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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  May 17, 2021 12:30am-1:01am BST

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palestinian officials in gaza say it's been the deadliest day since the fighting with israel began nearly a week ago. the israeli army says so—far palestinian militants have fired more than 3,000 rockets towards israel. the un secretary general has appealed for an immediate end to the fighting. india is facing international criticism — after the death from coronavirus of up to 16—hundred teachers, ordered to help with last month's elections. the indian teachers union says, many begged to be released from election duty — fearing for their health — as india's ferocious second wave took hold. covax — the international scheme to ensure equal access to covid vaccines is one—hundred—and—forty million doses short. it's intended to supply many of the world's poorest countries but the serious outbreak in india — a major vaccine manufacturer — has stopped large scale exports. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk.
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welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. for 17 years, estonia and the other baltic states have been members of the eu and nato — fully paid—up members of the western club. but the simple facts of geography have not changed — russia is their giant neighbour. and, as tensions between vladimir putin and the west rise, so a chill wind blows through eastern europe. my guest is estonia's prime minister, kaja kallas. how confident is she that her partners in brussels and washington have her back?
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prime minister kaja kallas in tallinn, welcome to hardtalk. thank you for having me. it's a pleasure to have you on the show, prime minister. let me ask you, how intensely do you feel the rising tensions with russia right now? well, russia is our neighbour and, considering our history, we feel the tensions here always, so considering the geographical location that we have, russia's acts always influence us. i understand that the facts of geography haven't changed, but the cyclical tensions are clearly very high right now. i noted that, in april, you expelled a russian diplomat.
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the same thing happened in other baltic capitals. that was in reaction to revelations from czechia about russian activities there. you also said in early may that a russian plane had intruded upon your airspace. these are not usual things, are they? well, russian planes intrude our airspace severaltimes, but, er... but, yes, sending out diplomats is something new. we showed our solidarity towards the czech republic because i think it is very important that we stick together, as europe did in salzburg's case. when somebody is attacked, everybody acts in solidarity. what russia wants to see is to see us divided, which means that, you know, we have to show that we are not divided. and they probably use every
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possibility to push us in the position where one is against the others or, you know, there are some cracks in the unity and we shouldn't give them that. let me ask you, just on a point of detail on your relations with russia — a russian tv channel recently reported that russia had formally placed estonia on a list of countries that they label, quote, unquote, "unfriendly". do you know that to be true? well, yes, there is information regarding that, and especially there was one person that was put on the list, which is the head of estonian language inspectorate, which is... which is strange because he has nothing to do with russia, really. but what he has to do with is the estonian language here in estonia. what we have is a big russian minority and there
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is a big fight whether, you know, the education for them should be in russian or in estonian. right now, we have studies that show that even the russian minority wants to have education in estonian because they understand that their children get a better education, they get also better positions on the labour market later on if they speak estonian in estonia. but that, of course, doesn't please russia because it is in their interest to keep the people here in their information circle, so to say — watching their tv, listening to their radio channels, and, of course, being influenced by their propaganda. right. if you really wanted to reach out to the ethnic russian population inside your country, maybe it's time to end the very strange situation where there are thousands of people in your country, living in your country, but speaking russian
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and ethnically russian, who are not granted estonian passports. so are you, as pm, ready to end that? one thing what you have to understand, globally in the world, there are one million people speaking estonian. i mean, compared to those people who speak english, it's a very small minority. in the world. russian speakers are about 173 million, if i remember correctly. so we really have to protect our language. and the only thing we ask of these people who have lived here for even, like, 50 years is to learn our language. and it is not much to ask to get the citizenship. there are many russians, and a majority of them who have done the lessons, who have done the exams and reached out and applied for the citizenship and also, um...
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..got the citizenship, but there are people who actually want to travel more freely via russian borders to russia, and that's why they don't want to give up their russian citizenship. and that's actually the real purpose. they have all the rights that, you know, estonian citizens have except for one right, and this is elect a parliament. so all the social rights they have, all the benefits, everything. right. but in a very real sense, they are second—class citizens. and you are not prepared to change that, are you? no, they are not because, as i said, they have all the same rights. you, coming from, you know, a big population, you don't understand how important it is for us to save our culture and save our language. all right. if you have a big language group, it takes over. yeah, you've made that point.
