Estonia sees life in 'brain-dead' NATO

By Gabriela Baczynska
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, attends the GovTech Summit 2019 in Paris

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Estonia's president defended NATO on Tuesday after French President Emmanuel Macron branded it "brain dead", saying her country felt safe in a military alliance that has been fortifying its eastern flank as a shield against Russia.

"NATO is clearly functional," said Kersti Kaljulaid, whose Baltic state is flanked to the east by Russia and 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 warned 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 key principle of collective defence 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 the summit.

As evidence NATO was still relevant, Kaljulaid cited its increased engagement in the east in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and backing for separatists standing off against Kiev troops in the east of that country.

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 the 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."


(Editing by John Chalmers/Mark Heinrich)