On February 11th, 2022, the Council of American Ambassadors hosted a roundtable titled “In the Eye of the Storm” with Estonian Ambassador Kristjan Prikk to discuss Russia’s recent actions on the Ukrainian border. The discussion was led by Interim IWP President Aldona Woś, who served as the Ambassador to the Republic of Estonia under President George W. Bush and has served as Vice-Chair of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Ambassador Prikk has been the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. since May 2021, and before that, Ambassador Prikk worked extensively in the Estonian government, including serving as the permanent secretary of the Estonian Ministry of Defense.
Remarks on Russia and Ukraine by Amb. Kristjan Prikk
Ambassador Prikk began the roundtable by stating that the current crisis in Ukraine does not come from nowhere. The crisis should not come as a surprise to those monitoring Russian claims and demands over the years; Ambassador Prikk interprets these claims and demands in two dimensions. First, there are claims and grievances about Ukraine. Ambassador Prikk has noticed a consistent theme over at least the past ten years of Putin doubting Ukraine’s right to be an independent nation. Second, Ambassador Prikk discussed wider claims and grievances, including the general concern Russia voices about its national security in light of NATO expansion and redesigns of European security. However, Ambassador Prikk pointed out that NATO expansion is a response to Russia’s pugnacious behavior in the region, such as its invasion of South Ossetia in Georgia in 2008 or Crimea in Ukraine in 2014.
Ambassador Prikk also noted positive and negative developments in the current Ukraine crisis. On the positive side, the response from the West has been unified and cohesive, much to Putin’s dismay. On the negative side, Ambassador Prikk did not perceive signs of de-escalation, Russia will not budge from its demands, and Russia continues to position itself for a full-scale invasion.
Before opening the roundtable for questions, Ambassador Prikk concluded his presentation with four areas of what to continue doing or what should be done. First, the basis for any success is political unity and staying true to the core principles of sovereign nations and NATO collective defense. Second, support for Ukraine must continue through political means like public statements and economic and military means to build up their resilience for a Russian invasion. Third, NATO allies must increase the cost for potential aggression now, and in the future, Ukrainian sanction packages must deal a decisive blow to Russia. Lastly, NATO’s force posture on its eastern flank needs to be adjusted to reflect the realities. There can be no room for miscalculating the resolve of NATO.
Q&A with Amb. Aldona Woś
During the Q&A portion of Ambassador Prikk’s roundtable, Ambassador Woś inquired about regional security and geopolitical concerns. Ambassador Woś asked about the way the NATO alliance has changed in recent years and Estonians’ sentiment of this change. Ambassador Prikk stated that increased joint-military operations have bolstered Estonian security and given Estonians faith in NATO’s resolve. Ambassador Woś then asked about Europe’s energy strategy. Specifically, how should pipelines like Nord Stream 2 be handled? Ambassador Prikk was frank and acknowledged very few short-term solutions to European dependence on Russian energy exports. However, the crisis in Ukraine has forced European countries to recognize that they must reconfigure their energy policy to prevent Russian influence in European politics.