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let us just get back to the current geopolitical situation which you have to live with, given the neighbourhood you inhabit. how vulnerable do you feel? when you see, for example, more than 100,000 russian troops reportedly massing very close to ukraine's border, and when you see vladimir putin's state of the union message, which i think it is fair to say was pretty assertive about what he's prepared to do to defend what he regards as russian rights, how vulnerable — in the most literal physical sense — do you feel in estonia? well, we have very strong nato allies, and our defence is based on our independent defence forces as well as the allied forces, and nato is strong. there are, for example, here nato troops. there is the biggest deployment of uk troops
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outside uk in estonia, so 800 soldiers here. so we feel strong, as we have strong friends in... if you feel strong, i can only suggest you're not reading your own intelligence service reports because your own intelligence service's 2020 annual report said this — "compared to nato forces, "the balance of power on the baltic states axis "is clearly tilted in favour of russia. "russia has absolute supremacy "in terms of offensive equipment, "tanks, fighter aircraft and rocket artillery. "nato has no comparable missile systems "anywhere close in europe." that's your own intelligence service. yes, but deterrence works like this, that if russia makes a move on us, then our nato allies make a move on russia. so deterrence works like this, that this move is made so expensive that russia doesn't want to make that move.
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but, prime minister, you know as well as i do that nato has not delivered on promises to improve the interoperability and mobility of its forces. i was only talking yesterday to the former us commander, army commander in europe, ben hodges, who said he's gravely disappointed with nato�*s failure to deliver on those key points — mobility being the most important one of all. so if putin decided to undertake a military offensive operation on your soil, and it is something that nato thinks about, there is no question — nato would not be able to respond in time. my point is that if they make a move, you know, nato makes a move on them. it doesn't mean that... as you're suggesting that the, whatever, war is on our soil, but the thing is that if they make a move on nato�*s ally, as estonia is, then we have the nato article
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4, article 5, and that means action on russia as well. so it maybe doesn't mean the defence... i mean, this moment here, but it definitely means that this kind of move is very expensive for russia and they make these calculations as well. how come you have so much more confidence in nato�*s abilities, capacity and will than, for example, french president emmanuel macron, who very recently said not only that he believed nato to be brain—dead in many ways, but he said that he doubted america's capability to activate solidarity under article 5 — that is the mutual self—defence article — quote, "if something happens at our borders." how come you're so confident if he's not? when president macron made this comment, then the president
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of the united states was a different person and had made statements regarding nato and withdrawing from nato. so that, of course, made europeans think about also the defence forces here. i think actually that the proposal that macron has made and nato, they supplement each other because the armed forces that we have in europe are the armed forces of different european countries who are also nato allies. so one is supplementary to the other. and i don't mind that the european defence is stronger. i want to see that all the other countries invest this 2% of gdp in their defence... well, yes... ..because it adds together. that's an interesting point you make, because you know much better than i that many
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countries within nato are failing to make that baseline 2% of gdp expenditure on their military. italy, spain, germany — a whole host of important members of nato are simply not spending that kind of money on their defence forces. and if you look at public opinion, i don't know if you care about this, but the pew research centre found that 50% of public, of the general public across the nato member states say that their country should not defend an ally in the case of a russian attack. that compared with 38% who said that the country should defend an ally against a russian attack. how do you, as estonian pm, feel about that? well, i think it tells this story that we have to know and respect each other�*s concerns and know our histories. what i want to say by this is that that when i was a member of the european parliament,
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i saw this very well, how, you know, different european countries have different worries. i mean, if you look at spain or italy, their worry comes from south and we have to understand their worries and help them in their problems so that if we have a problem, they also come to help us. but it needs... ..it needs communication and it needs understanding from both sides and also needs... ..it also needs educating the people how united, we are stronger. isn't that precisely the point, though, what you've just alluded to, that europe — and let's talk about the eu as well as nato — europe is deeply divided between west and east. if you look at certain countries like france, italy, greece, they all seem very keen to maintain cordial relations with moscow. they have major business interests there, energy interests as well. germany is absolutely determined, it seems, to push ahead with the nord stream 2
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pipeline project, which, of course, brings russian gas direct to germany. so in that context, you in eastern europe constantly warning about the dangers posed by vladimir putin and asking for tougher sanctions on russia, you're not speaking the same language as your partners in western europe. well, my partners in western europe have always... ..have also seen the attacks on their territory. let's not forget about salisbury and these other events that even happened in germany or czech republic. so they see that russia is, well, approaching different european countries, whether it's a cyber attack or something of a sort, but it is influencing their soil as well.
