Estonia’s prime minister has criticised “premature calls for a ceasefire” in Ukraine issued by other EU leaders, saying the bloc has to be “prepared for a long war”.
Kaja Kallas said the west had already tolerated three Russian land-grabs in Georgia in 2008 and the Crimean peninsula and part of the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014 and was at risk of repeating the same mistake if it tried to push Kyiv into a settlement with Moscow.
“We cannot make that mistake again. We have to be prepared for a long war,” she told reporters during a visit to London, where she held talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
The French, Italian and German leaders have all recently called for a ceasefire while France’s Emmanuel Macron irked the Ukrainian government over the weekend when he said, for the second time, it was important for the west not to “humiliate” Russia over the conflict.
“I’m very worried about premature calls for a ceasefire because peace doesn’t mean an end to [Russian] atrocities in occupied territory,” Kallas added.
She said she had discussed with Macron his point about humiliating the Russian leader, adding that it made no sense when Vladimir Putin’s onslaught in Ukraine met the UN definition of genocide.
“Putin is not in a corner. He can very well go back to his own country,” she said.
Kallas has become one of the most hawkish voices among European leaders over Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Alongside her Baltic and Polish counterparts she has urged Europe and the US to do more to defeat Moscow, both through the supply of more heavy weapons and tougher economic sanctions. Estonia has given more military support to Ukraine per capita than any other country.
“We have the feeling our allies are listening to us. But it takes time,” she said, with the EU slow to implement its common decisions. “We have to speed up. Ukraine doesn’t have much time.”
With Ukrainian forces ground down by superior Russian artillery firepower in the east of the country, officials in Kyiv have been disheartened in recent weeks by the slow pace of weapons deliveries and the reluctance of some western capitals to supply longer-range arms.
Kallas said fears raised on both sides of the Atlantic that arming Ukraine could be deemed by the Kremlin as cause for escalation were a “trap” set by Putin, since Ukraine had “done nothing to cause this situation”.
She said sharp price rises caused by Russia’s war were beginning to strain EU unity.
“We are at a point where actions are going to hurt the other side as well. The question is: how much pain are we willing to endure? This is different for different countries. The unity is hard to keep.”
Kallas is grappling with her own government crisis after she ejected seven ministers from the Centre party from her coalition.
She must now try to form a fresh coalition with two smaller parties, the Social Democrats and the conservative Isamaa. But the Centre party could also try to resume power by reforming its alliance with Isamaa and the far-right Ekre party, which collapsed last year, bringing Kallas to office.
Mart Laar, a former prime minister and honorary chair of Isamaa, told state broadcaster ERR that the latter “comes off rather pro-Russia, to put it mildly”.
Asked if Centre and Ekre were pushing Putin’s agenda, he replied: “I would not put it quite like that. But their behaviour, statements, utterances and attitudes tend to give that impression. And that impression does Estonia no favours.”
Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo