Estonian leader: Russia must be held accountable after war

Feb 18, 2023, 3:32 PM | Updated: Feb 19, 2023, 5:52 am

Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, gestures during an interview at the Munich Security Confere...

Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, gestures during an interview at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. The 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC) is taking place from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, 2023 at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

(AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Munich (AP) — Estonia’s prime minister on Sunday insisted that once the war in Ukraine ends, Russia must be brought to justice for war crimes as well as for the decision to invade its neighbor if it is to have any chance of developing a normal relationship with the West.

Kaja Kallas, whose small Baltic country is the biggest per-capita contributor of military aid to Ukraine, told The Associated Press that the conflict cannot end with a peace deal that carves up the country and doesn’t hold Moscow to account.

“I don’t think there can be any relations as usual with a pariah state that hasn’t really given up the imperialistic goals,” she said on the sidelines of a major security conference in Munich. “If we don’t learn this lesson and don’t prosecute the crimes of aggression, the war crimes will just continue.”

She spoke the day after Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States has determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine and needs to be held accountable. “Justice must be served,” Harris said in her speech to the conference.

The Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, dismissed the U.S. announcement “as an attempt to demonize Russia.”

Kallas noted that while Nazi crimes were prosecuted in the Nuremberg trials following World War II, no tribunal was set up following the Cold War to prosecute crimes by the Soviet Union, including mass deportations of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians during the five-decade-long Soviet occupation.

This time, Russia’s leadership has to be held responsible. “There has to be accountability (before) we can talk about our relations with Russia,” she said.

Asked about China’s calls for peace talks and suggestions that Western countries are prolonging the war by arming Ukraine, Kallas said that while everyone wants peace, a deal that cedes Ukrainian territory to Russia would signal to the world that “aggression pays off.”

Russia’s invasion must come at a “higher price, so that all the aggressors or would-be aggressors in the world would make the calculation that it doesn’t pay off,” Kallas said.

Kallas, 45, leads Estonia’s center-right Reform Party and has been prime minister since 2021. Not everyone supports her line on Ukraine. Ahead of parliamentary elections in two weeks, opposition leader Martin Helme of the far right Conservative People’s Party has called for a more cautious approach and accused Kallas of emptying Estonia’s own arsenals, leaving the country vulnerable.

Kallas dismissed that suggestion, saying “we of course have given a lot but we are also thinking about our own defense.”

Kallas has figured in speculation about potential candidates to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO secretary-general when he leaves the post in the fall. She dismissed that as “very unlikely,” but noted that the Baltic countries had not been given any high leadership positions in NATO since they joined in 2005.

“Some have said it can’t be from countries like the Baltic states because it will provoke Russia,” she said. “First of all, I don’t think our relations with Russia can get any worse than they right now are because he’s waging a war in Ukraine. And the second is that you are actually saying that we give power to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to decide who cannot be, for example, the secretary-general of NATO.”

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Estonian leader: Russia must be held accountable after war