August 10, 2008
RIGA (Reuters) – The president of Estonia said on Thursday that Russia’s strike into Georgia should persuade NATO urgently to give Georgia and Ukraine membership of the alliance.
Estonia, a former Soviet republic, is one of the newest members of both NATO and the European Union.
Its president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, speaking after returning from Georgia, also said in an interview that Russia’s actions should cause a strategic re-think in Europe as defence planners had assumed Russia presented no threat.
“They should take Ukraine immediately into NATO, and what is left of Georgia,” he told Reuters by telephone, adding that a decision this year not to give the two countries a road map to membership had persuaded Russia it had free hand in the region.
Both Georgia and Ukraine have pro-Western leaders who want to take their nations into NATO, angering Moscow.
Ilves earlier this week visited Georgia with four other eastern European leaders, from Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, to express support for President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Russian armed forces have occupied parts of Georgia since repelling a Georgian attack last week on the tiny pro-Russian separatist territory of South Ossetia.
Ilves, whose nation, like Latvia and Lithuania, has a traditional mistrust of Russia, said there would be long-term implications of the fight between Georgia and Russia.
“All of the fundamental assumptions of security in Europe since the collapse of communism is that Russia is not going to invade anybody,” he said.
“We can argue about who started what, but Russia invaded another country, something the Russia-friendly coalition in the European Union … has to get it through its head.”
“For 17 years the assumption has been that they would never do that. It’s going to take another 20 years of them (Russia) doing nothing to get over that.”
He said a broad discussion was needed to address such implications. Europe also had to play a more active role in preserving peace in the region, when it came. Before that, he said, “the (Russian) troops have to get out”.
For Estonia itself, Ilves said the small nation of 1.3 million people took heart from the fact it was part of NATO.
Estonia has since April last year been in a state of rhetorical Cold War with Russia after moving a World War Two Red Army statue from the centre of its capital to a military cemetery. Russia called this an insult to fighters against fascism.
(Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by Caroline Drees)