Interview With Estonian Foreign Minister, Marina Kaljurand

Marina Kaljurand is Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Prior to becoming Foreign Minister in July 2015, she was a long-time Estonian diplomat, and an ambassador to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan and Israel.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Marina Kaljurand is Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Prior to becoming Foreign Minister in July 2015, she was a long-time Estonian diplomat, and an ambassador to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan and Israel. Her time as ambassador to Russia from 2005-2008 was particularly tumultuous, as she presided over a period of extreme tensions with the Kremlin, which climaxed in the 2007 cyberattack. Ms. Kaljurand agreed to an email interview with me following her October 14, 2015 speech at the University of Oxford. The transcript of our interview is below:

Many Kremlin-watchers, including Edward Lucas, in recent months have expressed concern that NATO will not invoke the Article 5 clause and unveil its full deterrent power in the event of a Russian military intervention in Estonia or the Baltics. Lithuania has also privately showed concern about an intervention from Russia. Do you believe that NATO's deterrent pledge is a 100% unwavering commitment? Or do the Estonian people fear that Russia could trespass on their sovereignty on behalf of ethnic Russians with impunity?

Marina Kaljurand: A 100% guarantee does not exist in international relations. Russia today is unpredictable and provocative. It is therefore very important to keep track of what Russia is doing and to respond rapidly and adequately. Estonia contributes 2% of its GDP to defense. We are pleased with the decision made at the NATO Summit in Wales (2014) to strengthen NATO's eastern flank, to which all 28 allies are contributing. A number of allies, including the Americans are participating in Baltic air policing. We are pleased with the establishment of the NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) in Estonia. We recognize and appreciate the UK government's decision to send rotating troops (a company) to the Baltic States. With all deterrence measures, we send a very clear message that Article 5 of NATO is very much alive and committed. More than ever, NATO is investing itself in Estonia's security. All of this allows me to strongly state that we ourselves, including with the support of our allies, will do everything necessary so that no country, including Russia, can threaten the statehood and sovereignty of Estonia.

Estonia is frequently described in the West as a divided, bifurcated country between Russians and Estonians. Are ethnic Russian's political viewpoints dramatically different from those of Estonians (ie. is there a large pro-Kremlin sector)? And if they are different, how are the views of ethnic Russians integrated into Estonia's foreign policy decision-making?

Marina Kaljurand: I am also an ethnic Russian. Opinions vary among both Estonians and Russians. The Republic of Estonia has not commissioned a study about what its residents think about the government of another country, or anything to that effect. Estonia's foreign policy is based on the interests of all residents of Estonia.

Turning to Estonia-US relations, you were Estonian ambassador to the United States prior to becoming Foreign Minister. In your opinion, how have relations with the United States changed under the Bush and Obama administrations? Has the Ukraine crisis tightened America's commitment to Estonia, and if so, to what extent?

Marina Kaljurand: Estonia-U.S. relations have always been very good and have become increasingly closer and more broad-based from year to year, which can be seen in very many practical and work-related contacts, beginning with the field of security and defense and continuing with cooperation in the areas of development cooperation and education, science and social work. The number of visits and contacts on both sides has been noteworthy in the last year to year and a half -- we were very pleased to host President Obama in September of 2014 in Tallinn. Obama's visit confirmed the long-term and close allied relations between Estonia and the United States and recognized Estonia's work in pursuit of shared objectives. This was also an important message of reassurance to all of the countries throughout the region. We highly appreciate the contribution of the United States to Estonia and the entire region given the changed security situation.

Cybersecurity has been a major concern for Estonia since the series of cyberattacks on Estonian organizations, government ministries and newspapers in 2007. To what extent have Estonia and the United States cooperated on the shared issue of cyber-security?