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i think when we talk about european unity, then these things we have to discuss through. and i'm listening very carefully in the european council what, you know, the western or the southern countries are telling me about the southern hemisphere and the problems arising there and what they see there, and i feel that they are also listening to what the baltics have to say about russia, because we have the experience there. but just very specifically, and yes or no, really, are you satisfied with the sanctions the eu has imposed on russia as a result of what russia has done, annexing crimea, for example, the activities in eastern ukraine? and also, are you satisfied with the way europe's responded to belarus and what's happening there and the allegations that russia is helping prop up president lukashenko? do you think europe's
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doing enough, yes or no? europe could do more. so what we see in our intelligence reports is that the sanctions really work. but the problem with europe is sometimes that europe is too impatient. you put down the sanctions and in six months�* time you want to lift the sanctions because, of course, they hurt also the other part or other sides. but, yes, we could do more in europe. i'm just mindful of one particular area where estonia suffered in the past. i believe as long ago as 2007, there was a very disturbing cyber attack on estonia, which everybody in your country believes came from russia and involved the russian state, and it closed down key bits of infrastructure. it was a real problem. now russia's cyber capability is much greater. how worried are you about the vulnerability of your country to cyber warfare
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instigated from moscow? i think everybody should be worried about this because of our systems, and that's why we have the nato cyber security centre here in tallinn. we do constantly these kind of exercises. we just had one cyber defence exercise here to be ready for such attacks. and of course, they change. so we have to learn from each other. the problem with cyber attacks is sometimes countries or even companies are too embarrassed of what happened to them, so they are not really sharing their experience. but i think we should be open about this so that we can learn from each other and prevent these kind of attacks. if we look at the challenges facing your country right now,
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the most obvious one which every government around the world has to deal with is covid. you're a government leader in the european union. you've seen the procurement problems when it comes to vaccine and vaccine roll—out that have been prevalent across the european union. are you very disappointed with the way the eu has performed, perhaps compared with the united states or even the united kingdom? well, you're a big country and you compare yourself to big countries. but i'm prime minister of a small country and i know that as a small country that we are, we alone couldn't have had the possibility to procure those vaccines. we wouldn't have the vaccines if there wouldn't be for european union and the unified procurement process, because we have this experience from the past when we had the swine flu and we were too small for any
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pharmaceutical company to give us the vaccines. so we actually are quite grateful that we are part of this agreement and that has enabled us to vaccinate already almost 30% of the population. because of the way the procurement system was organised in the eu, many eu politicians have said, you know, "we are too bureaucratic, we're too slow, "we were too slow to approve the vaccines, "we are now being too slow to develop "a coherent, cohesive vaccine passport programme "for the whole of the european union." i happen to know that estonia is far ahead in terms of the technology required to ensure that everybody on their smartphone could show that they've had the double vaccine. but elsewhere in europe, countries aren't ready. so in a sense, you are tied to an eu collective which isn't as efficient as you are.
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well, listening to itjust reminds me why the, you know, the most unhappy people are the silver medallists. so why? because they're comparing themselves to the one only person who was better than them, which is the gold medallist, whereas the bronze winners are really happy because they compare themselves to all the others who didn't get the medal at all. so why i'm saying this is that, i mean, if we compare ourselves with the countries outside the eu in a similar size or even with a similar historical background, then we are so much better off being part of this agreement. of course we could do better. i don't deny that, and there is criticism regarding this, but it depends whom you compare yourself to. and, i mean, relatively, we are doing just fine.
