Estonia marks Independence Day with NATO, EU chiefs

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are in Tallinn. Estonia’s Independence Day coincides with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was joined by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to mark the country’s independence on Friday.

The ceremony in the capital Tallinna came on the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

After a wreath laying ceremony, the three leaders spoke on the occasion to reinforce EU and NATO unity and support for Ukraine.

“Freedom is not free,” Stoltenberg said. “We must fight for it every day,” citing lessons from Estonia’s history.

“There are no risk free options and the biggest risk of all is if Putin wins because the message to other authoritarian leaders would be they can get what they want through force,” Stoltenberg added.

“Supporting Ukraine is not just the morally right thing to do, it is also in our security interest.”

What did the three leaders say?

Kallas noted that “Today, Ukrainians are showing unprecedented resolve and courage.” She called on the EU to jointly procure ammunition and other defense materiel to aid Ukraine.

“If we fall for Russia’s threats, we will wake up in a much more dangerous world,” she noted.

Kallas added, “The way this war in Ukraine ends will define peace for generations. For any peace to last, there must be accountability.”

She was followed by von der Leyen who answered the call for joint EU defense procurement by thanking Kallas.

“We will return to joint procurement to deliver urgent military supplies for Ukraine,” von der Leyen said, citing the example of vaccine procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic as precedent for such a move.

Stoltenberg said more aid to frontline states and states vulnerable to Russian aggression, such as Moldova, must be provided to prevent Russan aggression in the first instance. Of Putin, he assessed, “He is not preparing for peace, he is preparing for more war so we must give Ukraine what they need.”

He also dismissed China’s posturing around a so-called peace plan released earlier in the week.

“China does not have much credibility as they have not been able to condemn the invasion of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg noted, adding, “just a few days before the invasion, china signed a ‘limitless partnership’ with Russia.”

Why does Estonia support Ukraine so strongly?

Estonia, like Ukraine, was occupied by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Since Estonia’s independence in 1991, the country went on to join the EU and NATO in 2004 along with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania.

As a percentage of GDP, Estonia is the top donor to Ukraine with defense and humanitarian aid, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine support tracker.

Since the war’s start in 2014, Estonia has repeatedly urged allies to support Ukraine and led the way since the full-scale invasion was launched one year ago.

Ahead of the ceremonies marking independence and the anniversary of the invasion, Kallas told AFP: “If this aggression pays off in Ukraine, then it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere. We have to totally discredit the tool of aggression.”

“So as long as they are fighting there, they are weakening the same enemy as we have,” she added.

By contrast, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that Moscow must push back the country’s borders as far as possible for lasting peace. In a message on social media, the former Russian president said he expected Moscow to be victorious and the war would end with a loose agreement.

ar/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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