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Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on how the NATO summit went

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The NATO summit in Madrid wrapped up today. The main focus was the war in Ukraine and how to deal with Russian aggression. Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas, has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics. As the leader of a NATO nation that borders Russia, she's been sounding the alarm on Putin's ambitions in the region. Our co-host Michel Martin spoke with Prime Minister Kallas today, who began by sharing her thoughts on how the summit went.

PRIME MINISTER KAJA KALLAS: I would describe this summit as historic because of many things. First of all, Russia is the most imminent and direct threat to allied security. That was set out and put to the papers that everybody sees this this way, not only us, being the frontline states, but also the other allies. Due to this, that Russia is the most imminent and direct threat and has risen the level of aggression, the level of defense should comply with this. So we agreed to move from the deterrence poster to defense posture, which means that not only we would be able to, you know, liberate our country afterwards, but we are actually going to defend the country from the first minute so that the Article 5, which says that attack on one is attack on all, is also really working in practice so that we are able to push back the aggression from the first minute.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Do you have a sense that you and some of the older Baltics were raising alarms and were not being heard until this tragic situation with Ukraine occurred? Forgive me for putting it this way, but do you, in a way, feel vindicated, even, for a terrible reason?

KALLAS: Well, my mother used to say that, you know, it's impolite to say I told you so or we told you so. And I think it's no point in looking back, actually. It's more important that we avoid the mistakes that we did in the past and we look to the future and see how we can move from here, that such terrible things never happen on NATO's territory.

MARTIN: You indicated that you expect to be - that Estonia, you expect to be among the first to formally ratify the entrance of Sweden and Finland into NATO. I do have to ask if you feel any concern, or do any of the discussions here indicate any concern that that puts a lot of pressure on NATO to quickly move the approval of what have been considered sort of grey area sort of countries, like Georgia, like Moldova, like Ukraine?

KALLAS: Of course it puts the pressure. And I think it also shows that NATO has proven to be the successful defense alliance because being in NATO - no NATO country has ever been attacked. And I can totally understand those countries, because if we wouldn't be in NATO right now, we would be living through some really dark times, and we are not because we are in NATO. And so I understand the pressure that comes from that side. And, of course, if those applications come, then we need to look into. But we also know that it's up to the allies to decide. And we know that Finland and Sweden, their defense forces are very much developed and actually contributing to NATO rather than being another problem, I would say.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, my final question is that - you said that Russia is not getting tired. Are you concerned in any way that the NATO countries, that those who are opposing this will get tired in the sense that people who are not on the front lines, as you are, as your country is, are mainly experiencing this conflict as - through the news and also through inflation?

KALLAS: I'm very worried about this because, actually, this inflation is related to the energy costs, which is related to Russia's action. So how I'm trying to explain this, it's - all this inflation, everything related to this is sort of a vortex. We are paying this vortex because there's no war in our country. But Ukraine is paying a much, much higher price. But we are into some very tough times ahead. Today, someone said that Putin is trying to revive the 1942 hunger, energy crisis, all of it. So we should prepare our minds to very tough times ahead.

MARTIN: Prime Minister, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KALLAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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