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Estonia's ambassador to the U.S. weighs in on Russian invasion of Ukraine


Now I want to turn to Jonatan Vseviov. He is the secretary general of Estonia's Foreign Ministry and has served as Estonia's ambassador to the United States since 2018. Ambassador, thank you for joining us.

JONATAN VSEVIOV: Well, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: How would you characterize this moment?

VSEVIOV: Well, what we're seeing right now is a full-scale military aggression against a sovereign European state that is totally unprovoked and is a total violation of all international norms and hence absolutely unacceptable. I can also (inaudible) that this aggression will be met with wide international condemnation and economic devastation for Russia. European leaders are meeting - are about to meet, actually, this very evening to finalize the sanctions package that is fully coordinated with that of the United States and that of the United Kingdom. There will be wide international repercussions for this aggression.

MARTIN: How likely are tougher sanctions now? Now that the attack is underway, how likely are they to really deter Putin at this point?

VSEVIOV: Well, I think we've reached a point where, clearly, the diplomatic efforts that we were engaged in to deter have clearly failed. Military aggression - full-scale military aggression is taking place. Ukraine is being invaded from three sides. Ukraine cities - major cities - are under attack from the air by missiles. The sanctions are meant to punish the aggressor and force him to pull back, reconsider. The sanctions will be significant. They might take time, but we need to demonstrate strategic patience.

MARTIN: In the meantime, Ukraine suffers. I mean, what is to prevent Russia from, in this moment, in a matter of weeks or days, from seizing control of an independent country on the European continent?

VSEVIOV: As far as we can tell, the Ukrainians are putting up resistance. They are fighting. The Ukrainian desire for freedom and democracy will not go away. And Ukrainians should know that the - not just Europe and NATO, but actually the wider world is with them. I refer to, for instance, the statements of the secretary-general of the United Nations. We were - Estonia was occupied for 50 years, and yet we managed to keep the flame of freedom alive. This flame will prevail in Ukraine as well.

MARTIN: Do you think concessions should be made to Vladimir Putin to convince him to pull back in the form of a promise to never let Ukraine into the alliance or an agreement to somehow dilute the strength of NATO forces along the eastern borders with Russia?

VSEVIOV: No. We've learned and relearned this lesson in European history time and time again. If we take a step back in the face of aggression, the aggressor will take a step forward. No, absolutely not. What provokes Putin is weakness, lack of unity. I think he has clearly underestimated Western resolve. He will now be faced with a more united, a stronger West, a stronger sanctions package, a stronger and more significant isolation and major economic impact. That is the way to deter an aggressor.

MARTIN: The Pentagon has confirmed that they are moving troops - troops that were already stationed in Europe, but they're moving even more troops to the East. There will be military exercises taking place. They were preplanned. Even so, this is a demonstration of strength. But what is the point of military posturing? I mean, the U.S. and NATO have said they will send no boots in on the ground. So how much of a deterrent can a more pronounced military presence be on borders?

VSEVIOV: Well, the military attack is - has been unleashed against Ukraine. There is no question about that. But what has also happened is the fundamental undermining of the European, transatlantic and actually international security - the most basic of these norms upon which international life stands. So we need to make sure - while we're sanctioning and punishing the aggressor, we need to make sure that there is absolutely no miscalculation regarding NATO and NATO's collective defense.

So the aim of everything that the alliance is doing, that NATO is doing, that the United States military in Europe is doing is to make sure that the collective defense of the alliance of Article 5 is indeed ironclad and not just demonstrated by the speeches that we give, but by the deeds that we undertake. There are allied forces in the Baltic States already. A number of allies have already made decisions to increase that presence. NATO held consultations under the so-called Article 4 of the Washington Treaty this very morning. There will be a leaders meeting hopefully tomorrow, where these decisions will be stressed again. So this is all about making sure that there is no miscalculation regarding NATO and (inaudible).

MARTIN: The head of UNHCR, the U.N.'s refugee agency, in Kyiv told me that a Russian attack like we're seeing now could produce a flow of refugees toward - up towards 5 million that would flee Ukraine and make their way through Europe. Is Europe prepared for that?

VSEVIOV: Look. I mean, Ukraine is a major country, a country of approximately 40 million people. The military operation that has now been unleashed on Ukraine, it has no precedent on this continent since 1945. This is a major catastrophe, not just a theoretical, you know, problem in some faraway country. This is changing not just Europe. It is changing world history, what we're seeing in front of our eyes today. It is also a total human catastrophe for the civilians of Ukraine. We are prepared for all eventualities. We have been aware of this looming crisis for quite some time, and we have taken precautions to deal with it.

MARTIN: Jonatan Vseviov, Estonia's ambassador to the United States, we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

VSEVIOV: Thank you.

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