AP interview: Russia doesn’t get tired of war, says Estonian PM

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Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. Kalls called the European agreement on the war in Ukraine “a negative surprise” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, she said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Moscow’s military capabilities should not be underestimated because “they are in it for the long haul.” (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. Kalls called the European agreement on the war in Ukraine “a negative surprise” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, she said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Moscow’s military capabilities should not be underestimated because “they are in it for the long haul.” (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. Kalls called the European agreement on the war in Ukraine “a negative surprise” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, she said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Moscow’s military capabilities should not be underestimated because “they are in it for the long haul.” (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. Kalls called the European agreement on the war in Ukraine “a negative surprise” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, she said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Moscow’s military capabilities should not be underestimated because “they are in it for the long haul.” (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. Kalls called the European agreement on the war in Ukraine “a negative surprise” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, she said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Moscow’s military capabilities should not be underestimated because “they are in it for the long haul.” (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kailas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. (AP Photo/Sergey Grits)

TALLIN, Estonia (AP) – The West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, the Estonian leader told the Associated Press, adding that Moscow’s forces are in it for the long haul in the fifth month of the war. .

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kailas said in an interview on Wednesday that Europe should ensure that those who commit war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin committed the Crimean peninsula’s occupation in 2014 and escaped punishment for supporting an insurgency in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. This year’s war had already cost the lives of more than 14,000 people.

“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.

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Unity was again evident on Thursday when the European Union granted Ukraine candidate status, tying it more closely to the West. This triggered a membership process that could take years or even decades.

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.

On the domestic front, Kailas, 45, was struggling for her political future when Estonia’s two-party government led by her centre-right Reform Party collapsed in early June following disputes over welfare and spending by its junior partner’s Center Party. thrown out. Troubles amid high inflation in the Baltic nation.

Kallas, who has led the Reform Party since 2018 and became Estonia’s first female prime minister in January 2021, started coalition talks with two other parties this month and is expected to reach a coalition agreement in early July.

If not, the Kallas face the bleak prospect of ruling via a weak one-party minority government until the next general election, scheduled for March 2023.

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Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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