BRUSSELS – Behind the curtains of Estonia's substantial support for Ukraine lies the struggle of pushing allies to do more.
In an exclusive interview with the Kyiv Independent, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu admitted that he is not satisfied with either the quantity or pace of the allies' arms support "because the war still continues."
Reinsalu, who previously called on allies to finally send tanks to Ukraine, stressed that holding back on crucial arms delivery for Kyiv would be the same as "co-signing a decision for Ukraine to lose on the ground" even if Russia is "playing" with nuclear threats.
Estonia, one of the smallest nations in Europe, has been at the forefront of calling on NATO allies to keep much-needed weapons flowing into Ukraine.
Located on NATO's eastern flank bordering Russia, the Baltic state has worked hard to push allies to keep up the momentum until Russia cannot invade neighboring countries again.
Reinsalu said Russian President Vladimir Putin has already made "one strategic mistake" by thinking he can achieve results quickly in Ukraine. However, he's still to be proven wrong about his another dangerous presumption concerning Western unity's fragility.
Putin likely assumes "the willpower of the Western community is actually weaker than his capacity to mobilize his society and state, and in the past, it has shown he turned out to be right," Reinsalu said, referring to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
"(Putin) is also putting his leverage, prolonging this war and weakening the Western willpower with the intent that (the West) will look for some kind of separate political solutions," the Estonian minister said.
And with both Russia and Ukraine acknowledging that it would be a long war, Reinsalu warned that it would be "very dangerous" if some allies drop support for Kyiv as it becomes costlier for the West.
According to the Estonian official, allies should not pressure Ukraine into "working out a certain political solution" even if it cannot meet the West's expectation of a certain timeframe to liberate its territory.
Reinsalu said it would be "immoral and unfair" to even suggest freezing a conflict or making compromises to end the war when "we have still not given enough weapons to Ukraine."
While the easiest way to end the war might be to surrender, Reinsalu emphasized that the West would be complicit in "giving up the future of Ukraine."
"And if we give up, the world will first lose Ukraine and our dignity, and afterward, we will also lose ourselves – at least our security or our coming generation's security," Reinsalu said.
"I'm sure that all the countries are interested in peace, particularly those countries who are neighboring Russia, but false peace is just a prelude to new wars," the 47-year-old minister said.
"History taught us this," said Reinsalu, whose country suffered a brutal 50-year-long Soviet occupation.
Reinsalu underscored during the interview that isolating the Russian leader from the rest of the world will help approach the war's end.
"An isolation of Putin is an asset which makes him weaker," Reinsalu said, adding that it is also necessary to "give a signal" to the Russian society that Putin doesn't have any leverage over the West.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) 's decision in March to issue an arrest warrant against Putin for the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia has increased the Kremlin's isolation.
Reinsalu said Estonia was ready to arrest Putin if he entered its territory, as obliged by the Rome Statute signed off by 123 member states.
While the chances of Putin ending up behind bars are deemed to be low, the ICC's highly symbolic move is expected to isolate the Russian leader further.
"I can't imagine now the Western leaders having some kind of direct vis-a-vis negotiations with Putin, with the person who is under an arrest warrant," Reinsalu said, adding that Estonia won't be open to talks.
Reinsalu said that the arrest warrant is, however, only a "first step" to holding the Kremlin accountable, but an important one.
He added that "the full isolation" of Putin and his elites, who are "accountable for the war crimes" committed in Ukraine, should continue even after the war is over.
"The top military and political leadership, of course, bears responsibility," Reinsalu said.
As evidence of Russia's alleged war crimes across Ukraine mounts, Kyiv and its allies have pledged to hold Moscow accountable. Ukrainian prosecutors recorded nearly 80,000 alleged war crimes across the country as of early April.
However, delivering on the promises has been difficult.
For one, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly approved a resolution that appeals to set up a special international tribunal against Russia for its war against Ukraine.
Half a year later, the allies have not yet found a unified approach for creating a mechanism to hold Russia accountable for its "crime of aggression," according to Reinsalu.
Closing the gap
The Estonian minister said that some nations have still not switched their mentality from helping Ukraine to avoid defeat to helping Ukraine win the war.
Over the course of the full-scale invasion, Reinsalu said there are allies who still hold a "scholastical debate" on "what type of weapons we are allowed to give to Ukraine without further escalating (the war) or making Russia angry."
