to help Ukraine with all the means that we can.

    Military aid, we can give them. We have given — as Estonia, a very small country, we have given a lot, over $200 million, which is, for our 1.3 million people, a lot. But bigger countries can do more.

    Then, second, we must help Ukrainians with the humanitarian aid and trying to get the civilians out. But, on the other hand we also must isolate Putin in every possible way, in all the international fora, because what he's doing is clearly committing war crimes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We had on the "NewsHour" last night a respected military analyst tell us that he believes that this war could be morphing into something like the Bosnian war, which went on for three years, left over 100,000 people dead.

    Do you think that that's a real possibility?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    Well, if we look at the surveys that have been done in Ukraine, then Ukrainians believe, a majority of Ukrainians believe that they are winning this war.

    And the other question that was posed to them was that, should the war be stopped if — or, like, should it be — some territory should be left to Russia if they achieve peace? And, again, majority said that no.

    So, President Zelenskyy is in a very difficult position, because his people are thinking that they are winning this war, and the victory means that Russia pulls off completely from their territories. And until that time, they will fight.

    But, at the same time, President Zelenskyy really wants to have peace, because he sees his people being slaughtered and his cities being destroyed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you, Prime Minister, about Estonia.

    Obviously, you're a much smaller country than Ukraine. Does what's going on there make you much more worried about what Vladimir Putin could do to your country, and aimed at your people, many of whom in your east are Russian-speaking?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    Well, first of all, actually, exactly 18 years ago today, we joined NATO, and that makes a huge difference.

    No NATO country has ever been attacked. We don't see any military threat, and we feel secure. At the same time, we also discuss in NATO to boost our defense, because, if we have such an aggressive neighbor, and is clearly invading neighboring countries, then our deterrence should be boosted up as well, because, in order to have peace, you have to prepare for war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how many — let me ask you about that.

    I mean, how many more troops do you think need to be stationed in Estonia? How much more weaponry? How much of that is — would be troops from other NATO countries?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    We feel that we should have in the Baltics combat-ready division of NATO, of course, with the enablers, which means air defenses and other capabilities.

    We are currently discussing at the NATO level, and the military is looking into that, because one is that we are ourselves investing a lot in our defense, almost 2.5 percent now. But, also, the other pillar is the collective defense of NATO.

    So, we also have to spend this money wisely, which means that we have to cooperate more, procure some capabilities together that would be too expensive for any individual member state to do on their own.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Prime Minister, let me ask you about what President Biden said in the last few days, and that is that Vladimir Putin cannot, in his words, remain in power.

    Do you agree with him?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    I think that Vladimir Putin has to be isolated politically on all the levels, because what we see in Ukraine, why there are more civilian casualties than there are military casualties, is because they are targeting the civilians. And this is a war crime.

    What I'm really worried about is that if some kind of agreement is made, that Putin, Vladimir Putin, is not somehow liberated from all the responsibility, because, if he is, then he will move and make additional moves later on. So, we can't forget all the crimes that he has already committed in Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you mean liberated from responsibility?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    If the goal is to get a peace agreement, then what I mean is that this is not the end.

    We should not forget what he has already done to Ukrainian people, because, if we go back to business as usual with President Putin, then his appetite will only grow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia seem to be hitting the Russian people much harder than they are either Vladimir Putin or any of the people around him. Are they truly being effective?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    We see that the sanctions work.

    Why else Putin is complaining about them and wants to lift the sanctions or is talking about this? So, definitely, the sanctions hurt. And the sanctions should remain in place until he is moving away from Ukraine and also possibly paying for the war damages, the repairments for Ukraine.

    But if we compare the sufferings of the Ukrainian people, it's uncomparable, what they are suffering, to anything that is going on in Russia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Final question, Prime Minister Kallas.

    And that is, as you watch the suffering of Ukrainian people day after day as this war grinds on, how do you — how do you take that in as a human being? How do you take that in as a leader who is responsible for the Estonian people?

  • Kaja Kallas:

    Yes, it's very difficult to watch, especially that we have had the same kind of fate.

    I mean, my mother was deported to Siberia when she was only 6 months old, together with my grandmother and great-grandmother, in cattle wagons for three weeks. So, there are exactly the same crimes going on right now in Ukraine. And it's very, very difficult to watch.

    And what I have been advocating to other leaders of NATO is to give more military aid to Ukraine, so that they can fight back, give humanitarian aid when — I mean, if we can do it for 1.3 million people, then bigger countries can do much, much more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, thank you very much.

    Thank you.

  • Kaja Kallas:

    Thank you.

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