BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid defended NATO on Tuesday after French President Emmanuel Macron branded it “brain dead”, saying Estonia felt safe in a military alliance that has been fortifying its eastern flank as a shield against Russia.
“NATO is clearly functional,” said Kaljulaid, whose Baltic state was for half a century a Soviet republic under Moscow’s thumb until 1991.
“Let’s face it - it (NATO) has a 100% success record. No NATO ally has ever been attacked. So we trust in NATO, yes,” she told Reuters on a visit to Brussels.
Macron said earlier this month that European countries could no longer rely on the United States to defend NATO allies and the alliance was experiencing “brain death”.
His comments questioning the alliance’s main principle of collective defense have prompted soul-searching in European capitals, and is likely to dominate discussions at a NATO summit in Britain next month. U.S. President Donald Trump, who described the 29-nation alliance as “obsolete” when he was president-elect, will attend.
Estonia’s three-party coalition was split on the topic on Tuesday. Mart Helme, the head of far-right EKRE, the second largest coalition partner, said Estonia was looking for Plan B for NATO.
“We are working also on Plan B, on what Estonia - and not only Estonia, but also other Baltic countries - will do if what Macron said was true,” Interior Minister Helme was quoted as saying by Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.
The comments were strongly opposed by other ministers.
“Estonian government has never discussed and does not plan to discuss Plan B. These stories are absurd, they undermine unity of NATO and weaken deterrence,” Defence Minister Jüri Luik said in a statement.
As evidence NATO was still relevant, Kaljulaid cited its increased engagement in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and NATO standing by Kiev in its fight against Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis has dragged European Union-Russia ties to historic lows, with the bloc imposing sanctions on Moscow. The economic curbs are now in place until the end of January 2020 and they require unanimity of all 28 EU states to be extended.
But Macron also spoke this month of the need for the EU to rethink its relations with Russia, while stressing the need to remain firm on demanding that Moscow fulfils a peace deal for Ukraine.
However, Kaljulaid stressed there were clear limits of that thinking for Estonia.
“If you are firm in your dialogue and you keep pointing out that international law needs to be respected, countries’ territorial integrity needs to be respected, and you are having this dialogue to try to remedy the adverse developments, then dialogue is absolutely fine,” she said.
“If you’re having dialogue ignoring the facts on the ground then of course we have a problem. And then we’d be against it.”
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki in Tallinn, Editing by John Chalmers, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool