Estonian PM Gives West a Warning on Putin's Capabilities

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Wednesday gave the West a warning on Vladimir Putin's capabilities, urging officials to hold those who commit war crimes accountable in order to avoid "human suffering."

Kallas, a vocal critic of Putin and his war in Ukraine, told The Associated Press that the West also shouldn't underestimate Russia's military capabilities in Ukraine, as the military offensive launched by Russia approaches the four-month mark.

She warned against pushing Ukraine to reach a negotiated peace deal with Russia in order to bring the war to an end, noting what happened after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, and seized territory in Georgia, a former Soviet republic.

Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas
Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas arrives prior to the start of the EU-Western Balkans leaders' meeting in Brussels on June 23, 2022. Kallas on Wednesday gave the West a warning on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s capabilities. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

"For us, it is important to not make that mistake again like we did in Crimea, Donbas, Georgia," Kallas said. "We have done the same mistake already three times saying that, you know, negotiations, negotiated peace is the goal."

"The only thing that Putin hears from this is that 'I can do this because no punishment will follow,'" Kallas continued. "And every time, every next time will be with more human suffering than the last one was."

She called for the prosecution of those committing war crimes in Ukraine, and of those "conducting or trying to conduct genocide."

In April, Estonia became one of the first countries in the European Union to accuse Russia of committing genocide in Ukraine. The country's parliament voted in favor of recognizing Putin's war as a "genocide against the Ukrainian people," and urged other countries to "do the same."

The United Nations defines genocide as acts committed with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group"—including "killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group"; or "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

It was first recognized as a crime under international law in 1946 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Kallas also said the West should not play down the threat Russia poses to Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict.

"I've heard talks that, you know, there is no threat anymore because they have exhausted themselves. No, they haven't," she said, amid reports of low morale among Russian troops and Moscow's diminishing supplies.

"They have plenty of troops still who can come (to fight)—They are not counting the lives that they are losing. They are not counting the artillery that they are losing there. So I don't think that we should underestimate them in the longer term to still keep this up," Kallas said.

Russian forces, after failing to seize Kyiv in the early stages of the war, are now ramping up their offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, hoping to seize the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full.