Currently, there are debates about the possible transfer of longer-range missiles and F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, he said, but he emphasized that it is "a wrong perspective" to fear escalation, especially since Russia is using "all types of conventional weaponry" without any caveats to get what it wants.
Even Ukraine's key ally Poland said a transfer of F-16s is not being considered.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told the Kyiv Independent that the possible transfer of the jets is "right now not on the table."
Reinsalu said it is "unfortunate" that Estonia doesn't have F-16s, tanks, and longer-range missiles and that it would have been "proud" to send them to Ukraine if they were in stock.
But despite lacking Kyiv's top-priority items, Estonia's military support for Ukraine added up to more than one percent of its GDP. Estonia is the frontrunner in this metric.
Estonia, along with its Baltic allies, made a joint call to Germany – just days before Berlin authorized the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – to speed up tank delivery.
Kyiv joined the call, saying that Berlin's "indecision" regarding tanks is "killing more of our people."
"We, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania foreign ministers, call on Germany to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now," Reinsalu tweeted on Jan. 21.
During the interview, Reinsalu explained that some Western nations' hold-up on transferring much-needed military assistance is nothing new.
Western leaders were told by their military advisors last spring that "Ukraine would lose," and many still keep this mentality, according to Reinsalu.
"If you are not delivering howitzers, it means you are co-signing on a decision of Ukraine losing on the ground," he adds.
"And now, it is also the same case about tanks and might be the case also about the F-16s because now Russia has air superiority, (and) it's a problem," Reinsalu said.
Reinsalu didn't rule out the possibility of Estonia purchasing F-16s and sending them to Ukraine, saying that "I think it is very reasonable."
Meanwhile, Estonia's proposed plan, approved by the EU in late March, aims to provide 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine over the next 12 months under a first-of-a-kind joint procurement idea.
"I put the issue that there are still several gaps between these amounts of weaponry and ammunition which have been promised and what has arrived to the Ukrainian ground," Reinsalu said, adding that the EU's joint procurement plan is aimed at reducing the gaps.
Bringing an end to Russia's brutality
The interview took place at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on the sidelines of a two-day-long ministerial meeting, where Finland officially joined NATO.
British Foreign Affairs Secretary James Cleverly told the Kyiv Independent that while "Finland has maintained its position of non-alignment for a very, very long time," the country's position likely changed "in response to Putin's foolish, foolhardy full-scale invasion of Ukraine."
The Estonian minister argued that the only way to achieve European security was for Ukraine to join NATO.
"To speak about every type of security guarantee, they are false replicas of NATO membership," Reinsalu said.
"NATO is the only consistent security guarantee to Ukraine, and also for Europe to evade a new war of aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation."
Responding to the Kyiv Independent, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference on April 3 that "Ukraine will become a member of the alliance," but it was too early to say when.
At the April 4-5 ministerial meeting, Reinsalu said Ukraine's path to NATO was among the key topics discussed. He emphasized that even amidst war, it's vital to "discuss what are the preconditions of European security (and) new order to avoid a new war."
However, there are differences between NATO allies on whether it's too early to discuss Ukraine's membership bid as Russia continues to wage its brutal war against the country.
A Western official, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said after the meeting ended that "we've got several weeks of hard negotiations ahead to close those gaps and craft a political outcome."
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, who oversaw his country's blue-and-white flag raised as the new NATO member, told the Kyiv Independent that he also expected Ukraine's membership bid to be a long process.
Ukraine applied for a fast-track NATO accession just as Russia made illegal annexation claims of four Ukrainian regions in September.
Despite the NATO leader's reassurance that Ukraine is set to join the alliance one day, the prospects of membership are low until Russia's war against Ukraine comes to an end.
"Ending the war is only in the hands of Putin," Reinsalu added.
Note from the author:
Hi, this is Asami Terajima, the author of this article.
Thank you for reading my story. I've arrived in Brussels just a few days after leaving the Donbas, and it was quite surreal to go from Ukrainian soldiers telling me how crucial it is for them to receive more advanced tanks to end the war faster – to seeing the reluctance from the Western side to provide what they really need. To help the Kyiv Independent's reporting on the ground and elsewhere, please consider supporting us by becoming our patron.