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if i may, prime minister, i want to end with just a couple of questions about domestic politics in estonia, because it is very interesting to outsiders to see you building a coalition of sort of centrist and progressive forces in your country after a period when the country was run by a coalition of right and far—right political parties. and there was a feeling that estonia was drifting towards the politics of other east european countries like poland and hungary. are you confident that you have reversed that political trend? well, our government has been in place only for 105 days so, i mean, it's too early to tell. but if we look at the popular support, then our government enjoys over 50% of support
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of the total population. and i think this is the way still that the majority sees the right way for estonia. and so there are people who are very vocal, they are expressing their views, but it's not the whole population. but i do notice, if you don't mind me pointing it out, the conservative people's party, the far—right party, is actually going up in the polls since you came to power. and they're not letting go of their core messages about social conservatism. particularly, they still seem to want to have this referendum giving estonian people the chance to decide whether marriage can legally only and forever be between a man and a woman. for you as prime minister, is that something that you are absolutely going to reject or might you allow that referendum to go ahead? we will not allow that referendum to go ahead.
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we were very strongly fighting against this. it would divide our people. but i want to comment on the conservative party's support as well. they're going up because they are the protest voters. and i mean, if they... when they were in the government, it was kind of awkward situation for their supporters who have been always against everything, not in favour of much. and they have the glass ceiling still. i mean, and it is around 20% of this whole population. so they're growing now but soon we feel that they are reaching their ceiling and we are still over 10% ahead. all right. we must end there. but prime minister kaja kallas, i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you.
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hello. it may come as a shock to those of you who sat under sunny skies on sunday, but elsewhere, there was some severe storms, some flash flooding and also this was sent into us from one of our weather watchers. a funnel cloud, the early stages of a tornado on the west coast of somerset. and the turbulent atmosphere which brought those conditions still with us through the next few days. more thundery downpours to come, nice in the sunshine where you've got it, but overall, rather cool and then potential for something much wetter and windier later in the week. now, out there into the start of monday, the area of low pressure that was with us on sunday moves a bit
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further eastwards. that allows a bit more of a northwesterly flow across the country and a subtle shift in where we will see some of the heaviest of the showers. now, some of the showers will continue through the night into the morning. a fair bit of cloud around to start your monday, but it will be frost free — temperatures around 5—8 celsius. best of the brightness will be in the west, in fact, in western areas, it will be a drier day overall. one or two showers though in the west to begin with, but notice how they are tracking their way eastwards, and as we go into the afternoon, as temperatures rise, its eastern parts of scotland, eastern england, where we are most likely to see some severe thunderstorms, hail and potentially some gusty winds with the risk of flash flooding in one or two spots. western areas, though, as i said, always that bit drier compared with yesterday. nice enough in the sunshine, it will be cooler where the showers occur. the showers will last into the evening, gradually fading away for the vast majority. there will be one or two around, particularly for coastal areas as we go through the night and into tuesday morning. and with some clearer skies around, perhaps cooler through the night into tuesday morning, an isolated chance of frost for southern scotland, northern ireland, but most places will be frost free.
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the details for tuesday, then, we'll begin with some sunshine, a few early mist and fog patches. cloudier and breezier to the north of scotland, where it will be a rather cool day. a greater chance of showers in northern scotland. showers return, though, to northern ireland, wales and southwest england. this is where the heaviest will be. fewer showers in southern scotland, northern and eastern england compared with monday. nice in the sunshine, cool out of it. that showery story continues into wednesday. the shower risk pushes a bit further north, then through thursday into friday, it all depends on how quickly an area of low pressure will start to push its way in. there is potential that thursday could be dry, but this deepening area of low pressure will push in with some extensive rain and some strong winds with gales possible in many areas. stay tuned to the forecast to keep up—to—date with that. bye for now.
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this is bbc news. i'm david eades with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. the un pleads for peace in the middle east conflict, but israel's prime minister says the military campaign on gaza will continue with full force. cheering civilian casualties continue to rise, with children and the elderly among those killed and injured. previous wars between israel and hamas have ended with mediation, generally with egypt involved, leading to a ceasefire. now, contacts have been made but it is a difficult process.
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two people are killed and scores are injured — as temporary seating collapses at a crowded synagogue

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