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Address by Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus to the Riigikogu on behalf of the Government of Estonia


Honourable head of session!

Dear members of Parliament!

Honoured guests!

The Estonian state lasting forever. Ensuring our security. Protecting our people who are far from home. Contributing to Estonia's economic growth. Promoting the values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Increasing the influence of our country abroad.

Our country lasting forever.

These are Estonia’s foreign policy objectives.

Why am I beginning today’s foreign policy speech like this? Definitely, for the past year we have all had these objectives acutely in mind on a number of occasions. I will begin today by thanking everyone who has contributed and made possible that we can now, today, right here, say – our security is steadfast. This expression of gratitude is directed at the people of Estonia, thanks to whose contribution we have been able to strengthen our security. To our allies, who support us. But also to all those who make steady efforts to find friends, allies and supporters for Estonia. Thank you.

Today we are faced with Russian aggression in Ukraine. This has affected and will continue to affect the future of our bilateral and multilateral relations and activities, both in our region and beyond, in the most direct way. The most recent developments have put in doubt the viability of the European co-operative security architecture, which is based on the OSCE Helsinki Final Act. At the same time, there are forces in the European broader southern neighbourhood, which embody complete opposite to our values. Thirdly, we are constantly faced with global development issues, the resolution of which requires our active contribution. These issues shall frame my presentation today.

I will start with what has likely scraped peoples’ souls all over Estonia. There is a war two thousand kilometres away from us. Our position about the Russian aggression against Ukraine is clear – it is a serious violation of the fundamental principles of international relations and international law, a violation which has now resulted more than 5,000 casualties. Borders have been redrawn by force. A million and a half people have been forced to leave their homes. One and a half million people. There should be consequences for those responsible.

Did the conflict in Ukraine come as a complete surprise? Not at all. Just to recall Estonian National Security Concept adopted by the Parliament in 2010, stating that Russia is prepared to use military force to achieve its goals. We came to such a conclusion after the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. But the year 2002 was also very telling, when Russia essentially stopped the withdrawal of its military forces from Moldova and Georgia, thereby violating its commitments taken within the OSCE, as well as one of the basic principles of European security, namely the principle of host nation consent to the stationing of foreign forces. Unfortunately, we see that such a violation of the principles, a failure to respect the sovereignty of neighbouring countries, has been characteristic of the behaviour of Russia throughout this new 21st century. The mistake that was made by the international community following the war in Georgia, as they hurried to resume partnership relations with Putin's Russia, must not be repeated. A regime which sponsors the killing of civilians and annexes territories cannot be a partner. Not long as the behaviour does not change. In real terms. Not just on paper.

In response to recent events, the strengthening of the collective security architecture, that is NATO, as well as the European Union, has been necessary, prompt and appropriate. NATO Wales Summit defined the strengthened presence of the allied forces in the eastern flank as the new normal. We are taking steps in NATO, which have already increased the security of our region, including that of Estonia. I am referring both to the presence and increasing of the capabilities of the Alliance. Since the beginning of May of last year, Danish fighter jets were at Ämari Air Base and were replaced by German planes in August. Currently Spain is present. Since the spring last year, U.S. Army units have continuously been in Estonia. Estonia on its part is ready to provide support for the Allied units. In addition to the already agreed 2% defence expenditures. We take our commitment and contribution to security seriously – this year our defence spending will be even more than 2% of the GDP. During the forthcoming period, until the next NATO summit in Warsaw, for us, the three most important steps with regard to the Wales Summit decisions will be: 1. implementation; 2. implementation; 3. implementation.

Honourable Riigikogu,

The upcoming summer marks 75 years since the Welles Declaration with which the U.S. confirmed that they do not recognize the illegal incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union. Similarly, we do not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia. It is only natural that Europe and the U.S. are united on this point and that a large part of the world shares this view.

Until the most recent escalation, we have been firm about our double track approach to resolve the crisis – 1. finding a political solution and 2. constant pressure in the form of sanctions. Diplomatic efforts, which at those moments will hopefully lead to agreements, are worthy of recognition. However, as experience has shown, implementing what has been agreed on is of decisive importance. Of similar importance, would be the lack of implementation. There can be no talk of easing of the European Union’s sanctions regime until real, tangible results have been achieved. We need to see the withdrawal of Russian armaments and military personnel from Ukraine and restoring Ukraine’s control over its state borders and territory. Until there is no such real outcome, sanctions must remain in place and preparations for extending them are also underway, as per the EU foreign ministers’ decision a week ago.

