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Commander of Defence speech for Estonia’s 105th Independence Day

On those days 105 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was read in Estonian cities. It was then that the breaking of the foundations of the Russian tsarist state was declared, with there being hope for peace and their own country.

We have fought for and won our own country. We’ve lost it and taken it back again. However, one of the foundations of the Russian state – its imperialist way of thinking and the threat to us – has also been preserved. Furthermore. One year ago, the mask was dropped, and the rulers of Russia showed their true intentions and methods. Unfortunately, they also have the support of their own people. 

Throughout history, Estonia has become a country that understands the price of independence. She is able to stand up for herself. We also understand the concerns of others and understand the help that they need. Last year, as a nation and a country, we acted according to our own words and values.

In supporting Ukraine, we didn’t spend much time discussing whether other, richer nations, should do more. Should we, as a smaller country, be more reserved? We understand that it makes no difference to a Ukrainian soldier whether their weapon and ammunition has come from the great power America or small Estonia. It doesn’t matter whether medical equipment comes from Paris or Paide.  They are protecting and saving the lives of their people. We, too, should find it of little importance whether the looters and occupiers are being destroyed by our few weapons or the many provided by others. We appreciate the value of the lives saved.

The basis of our help has not been political instructions originating from somewhere else. Our help, be it military or other, has started with knowing what is needed. This has been followed by the will of our people, the wisdom of officials and the courage of politicians to help. We have behaved like a strong country and nation. In particular, one that is morally strong.

At the same time, we have perhaps been able to surprise others in terms of our physicality. Our relatively small Defence Force, which has sometimes been mocked, has unexpectedly produced weapons and equipment in quantities that no one expected. I know that the Defence Forces are capable of even more surprises. Positive ones for our side, and negative for our opponents. All the more so because in the span of a year our Defence Forces have only become stronger. We have increased our ammunition stockpile and upgraded armaments. Membership has increased in the Defence League, or territorial defence, has increased. The units representing the Defence League today at this parade are comprised of members who joined during the past year. Over the year we have improved the management of Allied reinforcements in Estonia, creating a division. Today, US multiple rocket launchers and an infantry company have been stationed here as additional units. Soon we will be seeing additional French and Spanish units.

The Estonian Defence Forces are based on a reserve army. Reservists, you are the main force of the Estonian Defence Forces! This year, the Defence Forces are inviting more than 25 000 people to reservist training. The support and understanding of those close to you is essential for a reservist to be able to participate in the reservist training with a good sense of purpose and commitment. So, companions, colleagues, friends and anyone else whose loved one receives an invitation to reservist training, give your reservist a pat on the back and send him or her on his or her way.”

The same thing has happened in our society – we have surprised ourselves positively. While 10,000 potential refugees were talked about a year ago, and around the same number was set as our reception capacity, today we have exceeded this number many times over and society has handled it well. There is empathy and a will to help among our people. Fortunately, in the midst of such difficulties, we have not forgotten that the cause of the difficulties is not these people or bad politics, but the aggressive behaviour of Russia. It is this that has placed us in a situation that can be called a hybrid war. But we have coped so far. As a nation, and as a country. But also as a union of states.

It gives us hope that if things get worse for us, we will be fine. Proof of this is the growth in the activity and willingness of our people to engage in national defence. Whether it be joining an expanded Defence League or supporting the national defence of entrepreneurs. Proof of this is the ever-increasing belief that WE can defend ourselves and I intend to be a part of it.

But hope alone is not enough. The threat is unlikely to pass for many years, and we will probably have to support Ukraine for a long time. As victory by Ukraine is only the first step towards a bolder future. The loss of Ukraine and the victory of evil is unacceptable.

In addition to supporting Ukraine on its path to victory, we must continue to prepare for our own threat. Countries, as well as people, have a habit of delaying troublesome things. On the one hand, they aren’t willing to waste, and on the other hand they hope that it will suddenly pass. Moreover, we are stuck in our personal goals. In our own wisdom. Which is how we were at the beginning of our War of Independence, but we came out of that. It was how we were in the late 1930s and we paid the price for it. 50 years later, we were able to be smart and cohesive again. 

Perhaps we are once again in an era where we need to abandon some of our personal goals and the triumph of our wisdom. The approaching elections will make the situation more difficult. Hopefully these deliberate confrontations will pass and the cohesion will become stronger.

As a country and as a society, we will probably have to sacrifice even more over the next year and in the years to come. Trusting of others. More and more, we need to do what really matters. And less important things, though pleasant, must be left undone or postponed. As a state, office, political party, organisation and people. Only in this way can we be better prepared for what has been repeatedly presented to us throughout history. This is the only way we can confront the aggressor – if he should choose to come.

The 105th year of the Republic of Estonia gives hope for this.

We have good people. We have an independent and strong country. We have reliable allies. We’ve proven it in the past year.

Long live the Republic of Estonia!

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