President Kaljulaid at USIP: this war is about freedom

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you here, at the Institute of Peace, at this time of war. War in Europe.
War between the free and world and the other world, world of tyranny.
Make no mistake of that – this war is about freedom.

It is the war started by those people who do not even believe of the free will of the people to live as the UN Charter of Human Rights has promised all people should live. It was started by a regime who promised, but did not respect its own promises to not force the borders of any independent nation or limit the freedom of choice of any nation in its quest for peace, prosperity and partnerships.
Who went as far as to promise, specifically and in the spirit of Helsinki agreements, by Budapest memorandum, security to a country it is now destroying.

Aggression in Ukraine is therefore not a war against only Ukraine. It was started in defiance of every aspect of international rules based world order. It is the war against such world order.
It was started to stop Ukraine being part of the strongest democratic partnerships ever built, the European Union and NATO.
It was started in 2014, when Ukrainian people demonstrated under the flags of EU on Maidan. It is the war fought to break that will then demonstrated by the people of Ukraine.

And yet it is the war Putin unleashed because he miscalculated. He went to the war confident that Ukrainian people do not care that much about who their rulers are to put up a fight.
A fight for the survival of their dreams. Yes, he has never understood that the will of the people really exists.
That the will of the people in democratic nations is such that you cannot break it with showing readiness to dissuade them from their chosen part even with military aggression.
Every time people in neighbouring countries to Putin’s regime manifest their willingness to be part of the free and democratic world, he deems this western influence, western willingness to enlarge its sphere of influence. The man has never understood that people are drawn to such a way of governance, drawn strongly enough to defy the risks on the way.

Being Estonian, I know how difficult and dangerous is the route to first, freedom, and second, to the alliances and unions which help to protect the freedom.
There is no such thing like free world expanding its sphere of influence. The free world has a so strong pull that nations are ready to take high risks or even fight for the right to belong.
And yet, while Putin does not even believe that free people have their own will and that they are not to be made pawns in the chess game of antagonistic world views, he is out to break that will.
The Orwellian world of killing people for exercising their right to decide their own future while not even believing people have the ability to figure out what their dreams are by democratic process. That is what Putin’s world view is. That is what his miscalculation was – and not only his, I have heard sceptical voices before February 24th from our side too.
Will they fight?
Yes, they will.
Why will they fight?
Because we failed. We failed to see Georgian war for what it was. We failed to see Crimean occupation what it was.
Yes, Ukrainians could have done better at reforming their country, building independent institutions and generating level playing field for business development.
There is a reason why Ukraine could not join EU and NATO at the end of the last or beginning this century. Lack of reform. But the people of Ukraine made clear in 2014, on Maidan, where they think their country should be going.
How long will they fight?
Until they have reestablished their right to decide the future of their country, whole and free. Until they have our support to provide them with all necessary equipment to keep going. As long as we give them hope that one day they can be part of the democratic alliances they are fighting to join, but even more importanlty, fighting to sustain.

Are they fighting for our freedom, too?
Yes, they are. Because if the aggression in Ukraine can, in any distant or not so distant future, be considered as a step worth taking, there will be next steps. No autocrat will respect the will and willingness of the free and democratic world to defend itself. We would have lost.
Is our support to Ukraine therefore self-protection?
For some among us, yes. Even for those among us who think they are 2-3 countries removed from Russia, it is self-protection. But even if it were not, we should do all it takes to help Ukrainians to win this war. It should be our honor.
Because people sincerely believing in value of democratic freedom should always support the other people who want it for themselves, too.
Article 5 of NATO is not about self-preservation of all NATO members. It is not about the security guarantee which only holds if we make sure it is never tried, tested and found lacking in any Member State.
It is about also doing the decent thing.
And as such, supporting Ukraine is also doing the decent thing. Not much is demanded from us today. Military support, resources to keep going and a promise to keep up fighting morale – a promise that at least EU one day will take in Ukraine and help its people to sustain democracy, build the rule of law and achieve long lasting peace and prosperity.

The war will end one day, and it will end when Ukrainian people have achieved what they are fighting for – the right to decide their future alliances themselves.
Where will Ukrainian borders be then, I will not speculate.
Where will Russian regime be by that time, I will not speculate.
In the perfect world, Ukrainian win will topple Russian regime and all will live happily ever after. But the world is not ideal.
When Ukrainian people stop and negotiate or are forced to stop and negotiate, the war Ukrainians are fighting for the whole free world might not be over. Most likely it will not be.
Will we then put freedom ahead of air conditioning or heating the houses in Europe? That is what I am most afraid of – we cannot hope Ukraine alone will fight this fight between free world and totalitarianism to the end.
They will probably stop, having given themselves a right to continue as an independent state and us the time to prepare for future acts of this war.

Then the ball is in our hands. And this is my worry – do we realise it is and do we realise what is at stake? Or will we fall back into our old ways of discussing appeasement, painting Putin out the corner, finding excuses to continue with doing business and removing sanctions?

I am a mother of three sons already or soon at the age to serve if necessary. I am looking at the future through the eyes of the Ukrainian mothers of the sons serving today.
And I know that mine would have to one day if we are weak, if we do not recognise that the war must continue with economic means, making sure that democracies of this world stop enriching menacing autocracies of this world.

It is my obligation to stand here to say to you – once cannons are quiet, it gets tougher for the politicians of the free world.
Our fight must continue, sanctions must stay in place. It is long term, painful, will demand a lot of strategic patience.

But we have to be through it, not knowing when we finally are through with it.
Dictatorships must learn by seeing – we are able to be patient, accept economic pain and stick together for the free world, even through considerable hardships. If we fail, the worst is to come. Where from – Russia or elsewhere, is irrelevant. All autocrats are watching how Ukrainian people are buying us time. they will watch how we use this time.
This will decide whether my 3 sons will have to serve the way Ukrainian boys are now serving, to defend the future of my 4 toddling grandchildren.
How many times we must buy time with blood until we recognise we have to remain strong also when there are interruptions in hostilities? We are on borrowed time at least from 2008, Georgian war. Somebody else is sending their sons to die now third time in this short time span, to buy us time. Will we finally do something meaningful with this bought time or will we remain in such a horrible cycle?
It is for us, the politicians of the free world to decide. President Biden has said there will have to be a long term position on sanctions.
Prime Minister Draghi has said the choice is peace of air-conditioning. Welcome frankness starting to define our resolve. We need more of that. When this phase of the war is over, let’s do our part.
When military track has temporarily ended, economic track must be sustained. For the free and democratic world.

It is all that clear and simple, this future of European security and transatlantic cooperation you asked me to speak about. How on earth can we go wrong? Yet I know we are more at the risk of going wrong than getting it right. Prove me wrong, please!