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27 October, 2021  ▪  Спілкувався: Yuriy Lapayev

Jonatan Vseviov: “There can be no excuse for anybody to consider things which are happening on Donbas as normal. If this becomes normal, then nobody is safe”

The Ukrainian Week met with Jonatan Vseviov, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, to discuss the key principles of Estonian foregn policy, development projects for Ukraine and the importance of Crimean Platform

What policy toward Ukraine could we expect from the new president of Estonia? Especially regarding euroatlantic aspirations.


- I would expect Estonian foreign policy to remain steadfast in support of Ukraine’s euroatlantic aspirations, in its condemnation of illegal annexation of Crimea and the war on Donbas. Our foreign policy has always been constant, no matter which political party or individual takes the office at any particular time. We feel that it has given us the strength and leverage on the international stage, that otherwise we could not have. But we are also convinced that this continuity in Estonian foreign policy stands from the fact that the basic things that we focus on in international affairs are really our core national security interests. The security of Ukraine is the security of Europe. And the lack of security for Ukraine means that there is a security problem for Europe at large. We certainly feel it in Baltic states, I'm sure this applies to the whole continent. So Estonia has been and will continue to be very active on Ukraine-related issues at European Union and NATO tables, in our bilateral discussions with our allies. But also we are trying to find new ways for cooperation with Ukraine itself. That's why we are here, we are a group of eight secretaries general from Estonian ministries, which we have eleven. The three, who did not come, have very serious reasons for that. And we are here for two reasons. Primarily, to keep Ukraine and war on Donbas on the menthal map of the world and also Estonia. And secondly - to look for practical ways to enhance our cooperation with Ukrainian ministries.  None of this will be impacted, whatsoever, by any kind of political change in our country. A new president  will continue the overall foreign policy line, which Estonia had since 1991, which is being a reliable partner and ally of the West, Western key alliesand also focusing on pushing back against the aggression, like the one you are experiencing in Ukraine.


According to the Ukrainian government, Estonia has provided assistance to our country equal to 1,4 mln Euro every year. Why is it so important for Estonia? Which projects are the key projects? 


- Strategically speaking, we cooperate with Ukraine on development issues because of two reasons: because Ukraine is important to Estonia and Ukraine is one of the priority countries for our development cooperation and secondly - because we think it helps us. It helps us because of the geostrategic importance of Ukraine. A successful, democratic Ukraine is good for us. We are convinced that it is also good for Ukraine. That is why we are trying to target our assistance projects in two areas, where we believe we could have the biggest impact on positive development. We are not big enough to just throw the money. We can not afford to do things that don’t make  sense. So everything that we do should have an impact. One of the areas that we have concentrated on is digital development. We think we have something to teach, and now we already know that we have something to learn from Ukraine. We have a few good examples. Digital development is obviously linked to the development of civil society in general and public administration in order to strengthen democracy. So we provide advice as much as we can on the development of rule of law, anticorruption practices in building your business, and education. These are the key areas, but we are also doing things like planting trees in Donetska and Luhanska regions. Small, but practical stepswith focus on eastern-Ukraine. 

We also believe that, since we too were occupied thirty short years ago and in less than fifteen years we went from being occupied and having Russian troops illegally stationed in Estonia to becoming a member of the European Union and NATO and with the economy, which per capita basis surpassed a number of countries in Europe. We believe that we have some credibility in providing advice on how to build governmental institutions or what kind of principles one should follow if one wishes to succeed as a market economy and a democracy. But development cooperation is not a one way street. As I said before, there are areas where we could learn from Ukraine and we are doing it. So it’s a two way street. There are some very exciting things that are going on here on the digital development, on military matters, for instance. Together with Germany we are in the process of providing Ukraine assistance, a field hospital. But we are learning your experience on how to organize modern and capable military forces. It is helping us in these indirect ways. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Dr. Phillip Karber: “The best deterrent to Russia is Ukraine as a strong part of the West and member of NATO”

Estonia is one of the very few countries who agreed to provide Ukraine with some lethal weapons. What stands behind this decision and could we expect some further cooperation in this field?


- Our defence capabilities are determined by the fact that we are a very small country. So one should always moderate the ability of small states to provide some quantity-based assistance. We are focused on quality-based assistance. Primarily in the areas of digital and know-hows and so on. On defense we are absolutely clear about what we stand, we stand with Ukraine. The war that is take place in Donbas, on the territory of Ukraine. And we are in the opinion, that the countries in Europe should be free to make choices about their fundamental security policy without interference from neighbours or far away countries. That is our understanding, that Ukraine has made decisions  on where it wants to go and with whom it wants to be. And now all of sudden Ukraine has a war on its lands. So of course, we will assist Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself, secure the fate of free and independent Ukraine. There is no concern when it comes to assisting Ukraine militarily and we can have the biggest impact through diplomatic assistance by keeping Ukraina as a topic on the agenda of the world. Which is what we have tried to do as a member of The United Nations Security Council or as a member of the European Union and NATO. It is easy to take for granted that your problems are being discussed at places or at times when you are not in the room. One should never take that for granted. It is extremely dangerous to forget or to consider normal the war taken place in Ukraine. So we are doing our small part by helping you to keep these issues on the world agenda. I think we have been successful in that, but this work is never over, until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored. 