In the weeks that followed the attack in January in Mariupol and the further escalation, there has been talk of strengthening Ukraine’s defence capability with military supplies. Possible decision to deliver arms rests with each individual state. There might be a need for the kind of capabilities, which – as a matter of fact – Estonia itself is not in position to deliver. Implementing of agreements reached now could reduce the topicality of this issue. Certainly, it must be ensured that whatever we undertake would not lead to even greater loss of life, but preventing it. The aim should be to end the conflict, and not to expand it.

Ukraine’s economy also needs rapid assistance. The additional need for financing in the coming years is estimated at around 15 billion euros. There is firm willingness to help Ukraine. We are waiting for a donor conference to be convened, which would help also us to consider our own future steps.

Estonia assisted Ukraine to the effect of over one million euros last year. Due to the deterioration of the situation, we have more than doubled that amount for this year – to 2.35 million euros. In order to help alleviate the situation of internally displaced persons, we have contributed through UN agencies; we also cured those who suffered injuries in both the Kyiv protests and hostilities in eastern Ukraine; and have also delivered food aid to Ukraine. In the area of reforms, we are helping with the implementation of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement and e-government, for greater openness and transparency. The continued presence of international observers through the OSCE activities in eastern Ukraine is necessary. We also support the European Union's civilian mission in Ukraine, which also includes experts from Estonia.

Ukrainians themselves must vigorously implement reforms, fight against corruption and strengthen democracy and the rule of law with similar vigour. Reforms are an inevitable prerequisite for Ukraine to truly gain strength.

What about the bilateral relations between Estonia and Russia? It currently sounds almost like a rhetorical question. What can bilateral relations be like with an aggressive neighbour? Airspace violations not only in Estonia, but also in other Nordic countries by the Russian military planes not using transponders is characteristic to this situation. What can be the goal of such actions? To raise the level of stress and nervousness in society, for sure. There is a number of hostile actions by Russia which violate international law, of which the most acute is the abduction of the security police officer Mr Eston Kohver from Estonian territory and his unlawful detention in Russia. We have raised the issue of the abduction of Mr Eston Kohver bilaterally with Russia, as well as in the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union. Our allies have also raised the issue in their bilateral contacts with Russia. This case, unfortunately, characterizes all too accurately today's low level of Western-Russian relations. Estonian authorities are doing all they can for the release of Eston Kohver. We will keep the issue on the agenda of the international community until Mr Kohver has returned to Estonia.

There are examples of technical level cooperation with Russia. There are working contacts concerning the environment, cross-border cooperation, customs, and other areas. At the same time however, in Europe, we have had to seriously think about how to protect ourselves against the spread of Russian propaganda. An initiative by the UK, Estonia, Lithuania and Denmark to counter this phenomenon, has received generally positive response from both the other member states and the European Commission. We ourselves definitely need to remember however, that "news" coming from the Kremlin's media and what is stated there, should be taken with extreme scepticism. Instead of distributing them as facts, they should be checked as compared to reliable sources.

In summary, as what was said a year ago in this hall has shown, we have not wanted to isolate Russia, rather Russia has isolated itself from the European security architecture and turned this into a threatening factor. The European Union, whose main idea and goal since its inception has been to uphold peace in Europe, must act until peace is restored.

There is a need to renew the Estonian foreign and security policy guidance documents. The National Security Concept dates from 2010. Its renewal will be the task of the new government and the Riigikogu.

To conclude this rather sombre theme, I want to emphasize that despite increased tensions, Estonia is protected against external military threats, be they either hybrid or conventional ones. Our security in NATO and the European Union is safeguarded.

Honoured Riigikogu,

Before focusing on geographically distant topics, albeit just as relevant, I would like to briefly return to the European Union once more. During the first three quarters of last year, the European Union's economic growth rose to 0.3%. This year, growth of 1.5% is expected. This is a signal that Europe is once again on the road to becoming stronger.

Europe and the euro zone are currently in need of good news. The last such good news was undoubtedly Lithuania's becoming euro mature. Many of the existing countries in the financial aid program returned to the money markets. This adds a sense of security and is proof of the success of structural reforms and smart economic policies. For the first time since 2008, the aggregate deficit of member states budgets fell below 3% of the GDP last year. Despite the good news, economic growth in Europe has still not recovered according to the pace which was expected, due to a lack of investment for example. In this context, high expectations have been placed on the 315 billion euro investment program proposed by the European Commission at the end of last year.

