AP interview: Don’t let Russia down, says Estonian prime minister

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TALLIN, Estonia (AP) – Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kailas told The Associated Press that the West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, adding that Moscow is in it for the long haul as the war is in its fifth month occurs.

Kalas said in an interview on Wednesday that Europe should ensure that those who commit war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the annexation of eastern Ukraine. Donbass escaped punishment for supporting an insurgency in the region that killed more than 14,000 people. Even before this year’s war began.

“I’ve heard conversations that, you know, no longer pose a threat because they’ve exhausted themselves. No, they didn’t,” he said of the Russian army that took Kyiv in the early stages of the war. and is now concentrating its firepower to the east.

“They still have plenty of soldiers who can come (to fight) – they don’t count the lives they lose. They don’t count the artillery they’re losing out there. So I don’t think we should underestimate them in the long run to sustain them,” Kallas said, despite the low morale and corruption that plagues the Moscow military.

Kailas praised the unity Europe had shown in punishing Russia for the offensive launched on February 24, although he said it was clear from the start it would “get more difficult over time”.

“In the past, we imposed restrictions that were relatively simple. Now we come to the far more difficult restrictions. But so far we’ve managed to reach unity despite disagreeing,” she said in an interview at Capricorn House, a government building where she holds her office and holds cabinet meetings.

“That is normal for a democracy. We argue, we discuss, and then we come to a solution. So far it has been a negative surprise for Putin that we are still united,” Kalas said.

He said he expected Ukraine to be granted candidate status for the European Union at the upcoming bloc summit in Brussels, despite initial disagreements. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, pushed for Ukraine’s candidacy last week.

Some countries “were very confused two months ago,” Callas said, but now “there are mixed indications from different member states… that they are on board.”

Estonia, which shares a 294-kilometer border with Russia, has taken a tough stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kailas has criticized other European leaders for speaking to Putin and has advocated complete isolation from Moscow, except for Ukraine’s decision to end the war.

As the war unfolds, some in the West have suggested reaching a negotiated peace deal with Russia – even if it means Ukraine will leave the region. Kalas warned against this.

In her comments to the AP, she explained that this is exactly what happened after Moscow annexed Crimea, backed separatists in industrial Donbass and annexed territories in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

“It is important for us not to make this mistake again, like we did in Crimea, in Donbass, in Georgia,” she said. “We have already made the same mistake three times by saying that negotiated peace is the goal. … The only thing Putin hears about it is: ‘I can do it because there is no punishment. will not.

“And every time, every next time, there will be more human suffering than the last time,” she said.

In Ukraine, those who commit war crimes and “commit or attempt genocide” must be prosecuted.

Sanctions against Russia would take effect over time, she said, and “strategic patience” would be required.

Callas defended criticism that sanctions harm ordinary Russians but have so far failed to deter Putin.

“And I still think that the Russian people should feel the effects too, because as you can see, support for Putin is very strong,” she said.

Kailas said Russian soldiers brag about the war crimes they commit “to their wives and their mothers.” And when wives and mothers say, ‘That’s what you’re doing’… I mean, that’s also the war that Russia and the Russian people are waging in Ukraine,” she said.

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