/From our special correspondent in Brussels/
With the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine, Estonia came under pressure. It has become one of the faithful allies of the attacked country, which burdens it in many ways. For example, it had to cope with the increased number of migrants coming across the border with Russia, but also with Moscow’s efforts to undermine the country’s security.
European security is being discussed on Thursday and Friday in North Macedonia, which chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However, several foreign ministers announced in advance that they would not arrive in Skopje due to the participation of the head of the Russian delegation.
“We do not intend to sit with the aggressor at the table where we are supposed to deal with security policy,” Margus Tsahkna, the Estonian foreign minister, who – like, for example, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba – decided not to travel to Skopje, told Seznam Správy.
In an interview that took place during the meeting of the foreign ministers of the NATO member states in Brussels, Tsahkna explained what thoughts led him to this decision, but also what the situation is today on the western border with Russia.
Estonia was supposed to chair the OSCE next year, but due to the long-term blockade by Russia, it will not be. Together with your Baltic colleagues, you also decided not to go to the ministerial meeting of the organization in Skopje. How do you feel that the Russian foreign minister will participate in the meeting?
I do not like the idea of inviting Lavrov to Skopje, sitting with him at the OSCE table and discussing European security. Russia is the aggressor; committing genocide, deporting children, and waging full-scale war against another member of the organization. Instead of sitting at the table with other member states, Lavrov should stand before the International Tribunal and take responsibility for all this.
I can’t actually imagine that something like this should happen in the OSCE. It is a violation of all the principles on which this body is founded. This is precisely the reason why we will not participate in the negotiations together with our Baltic colleagues and Ukrainian Minister Kuleba.
Of course, Lavrov will use this opportunity for propaganda and say that we invited him here to negotiate with us. However, at the same time, there is a large-scale bombing and thousands of people are dying, so these are definitely not the conditions under which such an action should take place.
Given the blocking of the presidency, it is clear that Russia does not like Estonia at all. But it’s not just a question of Estonia, it’s also about the fact that they blocked the entire functioning of the OSCE in recent years. And not just the OSCE; they use every opportunity they can to shut down our institutions. Any deal with them doesn’t work, it’s like a trap.
Do you think other countries should join the boycott? For example, did you deal with it outside the Baltic trio?
We did not organize anything like that, this decision is up to individual countries. Personally, I probably wouldn’t even call it a boycott, we just don’t want to sit with the aggressor at the table where we have to deal with security policy. We have to talk about the security of Europe with Russia in mind, not together with Russia. It’s not very practical.
Another thing is that I didn’t want to be part of the propaganda. I would not be able to explain to the Estonians why I was there by Lavrov’s side at a time when we are giving everything to support Ukraine and the Ukrainians meanwhile are paying the highest price. I don’t know who will show up in Skopje and who won’t, we’ll see on Thursday. But I’m flying home.
You were the Minister of Defense in the past, so the topic I want to ask about is no stranger to you. What is the situation on the border with Russia today?
There is currently a well-organized hybrid attack against Finland in which innocent people such as refugees are being exploited. After all, Russia has resorted to this within our region before, namely in Poland, Latvia or Lithuania. Now our support is needed by Finland, which has already closed its borders (more here).
Russia is concerned with the destabilization of our public, and propaganda will once again help it. Do you know how cold it is in the north of Finland? Maybe there will be dead children and women, which Russia will use to blame the Finns or just us. But this is nonsense, the Russians must take responsibility for this.
More about Russia and the OSCE
The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, is scheduled to arrive at the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Some countries therefore decided to boycott.
Finland has the right to protect its territory and they are doing it right. Russia is just trying to play the victim and show that the policy of isolation does not work. But the main concern concerns innocent people whom the Russians are “recruiting” across various regions and luring them to Russia. They then send these people to the north of Europe in an organized manner.
Finland is already a member of NATO, and it is not only a question for it, but also for the North Atlantic Alliance, the European Union and for our community as a whole. We are in close contact with the states bordering Russia and are ready to close our borders as well. We are ready to act.
On Wednesday, you had a ministerial meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. Due to the length of the conflict, there has been frequent mention of war fatigue across society in recent months. Do you think that we are also watching something like this at the political level?
As far as this Council is concerned, I have seen no weariness. All member states came with additional support for Ukraine, both in terms of the military and with regard to the approaching winter and preparations for it. They also committed to longer commitments, which is very important to perceive.
Do you think the West can do anything more for Ukraine?
Of course we can. For example, the European Union could fulfill the commitment to supply ammunition, which arose from the initiative of Estonia. At the same time, it is also an investment in the defense industry, i.e. in Europe’s capabilities. The war in Ukraine was a wake-up call and it will take some time. The effort is there, however, and I think we will see big changes within the EU.
We actually see some already; previously, most of the money went to agriculture, now the European bloc invests in defense. At the same time, we militarily support a third party, Ukraine, which is also a change in itself. So to return to your previous question, there is no fatigue. However, people have the right to speak up if they don’t feel that the situation is being handled properly.
The situation on the Polish-Belarusian border
The hybrid war continues on the Polish-Belarusian border, and with it a humanitarian crisis. There are already 55 victims. The topic will be inherited by the new Polish government. Activists expect a more humane approach from today’s opposition, which will probably take over the government within a month.
Estonia came up with a plan to create a legal framework on how to use Russian frozen assets that could not be done with. The proposal is currently in parliament and if it passes, we have to explain to the taxpayers in Estonia, the EU or even the United States that Russia has to pay for what it has caused. And that it is not impossible.
As far as Russian influence is concerned, it is not only about Ukraine, but also, for example, the Western Balkans, which for the most part are not integrated into either the EU or NATO. Do you think that this region needs to be paid more attention?
We talked about this topic on Tuesday together with the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and in addition, we have already completed a number of negotiations on the given topic within the European Union, not to mention the fact that security there is ensured by NATO troops. I think the signal is clear.
But the EU enlargement process is also an important process. It is not only about Ukraine, which is of course essential today, or about Moldova, but also about the Balkan countries and others. The window of opportunity is now open, perhaps after more than a decade. We have to take advantage of it. EU membership creates stability in the region and better living conditions.
Russia is trying to use the current situation to find other places around the world that could destabilize and drag us into other conflicts. The countries in the Balkans differ in their peoples and their own complex situations, but the will is there and we support it. I think we can solve this problem peacefully.