Estonia is contributing to the developments in the European Union and thus directing the union's future. On March 1 the country will vote for the Riigikogu, during whose working period, in less than three years, Estonia's presidency of the Council of the European Union will be prepared and carried out. This gives us heightened responsibility and an opportunity to give more impetus to the topics that we ourselves consider a priority and where we are leaders. European Council President Mr Donald Tusk said during a recent visit to Estonia: "Estonia inspires, being one of the most innovative and technologically advanced democracies in the world, not to mention the leading digital development in the European Union". Particularly the promotion of the Single Digital Market, but also the more efficient operation of the internal market as a whole, are those areas where we have a carrying role and where we have high expectations both before and after the presidency of the European Union. We have a chance to show our ability to cooperate well and to stand for the joint interests of the European Union, where what matters to Europe, matters to Estonia.

Today, the eyes of Europe are directed at Latvia, the current president of the Council of the EU. Latvia has set thankfully ambitious goals for the European Union, which in many ways is similar to what Estonia considers important. One of these is European Neighbourhood Policy.

What will be the future of the Eastern Partnership? We are going to the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May with the hope of giving partners the motivation to move forward on the European path. We remember well how a clear European perspective urged Central and Eastern Europeans to carry out reforms. We were convinced that following the necessary reforms, the integration of countries holding same values is possible. We also remember how we felt when we read the Financial Times in December 1994, where it was reported that "the Baltic countries cannot join the European Union, because that would unnecessarily feed their hopes for security guarantees. Granting these however, would provoke Russia." We stayed true to the choices we had made. Currently, we have a moral obligation to support and serve as a spokesman for those countries who have now made the same choice in favour of a model of European societal organization. Yes, of course they have to carry out a large number of reforms which initially seem awkward and difficult. But those countries must have the knowledge that when they do carry out the necessary reforms, doors will be open to them. The choice and decision is and must be the task of the country itself. That is why we support better differentiation of policies directed at the Eastern Partnership countries and encouraging more ambitious countries, which have more advanced such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The other Eastern Partnership countries Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus should also be dealt with on an individual basis. The most tangible outcome in Riga should mean moving ahead with visa freedom with Georgia and Ukraine.

Esteemed Riigikogu,

I have already mentioned solidarity. Solidarity between allies is a multifaceted phenomenon. We need to think together and contribute to the topics which at first glance may appear to be remote. It is clear that in addition to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, European security is largely affected by the events in our southern neighbourhood, where I see two strategic problems.

Firstly, we continue to have a very unstable Middle East. No substantial developments have occurred in the Middle East peace process. We have seen a number of unilateral steps which have not brought us closer to a solution. In addition to this, the civil war in Syria that has waged for years has provided for the emergence of terrorist groups such as the ISIL. During the past year, this terrorist organization was able to extend its control over many areas of Iraq and Syria. Moreover, there are  already terrorist groups in Libya and Egypt, in Pakistan and Malaysia that pledge allegiance to ISIL. I want to emphasize that the fight against ISIL is not about the West and Islam. Several Arab nations are taking part in the operations along with Western states. Europe is directly threatened by foreign fighters, whose return home may have disastrous consequences, as we recently witnessed during the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Together with 60 other countries, Estonia is part of the global coalition to counter ISIL. We have supported armed forces in the Iraqi Kurdish regional government by donating ammunition. We have also assisted the UN's efforts in Iraq and Syria to alleviate the humanitarian situation of refugees. Estonian logistics experts have helped to build refugee camps in Jordan and we have participated in the UN mission on the border between Turkey and Syria, about the movement of humanitarian cargo.

It is extremely important to prevent the movement of foreign fighters to Middle Eastern conflict regions. This also directly concerns Estonia. Last autumn, the UN adopted a resolution against the phenomenon of foreign fighters, which we are currently preparing for internal implementation. The Ministry of Justice is preparing a respective analysis in order to specify the scope of the necessary legislative amendments.

Secondly, the extremely severe crisis situation in Libya is affecting the stability of the entire Sahel region and is amplifying the activities of various terrorist groups: from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Libya is also one of the main departure points for refugees heading for Europe. Considering the impact of such a situation on Africa and Europe, a permanent solution must be found for the Libyan crisis. We are pleased that the UN-led efforts to achieve broad-based negotiations have shown their first promisiong results.

As was already mentioned, due to these crisis situations, the problem of refugees is becoming ever more acute. Mediterranean European countries are under heavy burden. The management of migration flows is a problem for the whole of the European Union. Estonia has continued to provide financial and technical support to that end. We support the European Union’s external borders management agency Frontex with expertise and by actively participating in operations, training and capacity building activities. This year, Estonian experts and a Border Guard speedboat participated in the joint Triton operation on the Mediterranean

As regards the global security, it is also important that a constructive outcome of the E3+3 Iran nuclear negotiations can be reached by the July deadline at the latest.

