The AP Interview: Estonian PM says don’t play down Russia.
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has told The Associated Press that the West shouldn’t underestimate Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine, saying Moscow is in it for the long haul as the war enters its fifth month.
Kallas said in an interview Wednesday that Europe should ensure that those committing war crimes and attempted genocide are prosecuted, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin escaped punishment for annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region that killed over 14,000 people even before this year’s war began.
“I’ve heard talks that, you know, there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they haven’t,” she said of the Russian military, which failed to take Kyiv in the early stages of the war and is now concentrating its firepower in the east.
“They have plenty of troops still who can come (to fight) — They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don’t think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up,” Kallas said, despite the low morale and corruption troubling Moscow’s forces.
Kallas praised the unity that Europe has shown in punishing Russia for the invasion that began Feb. 24, even though she said it was clear from the beginning that it would be “more and more difficult over time” to hang together.
“First, we did the sanctions that were relatively easy. Now we move to sanctions that are much more difficult. But so far, we have managed to get the unity, even if we have different opinions,” she said in the interview in Stenbock House, a government building where she has her office and holds Cabinet meetings..
“This is normal for democracy. We debate, we discuss, and then we get to the solution. So far, it has been a negative surprise to Putin that we are still united,” Kallas said.
She said she was hopeful that Ukraine will be granted candidate status for the European Union at the bloc’s upcoming summit in Brussels, despite the initial divisions over it. The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, threw its weight behind Ukraine’s candidacy last week.
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.”