Tallinn – Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told The Associated Press that the West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, saying Moscow is in it for the long term the war goes into the fifth month.
Kallas 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 was guilty of punishment for the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the failed to support an uprising in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region that killed more than 14,000 people before this year’s war began.
“I’ve heard speeches that there’s no more threat because they’ve exhausted themselves. No, they didn’t,” she said of the Russian military, which failed to take Kyiv in the early stages of the war and is taking it now Concentrating its firepower in the east.
“They still have many troops who can come (to fight) – they don’t count the lives they lose. They don’t count the artillery they lose there. So I don’t think we should underestimate them in the longer term to maintain this,” Kallas said, despite the low morale and corruption that worries Moscow’s armed forces.
Kallas praised the unity Europe had shown in punishing Russia for the invasion that began on February 24, although she said it was clear from the start that “it would get harder and harder over time” to stick together.
“First we implemented the sanctions, which were relatively simple. Now we turn to sanctions, which are much more difficult. But so far we’ve managed to reach unity, even if we disagree,” she said in an interview at Stenbock House, a government building where she has her office and holds cabinet meetings.
“That is normal for democracy. We debate, we discuss, and then we come to a solution. So far it has been a negative surprise for Putin that we are still united,” Kallas said.
She said she was confident Ukraine would be granted Candidate status for the European Union at the bloc’s upcoming summit in Brussels, despite initial disagreements about it. The executive branch of the EU, the European Commission, threw his weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week.
Some countries “were very skeptical two months ago,” Kallas said, but now there are “different signals 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. Kallas has criticized other European leaders for doing so in conversation with Putin and has advocated completely isolating Moscow and leaving the decision to end the war to Ukraine.
As the war drags on, some in the West have suggested reaching a negotiated peace deal with Russia – even if it meant Ukraine giving up its territory. Kallas warned against this.
In her comments to the AP, she pointed out that this is exactly what happened after Moscow annexed Crimea, backed separatists in industrial Donbass and seized 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 and said that negotiations, negotiated peace, are the goal. … The only thing Putin hears from this is: ‘I can do it because there will be no punishment.’
“And every time, every next time, there will be more human suffering than last time,” she added.
In Ukraine, those who commit war crimes and “commit or attempt genocide” should be prosecuted.
Sanctions against Russia would take effect over time, she said, and one just needs to have “strategic patience.”
Kallas defended criticism that the sanctions appear to hurt ordinary Russians but have so far failed to deter Putin.
“And I still think the impact should be felt by the Russian people too, because if you look at it, support for Putin is very high,” she said.
Kallas added that Russian soldiers brag about war crimes they commit “to their wives and mothers.” And when the wives and mothers say, ‘That’s fine what you’re doing’… I mean, that’s also the war that Russia and the Russian people are waging in Ukraine,” she said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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https://www.local10.com/business/2022/06/23/the-ap-interview-estonian-pm-says-dont-play-down-russia/ Estonian PM says Russia should not be downplayed