Honourable Riigikogu,

In order to ensure Estonia’s national security, we have taken an active role in international organizations and multilateral relations. We have participated and continue to participate in a number of missions under the auspices of NATO, the UN and the European Union. Also, following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, we do not want to become consumers of security. This is why we must strive to contribute to a variety of military, humanitarian and civilian missions. In this way, we contribute to security outside our home region.

During the last year, the NATO ISAF operation in Afghanistan was completed, which was the largest operation in the Alliance’s history. Together with our NATO allies and partners, we will continue within the framework of a new training mission. Currently, Estonian peacekeepers are participating in UN missions in the Middle East and Mali. The Riigikogu is also considering participation in the UN mission in Lebanon, within the framework of which we are closely cooperating with Finland.

As you well know, in addition to good and essential bilateral relations, we also have multilateral cooperative frameworks with Finland, as well as other Nordic and Baltic neighbours. Last year was also the Baltic Sea Year for Estonia, since we were leading in three regional structures at once Baltic Cooperation, Nordic-Baltic Cooperation and the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

Cooperation among the three Baltic countries is directed to practical projects. Within the year, we took a big step towards the mutual use of digital signatures. We also made significant progress in the area of the Rail Baltic project.

In the regional dimension, energy security is of great importance. In February of last year, Estonia and Finland finished the construction of the electrical cable Estlink 2 that together with Estlink 1 has fully integrated Estonia in the Nordic electricity market. This year it is important to begin preparations for the construction of the liquefied natural gas terminal and the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland.

In the past year, a joint cyber-security seminar was conducted between the Nordic countries, Baltic countries and the U.S., where agreements on a number of specific projects were reached. Cooperation between the United States and Estonia in the field of cyber-security, framed by a joint statement signed at the end of 2013, has been close and efficient. Several such cooperation projects have great potential for facilitating cyber-security in third countries. Cooperation between the U.S. and Estonia as a whole is very active and covers almost all areas, from defence cooperation to education and joint scientific projects.

In the cyber area, I would like to emphasize the ambitious e-residency initiative, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has its own role in implementing. E-residency is a unique solution in the world, which gives foreigners the opportunity to use Estonia's e-services from whichever part of the world they happen to be located. As soon as preparations are complete, we will be ready to issue digital identity cards to future e-residents in our Embassies.

There is also a clear security policy element for us in transatlantic trade and investment partnership, where during 2014 an important step was taken in the context of the European Union-U.S. trade agreement. We hope that talks will continue rapidly, since the conclusion of this agreement could become the foreign policy event with the most important long-term positive impact this year and perhaps even this decade.

Esteemed Riigikogu,

The field of Estonian business diplomacy activities has expanded from year to year. This both in geographical terms and in terms of activities of our companies. Support for business is provided by Embassies, as well as by representatives of Enterprise Estonia. We have extended capabilities for supporting Estonian entrepreneurs in Central Asia and in the Arab countries. Our diplomats now reside in Azerbaijan and also temporarily in Saudi Arabia. Due to strengthened relations with Moldova, last year we decided to send a diplomat to Chisinau. In cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we organized the Africa Forum that attracted great interest.

We have continued to develop the network and infrastructure of Estonian Embassies. A few weeks ago I was visiting China, where I had the honour of opening the newest Estonian Embassy building. Relations between Estonia and China are good and the contemporary Embassy building will certainly create additional opportunities for their further development. This year we will open an Embassy in Bucharest, the capital of the largest country in south-eastern Europe, which, located on the external border of the European Union and NATO, plays a significant role in shaping European security. Last year, we opened the first ever Estonian Embassy in Latin America, in Brazil, which is intended to promote economic ties and contacts. One of the most popular destinations for work and travel among Estonian citizens is Australia, where this year we will raise the level of our representation from a Consulate General to an Embassy.

On the subject of consular incidents, I cannot but mention the pending court case in India of 14 Estonian crew members of anti-piracy vessel. This is an extremely unfortunate situation which also due to its unreasonably long duration, is casting a shadow on Estonian-Indian good relations. We will continue to support the Estonian citizens in this case, as much as is possible and we shall wait for a resolution of the situation from India, so that the Estonian men can return home to their waiting families.