Marina Kaljurand: Estonia is among those countries for which cyber space is a matter of successful functioning and development of the state and its society. The more we use IT, the more vulnerable we are. Therefore, we must simultaneously work on our defense capabilities. Cyber security is part of a broad-based national defense policy. We need partners and friends - that is our biggest deterrent. Cyber cooperation between the two countries is working very well! Evidence of this can be seen in a number of bilateral cooperation agreements, including the joint statement on cyber cooperation signed by the Foreign Ministers of Estonia and the United States in the end of 2013. The Joint Declaration provides a firm framework for both further bilateral activities, as well as for cooperation in international organizations. The NATO Cyber Defense Centre is located in Estonia and the United States also participates in its work.

You were Estonian ambassador to Kazakhstan from 2007-2011. What is her assessment of the state of relations between the 2 countries? Has Kazakhstan's pro-Kremlin alignment strained relations between the two countries?

Marina Kaljurand: Despite the geographic distance between them, Estonia and Kazakhstan have built up a dynamic relationship, on both a political, as well as an economic level. Kazakhstan is a strategic partner of the European Union. A partnership and cooperation agreement exists between the EU and Kazakhstan. Since Central Asia as a whole is evolving very well economically, we are primarily interested in introducing the region's markets to our entrepreneurs. In Kazakhstan, with its emerging middle class, consumer trends have changed and people are ready to spend more on products originating in the West, which is what Estonian producers have to offer.

The Head of State of Kazakhstan has recently announced five institutional reforms intended to modernize the state apparatus, which allows us to introduce our experience of reform to Kazakhstan. They have recently shown a great and detailed interest in e-government and measures to fight corruption, which Estonia has implemented. With its new economic reforms, Kazakhstan is focusing on developing a network of transit between the East and West; in that context, Estonia is interested in the opportunities of its rail and port facilities in serving the flow of products from China and Kazakhstan.

In light of this substantial economic cooperation, do you believe that Estonia will be able to diversify its trade linkages beyond a traditional dependency on Scandinavia, and deepen ties with Central Asia and the Eurasian Economic Union?

Marina Kaljurand: Kazakhstan itself has declared that it engages in multi-vector foreign policy and despite its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, considers its partnership with the EU to be very important, since it is also Kazakhstan's largest trading partner. Estonia's home market has traditionally consisted of its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbors and the partner countries of the European Union, with whom trading is predictable and transparent. Given the current Estonian foreign trade balance and unclear developments on the Eurasian economic landscape, I don't think there will be any rapid changes in the near future. Although, the goal of Estonia's businesses is to achieve new markets and Central Asian countries will not be left out of this development.

Finally, you praised in your recent speech, Estonia's extraordinary success in consolidating a democracy and achieving economic prosperity. Do you believe that Estonia has created a model that is exportable to other post-Communist states? And if so, are you as Foreign Minister, interested in sending Estonian advisors to struggling countries like Ukraine to provide consultation?Marina Kaljurand: We know perfectly well the difficulties, but also the thrill, of starting from virtually a zero and finding - or rather building - one's own road to democracy and economic stability. We also know that these difficulties cannot be overcome without the support of good partners and friends. Yes, Estonia made good choices, the timing was compliant, but we were also lucky enough to have our partners by our side when starting anew. Now we are proud to provide assistance and know-how to others. Given the smallness of our economy, we have to carefully evaluate the geographic areas and domains where our help might be most useful. Intensiveness is the key in our case. We believe that considering our experience, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus and other Eastern Partnership countries are the ones that can best benefit from our assistance. Our development cooperation with the Eastern partners has been increasing year-on-year. In terms of the specific cooperation areas, we concentrate on areas ranging from e-governance, start-ups and cyber security to agriculture, as well as increasing public awareness on a wide range of EU-related issues. The target audience is the government officials as well as non-government actors from different fields, with whom our own experts have already established close cooperation. The overall aim is to help these countries to move towards a democratic and open society that is built on the string foundation of human rights. Just to give a few examples, Estonian experts from the E-Governance Academy Foundation - together with our Swedish partners - have implemented a project that focuses on developing e-governance online services in Ukraine. Also, we are glad to announce that recently, another project about e-governance capacity building started - with co-financing from the US Emerging Donors Challenge Fund.

Support HuffPost

Popular in the Community