WASHINGTON — In 1994, Jüri Luik helped lead negotiations with Russia on the withdrawal of troops from Estonia. Since that time, he has served in a variety of positions for the government in Tallinn, including stints as foreign and defense minister and as ambassador to NATO, the U.S. and Russia. His third stint as minister of defense began in 2017, and comes at a time when the Baltic nation is rushing to upgrade its capabilities in the face of Russian aggression. During a trip to Washington for the funeral of Sen. John McCain, Luik spoke exclusively to Defense News about Russian relations, NATO capabilities and defending Estonian airspace.
You were head of delegation during negotiations with Russia in 1994 to remove troops from Estonia. Is that an experience that can help inform the situation today?
Well I think we have to keep in mind that the negotiations in ‘94 took place in very different circumstances. I cannot say that they wanted to withdraw their troops — I mean, there is always a streak of imperialism running through every government of Russia, including the most democratic ones. But in the end we managed to implement this withdrawal. This was done greatly with the help of President [Bill] Clinton, other Western leaders, because at that time, for [Boris] Yeltsin’s government, these [Western] leaders, their views had meaning and they were capable of influencing the Russian government.