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AP interview: Estonian Prime Minister says Russia is not tired of war

Written by Javed Iqbal

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) – The West should not underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, Estonia’s leader told The Associated Press, saying that as the war enters its fifth month, Moscow’s forces are in it in the long run.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja 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 escaped punishment for annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014. and support a revolt in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. killed over 14,000 people, even before this year’s war began.

“I have heard that there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they have not,” she said of the Russian military, which failed to occupy Kiev in the early stages of the war and now is concentrates its firepower to the east.

“They still have lots of troops that can come (to fight) – They do not count the lives they lose. They do not count the artillery that they lose there. So I do not think we should underestimate them in the long run. to continue with this, ”said Kallas, despite the low morale and corruption that worries Moscow’s forces.

Kallas praised the unity that Europe has shown in punishing Russia for the invasion that began on February 24, even though she said it was clear from the beginning that it would become “more and more difficult with time” to stick together.

“First, we made the sanctions relatively light. Now we move on to sanctions that are much more severe. But so far we have managed to get the unity, even though we have different opinions, “she said in the interview in Stenbock House, a government building, where she has her office and holds cabinet meetings.

“It simply came to our notice then. We discuss, we discuss, and then we come to the solution. So far, it has been a negative surprise for Putin that we are still united, “Kallas said.

She said she hoped Ukraine would be given candidate status for the European Union at the forthcoming summit of the bloc in Brussels, despite the initial divisions. EU Executive, European Commission, threw his weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week.

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Some countries “were very skeptical two months ago,” Kallas said, but now there are “different signals coming from different member states … that they are on board.”

Estonia, which shares a 294-kilometer (about 180 miles) border with Russia, has taken a hard line over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kallas has criticized other European leaders for talks with Putin and has spoken in favor of isolating Moscow completely and leaving the decision on how to end the war to Ukraine.

While the war has dragged on, some in the West have proposed concluding a negotiated peace agreement with Russia – even if it meant Ukraine would give up territory. Kallas has warned against it.

In her comments to the AP, she pointed out that this was exactly what happened after Moscow annexed Crimea, supported the separatists in the industrial Donbas, and conquered territory in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“For us, it is important not to make the mistake again that we did in Crimea, Donbas, Georgia,” she said. “We have already made the same mistake three times and said that you know, negotiations, negotiated peace is the goal. … The only thing Putin hears from this is that ‘I can do this because no one is following punishment’.

“And each time, every next time will be with more human suffering than the last one was,” she added.

In Ukraine, those who commit war crimes and “commit or attempt to commit genocide” should be prosecuted.

Sanctions against Russia will take effect over time, she said, and one just has to have “strategic patience.”

Kallas defended criticism that the sanctions appear to harm ordinary Russians, while so far they have not deterred Putin.

“And I still think that the effects should also be felt by the Russian people, because if you look at it, the support for Putin is very high,” she said.

Kallas added that Russian soldiers boast of war crimes they commit “against their wives and their mothers. And if the wives and mothers say ‘It’s okay what you’re doing there’ … I mean, it’s that war too , which Russia and the Russian people are stopping in Ukraine, ”she said.

On the domestic front, the 45-year-old Kallas is fighting for her political future when Estonia’s two-party government led by her center-right reform party fell apart in early June when she threw out her junior partner Center Party after disputes over welfare and spending. problems amid fierce inflation in the Baltic nation.

Kallas, who has led the Reform Party since 2018 and became Estonia’s first female prime minister in January 2021, started coalition negotiations this month with two other parties and they are expected to reach a coalition agreement in early July.

If not, Kallas will face the bleak prospect of governing a weak one-party minority government until the next general election scheduled for March 2023.

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Jari Tanner of Helsinki contributed.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Javed Iqbal

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