Estonia’s President Sends Wrong Message Meeting Putin

Kersti Kaljulaid breaks with the Baltic policy not legitimizing Russia’s aggression.

President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia meets with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 18
President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia meets with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 18 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

For the past decade, the Baltic states have maintained a strict policy toward Russia: no official state visits by presidents, prime ministers or other high-ranking officials.

That changed last week, when Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid visited a newly renovated embassy in Moscow and stopped by the Kremlin for a cup of tea with Vladimir Putin.

In itself, the meeting does not carry much weight, as nothing crucial was said or done. But it sent the wrong message.

Economy first

One of the issues highlighted by both leaders was trade. In Estonia, around 65 percent of people agreed economic relations should be the priority of the meeting.

But Western countries have economic sanctions in place to make clear to Russia that it cannot get away with violating international law and occupying other countries. By looking for ways to increase trade, Estonia signals to Russia that there will be no long-term consequences to its actions.

New normal

When asked about the situation in Ukraine, Kaljulaid said that Putin “acknowledges the problems, however, according to him, it is Ukraine that is breaking the accords.”

This fits into the new normal Russia is trying to create, where everybody “acknowledges the problem” and Russia pretends to be interested in helping to find a solution.

And what would one expect Putin to say? That he is sorry for annexing the Crimea and will return it to Ukraine? Russia has worked too long to make the occupation “justified” and “legal”.

Baltic leader

Russian news enthusiastically referred to the Estonian president a “Baltic leader” as if she represents a new consensus in the region. She doesn’t.

One of the harshest critics of Russia’s actions in Ukraine is the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė. She has called Russia a “terrorist state” for provoking and supporting an uprising in the Donbas region and is one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s inclusion in the Western community.

Grybauskaitė’s second presidential term is set to expire in two months, but the official Lithuanian position is unlikely to change. Two of the candidates most likely to succeed her, Ingrida Šimonytė and Saulius Skvernelis, are bound to continue Grybauskaitė’s policy. Both have said there can be no high-level relations with Russia.