We often talk about bilateral relations between Ukraine and other European countries. Do you think it could make sense to establish some kind of multilateral unions or alliances for Eastern Europe and Baltic states.  


In regional cooperation the key is practicality. If there is something we can do in the region, we should do it. There are many examples, where Estonia participates in regional formats. Some of them have more political aim, some other - more practical. We have lot of things together with Baltic states, with Nordic countries, we have Three Seas Initiative. So regional formats could be very useful. And I would certainly support Ukraine’s efforts  to enhance its regional cooperation network. None of these regional formats though are the substitute for a wider international cooperation. Bilateral is important, but the same time international format is important too. For us NATO and EU membership is the cornerstone of our foreign policy and this will remain in any case. Ukraine already has several regional formats, which could be a good way to demonstrate that you are not only the demander, but also a giver on the international stage. It is important to strengthen ties with the countries you want to associate with. Not just on the political level, but also between businesses and societies. 


Former President of Estonia has participated in the Crimean platform summit. How do you evaluate the results of this summit and which practical results we could have from this format?


- I think Crimean platform is an important initiative, the summit was successful. The  main aim, the one should concentrate on is to keep the issue of Crimea and illegal annexation of the peninsula in the minds of the international community. This could be deliverable from the summit: that we think of Crimea more, maybe we cooperate in public messaging. The number of Western countries throughout decades have maintained the policy of nonrecognition of Soviet occupation of Baltic states. That was maintained as a public policy, but also reinforced by public messaging, from parliaments, civil society. Baltic diaspora organizations were always able to refer to this policy with the continuous stream of messaging. Many thought that this was a purely symbolic act. This policy of nonrecognition gave our people hope, they gave this hope to the Estonian diaspora to fight with occupation in foreign countries. Eventually when the Soviet Union collapsed and we regained our independence the fact that we have fifty years of nonrecognition policy turned out to be extremely important. Nobody knows what the future holds, and what happened in the past may not necessarily happen again in the future. But it’s important for us to keep this issue well in the memory of the international community and mobilize as much public support as we can. We participate in the summit because of this. So this is what should be done from now and constantly, reminding people of the fact. Will this result in practical deliverables and when is to be seen. But I can almost guarantee you, if Ukraine stops mobilizing international public opinion, stops reminding about illegal annexation - people will forget. 


You have visited Donbas, what were your impressions from this visit? Which projects do you have for this region?


- We have small, but hopefully significant development assistance projects in Eastern Ukraine. They focus on social issues. We are working with UNICEF for instance, teaching the Ukrainian experts on how to provide assistance for children with special needs. We provide internet to schools, we are supporting women entrepreneurship projects. My emotions are always very mixed when I’m visiting Ukraine.  On the one hand there is visibly huge potential in this country, industrial, agricultural. And on the other hand you know what is going on, particularly in the East. So its hope mixed with sadness. Ukraine has a European face with a scars from contact line on Donbas and annexation of Crimea. It is devastating. One thing is to know that there is a war on the Donbas, the other is to be there and see firsthand the effects this war has not only on Ukraine as a country, but on the people in the region. It is devastating and absolutely unacceptable to going on in the 21st century. What would be more unacceptable for us, the international community, is to take our eyes off this development. Yes, I understand there are a lot of things happening around the world, we need to pay attention to a lot of problems. But there can be no excuse for anybody to consider things which are happening on Donbas as normal.  That is a problem not only for Ukraine. If this becomes normal, then nobody is safe.

But you also need to reform your country. We conducted our reforms. We had five decades of occupation, but then became a parliamentary democracy, and turned around our soviet economy through these difficult reforms. But the medicine  doesn't have to taste good, it has to work. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Industrial reset

What is the Estonian approach towards Russian policy of “defending Russian-speaking people”?


- Obviously we are not concerned in any way about our security. We work on our security. The government bodies that are tasked with security policy are absolutely focused on making sure that there is no misunderstanding in anyone's head as to where the red lines are. That is why we have joined NATO, that is what we are doing in NATO, domestically and in our relations with our allies. There is no concern among general population, within our government. Because we define that the fundamentals of our security issues are functioning. The deterrence and defense policy that we have been able to create primarily thanks to our alliance relationship, but also with our society cohesion and our own capabilities is such that is sufficient. Never perfect, we are constantly unhappy with milion different elements of our security and we are always trying to get better.  But overall we are very confident. This is not to say that there are no problems in our region. The hybrid weaponization of migrants that Belarus is currently doing  is obviously of concern. The use of chemical weapons on European territory, some other developments in cyber domain are constantly remind us that security is never fully guaranteed. We trying hard to focus on these areas and fix them, not only by ourselves, but together with our allies in NATO and partners in EU.



Jonatan Vseviov was born 14 August 1981. Graduated from the University of Tartu in political science and has earned a Master’s degree, with honours, in security studies from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He has several positions in Estonian Ministry of defense, where he worked for 10 years. Vseviov served as Estonia´s Ambassador to the United States in 2018-2021. Since 2021 he is Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.

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Читати це інтерв'ю українською:

Йонатан Всевіов:  «Немає виправдання нікому, хто вважає ситуацію на Донбасі нормальною. Якщо це стане нормою, ніхто не буде в безпеці»


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