Honourable Riigikogu,

This year has been declared the year of development and development assistance by the European Union. Estonia has increased its development assistance year by year. Last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ development assistance amounted to 9.8 million euros, which is to grow this year by a further 2.1 million. The vast majority of the development assistance has been directed to Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Tajikistan. However, the assistance was also shared elsewhere; for example, in Palestine and Tunisia, where we support the development of e-government. It is important to add that participation in development projects provides further opportunities for Estonian companies.

Estonia´s humanitarian aid has also increased significantly, amounting to 2.7 million euros in 2014. Attention has to be paid to both new and long-term crises. Last year, Estonia provided humanitarian aid (530,000 euros) to victims of the conflict in Ukraine, and as was already previously mentioned, the internal refugees in Syria and Iraq (approx. 580,000 euros and 270,000 euros respectively). In addition, we have assisted fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (with 360,000 euros). Estonian Rescue Team experts have participated in missions in the Philippines and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, helping to remedy the aftermath of natural disasters. Among long-term crises, ongoing support was required by the Central African Republic, the situation in Gaza and in South Sudan.

Now about the United Nations.

This year, two of the most important agreements are about the the new sustainable development goals for the year 2030 and the global climate agreement to be concluded in Paris. The goal of both is actually the same – an economic model that is more resource sufficient, which would help improve quality of life even in regions dealing with the most complicated situations.

It probably does not need a long explanation of how developments taking place in states affected by water scarcity, desertification or rising sea levels due to extreme environmental conditions can also affect our own region. In addition to climate considerations, the goals that have been set also have another important purpose – the need to promote the economy of scarce and non-renewable resources sparingly and leave as little a footprint as possible. The world's population is continuing to grow. The desire for better living standards is increasing. Consumption is expanding. There are no new inexhaustible natural resources. This means that the winners in the future will be those, who will be able to use few resources as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Estonia has the opportunity to share its experience in this field. Our e-services and the e-government are examples of how more could be done with less. In Estonia, we have also been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions almost twofold since 1990, without our economic development being negatively affected by this in any way. I will also mention a third reason for supporting decreasing emissions of CO2 and dependence on fossil fuels. This once again relates to security. Greater freedom from the dependence on non-renewable, mostly fossil energy sources will provide much-needed freedom for countries that due to their external energy dependence may feel the threat of manipulation during critical moments.

Estonia supports concluding an ambitious climate change agreement in Paris, involving as many countries as possible.

In addition to sustainable development, Estonia is to focus its UN-related activities on the protection of human rights. The keywords here are the rights of women and children, the situation with indigenous peoples and freedom of expression. In the conflicts previously mentioned, women and children represent the largest number of victims. It is important to continue to comply with the objectives of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, since they are related to the safety of women and children.

Improving the situation of indigenous peoples is an extremely broad and multifaceted field. It is necessary to ensure the protection of their places of residence and their involvement in decision-making processes that affect them. Estonia has supported the UN Fund for Indigenous Peoples and the respective forum.

We pay great attention to the protection of the freedom of expression, which is one of the foundations of a democratic society. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2013–2015, we emphasize freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is directly related to Internet freedom. As a leader of the Freedom Online Coalition, last spring we organized a representative international conference in Tallinn which brought together over 400 participants from 62 countries. Many of the countries were represented on a high political level. The conference adopted the Tallinn Agenda, which lists the recommendations on how to protect Internet freedom in the future.

Honourable Riigikogu,

For the years 2020-2021 Estonia has set a goal to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Membership in the Security Council is an effort indeed, but it also offers an opportunity to have a say in making the most important decisions. The work to support Estonia’s candidature will continue in the coming years and the upcoming Parliament will definitely have the opportunity to help along with this process.

To all those listening in this hall and beyond,

The Estonia’s foreign and security policy situation today is firm. Over the last two decades, we have been working hard to reach our foreign policy goals. However, as the past 12 months have demonstrated, we have to be vigilant and see risks when they arise. We need to continue strengthening our security home and abroad. We must be prepared to anticipate changes that are moving in the wrong direction and to adequately respond to changing circumstances. I would like to thank the XII Riigikogu for having your attention focused on foreign policy issues and for close co-operation between the Parliament, Estonian diplomats and the Foreign Ministry as a whole. This has been important for Estonia.

The Estonian state lasting forever. Ensuring our security. Protecting our people who are far from home. Contributing to Estonia's economic growth. Promoting the values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Increasing the influence of our country abroad. These are the foreign policy goals of Estonia.

Security begins with us, with our desire to be protected, to bear responsibility and to protect freedom.

Thank you for listening!


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