Estonia is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but it shows perhaps the largest support for Ukraine of them all. What has caused this outspokenness? Catlyn Kirna, lecturer in International Relations at Tallinn University: “Ukraine has always been the canary in the coal mine”.
Estonia is one of the most outspoken European countries when it comes to its support for Ukraine. New Statesman has gone as far as to call Prime Minister Kaja Kallas the new Iron Lady, as she refuses to compromise with Putin. Why is it so important for Estonia to declare unconditional support?
“For Estonia, it’s not really something that is debatable. Putin very clearly has a list of countries and he’s going to work down the list. Estonia has always been aware of this, but nobody really believed us. The only option is to stop the list before it gets to us. It is also 100% about our survival: we send military equipment to Ukraine, so we don’t have to use it here.”
So it’s also in Estonia’s own interest to provide the support?
“It is. We support Ukraine, as we support all countries that have been victimized by Russia because we have been victimized by Russia. I think this is the biggest difference between Eastern and Western Europe. A lot of Western Europeans have this misconception about how Russia should be appeased. In the past, with somebody else, it worked just as well then.”
In the Netherlands, there was a lot of public interest when the Russo-Ukrainian war started. However, over a year and a half later, the war has faded into the background. People are still aware, but not as invested as they were in February 2022. How is that in Estonia?
“Russia’s goal is that everyone forgets about this conflict, so they can do whatever they want. We are fully aware of this, and we can’t let it fade into the background. A lot of Eastern countries are very keen to bring it up as much as possible, to push for help, and for people to realize and to remember it. We still have the Ukrainian flags flying everywhere. It is to some extent our war. It is not a Dutch war, it’s not something you feel a personal connection to. We do, so therefore it’s normal here that people remember.”
We discussed Putin’s list: how does Estonia look at the future? Are there feelings of fear, or is there also an optimistic outlook on the future?
“Ukraine has always been the canary in the coal mine and I’ve said during my lectures that as long as Ukraine exists as an independent state, Estonia has nothing to be afraid of. We now have to see what happens to the canary. The war started on Estonia’s Independence Day and I remember I was extremely upset. I did some calculations in my head and I thought that if Ukraine was going to fall, which at the time seemed very probable to happen, the war should be here in five years. My son is going to be 18 by then; my son is going to die in a war.
Now, I don’t think Ukraine is going to fall. There might be some compromise in the long run, but Ukraine will stand. Feelings are mostly hopeful here. We’ve always been afraid, Estonia raised the alarm years ago when Russia took Crimea. We always knew this was going to happen. We kind of got used to this. That also leads back to the first question and why we support Ukraine; it’s so that this does not happen to Estonia.”