I am very honoured to be here in Hamburg today to receive the Marion Dönhoff Prize. It is an important recognition not only to me but also to Estonia.
Marion Dönhoff has said that her upbringing in Prussia gave her a great appreciation of home, dignity and freedom. This award, and the reasons I was picked as its recipient, touch upon the very same notions – it is dignity and freedom that forms the foundation of the national constitutions of all democratic states. And it is the dignity and freedom of Europe that Ukrainians are fighting and dying for today.
Professor Timothy Snyder has rightly said that “in order to become better, a country must lose its last colonial war”. I grew up in one of Russia’s past colonies – Estonia was occupied by Soviet Russia for half a century. After the Second World War Estonia lost everything – we lost our territory, we lost our freedom, and we lost fifth of our population to Soviet terror and repressions. And we felt we were forgotten and abandoned behind the Iron Curtain.
The most important lesson learned – first, you need to fight for your freedom, whatever the odds. Not fighting means losing it all – your people and your statehood. Today, Ukrainians are proving the same thing to the entire world every single day.
Second, it’s time for Russia to lose its last colonial war in Europe – only this way we can hope that the cycle of aggressions against its neighbours ends. Third, there needs to be accountability for Russia’s war crimes.
History has proven it over and over again that accommodating Russia will not make it less dangerous. On 30 September 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain returned from Munich and declared ‘Peace for our time’ after Germany, Britain, France and Italy reached a settlement allowing Nazi Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. Within a year, Britain and France were at war with Germany. This illustrates that the decisions we take now will either lead to our own Chamberlain moment or will provide a historic moment towards finally breaking Russia’s cycle of aggression. It is our responsibility to know better, and to do better.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Russia’s large-scale genocidal war against Ukraine has opened up old wounds. For example, stories of kidnapped Ukrainian kids deported to Russia open the wounds of those 75-year-old Estonians who returned from Siberia after being deported as kids there by the Soviet regime. They were the lucky ones, many did not return. My own mother was deported as a six-months-old baby. This is not a unique story of my family. Almost every Estonian has a family story of Soviet crimes and terror.
This makes it clear why accountability for Russia’s war crimes must be front and centre now – unless unpunished, it continues over and over again. As we all know, there was no Moscow tribunal established to offer justice to all these children who fell victims to Soviet Russia’s war crimes. Times have changed since then.
That is why it is of utmost significance that the International Criminal Court has issued landmark arrest warrants for the arrest of Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights. They are accused of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. Now it is us, the member states of the Rome Statute, that must make sure that the obligations under the Rome Statute are followed.
In addition, we must set a focus on the Kremlin’s crime of aggression – it is a leadership crime, it is a crime against peace and a crime where all the other war crimes derive from. It cannot go unpunished. The International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction in that case now. That is why we need to establish an international tribunal for the crime of aggression – a tribunal that would have jurisdiction over those top leaders who have initiated the “Mother of All Crimes”. And such a tribunal should have the widest international legitimacy. The case is very clear, there is a criminal and a victim and there is a smoking gun. It is as black and white as it gets.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Russia’s regime remains confident that it has more resolve than we do, still believing it is able to outlast, outproduce and outperform Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic community. In fact, it is we who have the upper hand in this fight. The combined defence budgets of the Ramstein coalition are more than 13 times greater than Russia’s heavily inflated one.
The European Union’s GDP is over 7 times higher than Russia’s. The military spending of EU member states is already nearly three times larger than that of Russia’s. There should be no doubt in who has the advantage to prevail. The sheer size of our collective political, economic and military power could guarantee Ukraine’s victory over Russia.
Given all this, our strategy must be to stay firmly on the course and boost our long-term support to Ukraine. Our number one focus are arms, ammunition and training – they all must continue at a scale sufficient for Ukraine to win. The bottom line: the stronger Ukraine is, the sooner the breaking point for Russia can be reached.
And in parallel we should work on our own long-term defence of Europe. The new Strategic Agenda of the EU and the next long-term EU budget have to reflect our commitment to ensure defence readiness. We should focus on joint actions that bring added value to national defence investments. And we should focus on developing the Single Market for defence to ensure interoperability and our defence readiness at all times.
Should we fail, we will find ourselves in a much more dangerous world. It is a reality where we would be living next to a Russia that would soon have significant war-experienced conventional forces. Forces that are supported by a fully mobilised defence industry and a well-tested mobilisation system – and supplemented by a recent lesson that aggression pays off.
It is not only battlefield success that will decide the outcome of the war against Ukraine. The enforcement of sanctions and properly targeted new measures can deplete Russia’s war resources. Allocating Russia’s confiscated or frozen assets for the benefit of Ukraine can decisively raise the cost of the war for Russia.
In essence, it is a battle of wills. In this battle, we should not be afraid of our own power. And we shouldn´t fall into the trap of Russia´s disinformation as if supporting Ukraine is a lost cause. That’s what Russia wants us to believe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We within the EU and NATO need a plan for how to deal with Russia as it is now and as it will likely be over the next decade and maybe a generation or more to come. Any such plan needs to avoid wishful thinking, that giving Putin what he wants will somehow make Russia less dangerous. We have done it before it does not work. We know what Russia does when it can’t win on the ground. It tries to freeze it, to get a pause so it can rebuild and then come back even stronger. Then everything will continue, the atrocities will continue, the human suffering will continue. We shouldn’t be making that mistake again.
And there should be no step back to business as usual, no lifting of sanctions unless Russia has returned back to Russia and compensated for the damages done. Things have happened that cannot be forgiven or forgotten – war crimes, possibly a genocide, nuclear blackmail, ecocide. So, Russia must be isolated internationally, and we should be extra vigilant to any signs of Russia returning to the international stage – outright aggressors and war criminals have no place there. The latest examples of Russia having a say are the OSCE chairmanship for next year and the next COP presidency – in both cases, they are using their blocking power to make everyone else have to figure out what to offer them. We have to act as a unified power. Let us not surrender to their demands. Let’s not act like an outright aggressor is just like one of us. The upcoming Olympic Games are yet another example where Russia is trying to make a comeback.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some European political scientists label me and other strong supporters of Ukraine as Neo-Idealists. According to them, Neo-Idealism is founded on the power of values and everyone, including small states, have a right to self-determination. I would say that such idealism that pursues a world where freedom prevails is our common destiny and as such it is actually realism – it is fundamentally a strategy for survival. If we let aggression pay off, we have accepted the end of Europe as we know it and the return of the age of Empires. With our help to Ukraine, we need to make sure that land-grab cannot succeed in the 21st century. We all have „skin in this game“.