President Alar Karis at the reception for the diplomatic corps resident in Estonia
Dear Excellences, dear friends!
I am very pleased to welcome you to Kadriorg on this snowy December evening.
The time has come when we are all gathering with family and friends. Let us not forget the importance of sharing moments with our loved ones, even as our countries continue to face unprecedented challenges, and the gravity of the situation sometimes overshadows all else.
The end of the year is also a time for reflections, time to look back and to look forward to the future. It has been a difficult twelve months for all and unfortunately, many hard decisions, and a lot of hard work lies ahead as we step into the year 2023.
I suppose it’s appropriate to use the words of a great European leader, Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, who we sadly lost this year – and call 2022 ‘annus horribilis’, horrible year. We started it struggling with the tail end of the COVID pandemic, the escalating tensions with Russia and then tragic war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine.
We end 2022 in conditions of high inflation, serious questions around energy security and prices for the winter, and Russia having taken Ukraine’s civilian population as its main military target, to be broken and destroyed.
Against this background, I am extremely glad to note that through all those challenges, we have managed to stay united, support each other, and we have not given up. More than ever, I am proud to be a European and I am more convinced than at any time before, in the value of the European Union and NATO in ensuring the peace, stability, security, and prosperity of the Euro-Atlantic space. We have seen how much strength there is in unity and joint action. Indeed, this is the only way we can defend not only our security, but our values.
I, as I’m sure all of you, have been inspired and impressed by the bravery, resilience and the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people. By their firmness in defending their nation, their democracy and their right to choose Europe as their political home. The price they pay for freedom to choose their destiny is unimaginably high.
Some countries are hesitant to take sides vis-a-vis Russian aggression. Some argue that this war is an issue just between Russia and Ukraine. I clearly see that there is an aggressor and a victim. Legally as well as morally, there’s only one side to take. No making this clear encourages the aggressor, fuels human suffering and undermines your credibility in the global community. According to UN Charter, it is our duty to stand by Ukraine, and to do everything in our power to safeguard Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
It is natural to seek for peace. The truth is however, that the current situation leaves no room for peace as Russia has repeatedly said that they have absolutely no willingness to pull back from Ukrainian territory. The only road to long-lasting peace is to help Ukraine to move forward and defend itself. It is critical that the aggressor suffers a decisive military defeat.
It is also critical that Russia pays for the damages it has caused and importantly, that people responsible for aggression and war crimes will be held accountable. Our common goal for the next year is to make this happen and then, we can have a lasting peace.
It is also important to get stronger, and better at defending ourselves. This means doing more at the national level to raise our ability to fight a large-scale, high-intensity war, and improving our societal resilience. In addition, NATO must rapidly implement the decision to move to a modern forward defence posture. We cannot allow Russian propaganda to convince us that NATO can be perceived as a threat. NATO is clearly a defence alliance. The only security guarantee one needs against NATO is not to attack a NATO member.
Enduring economic and military support to Ukraine, and continuing with European and Euro-Atlantic integration will be at the heart of our efforts next year. We know the value of not just the membership but the work required as part of the preparations to join.
We agree that enlargement happens when the candidates have met the relevant criteria. When peace is our goal, we should be serious about the enlargement, as NATO and EU membership are the only viable guarantees for peace and security in Europe.
In the days and weeks after Russia’s war in Ukraine started on Estonia’s Independence Day on 24th February, we received offers of support and reinforcements from our allies. I believe it was critical from the point of view of deterrence, sending a message to Kremlin that Article 5 really works. It also showed Estonians once again that we can rely on our friends, as they can rely on us in difficult times.
I wish to highlight my appreciation to the allies who continue sending their troops to Estonia to help defend our collective security – the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, the United States, and others.
Perhaps that is the message that I hope you will take home with you. The importance of the community of democratic nations, as it is not just an instrumental relationship, but a deeper connection based on shared values, and a shared future.
Your excellences, your work is critical in maintaining and strengthening those connections and relationships. Thank you for doing it with energy and passion. I am sincerely pleased to note that the diplomatic community in Tallinn is growing and we welcome greater Indian and Canadian presence here.
So let me wish you much joy in the coming holidays, as well as time to spend with your loved ones! May the New Year bring success in all your endeavours.