MR RORAFF: Thank you for your patience. It’s been a busy but wonderful morning welcoming Secretary Blinken to Tallinn.
Just a couple quick remarks of introduction and thanks, and then we’ll open it up for questions after some comments by the Secretary. I just wanted to start by saying: Secretary Blinken, thank you for making this trilateral visit. We know that you and your team, this is the last in a long trip – six or seven countries, we’ll call it seven so far with your foray into Ukraine with the foreign minister. That was great. So thank you for coming and reassuring our Estonian allies.
I think you know, and the foreign minister gave you an article, that this is the first bilateral trip of a Secretary of State to Estonia since 1991. Do read that article; it is interesting. That trip took place in September 1991, a month after the coup attempt when hardliners tried to overthrow Gorbachev in Moscow. The message that Secretary Baker heard at that time from Estonia, from the Baltics, was: The hardliners will come back, please help us; they’re going to come back and try to snuff out our independence. So 30 years later, the region still faces a Russian threat.
Today, everybody in front of you is working hard with our Estonian partners to support Ukraine. The brutal attack on Ukraine hits very close to a lot of us here. We are working on security assistance. We’re working on isolating Russia in traditional organizations. We all have our heart in it, and we’re going to do our utmost to support Ukraine.
Finally, I’m just so proud to introduce you to the staff of Embassy Tallinn. This is the best staff I have worked with in my 20 years in the State Department. We’ve gone through COVID together, but we haven’t lost a step. We have a number of policy victories we can point to, and we’ve also kept our people safe.
I would wrap it up just by saying we have not had an ambassador since 2018. There is not one American in this room who has worked at this embassy who has worked under an ambassador. This is a great tribute to our Estonian staff. The fact that we are such a strong embassy, that we have not missed a beat, that we keep advancing policy forward is because of our Estonian colleagues, and we are forever grateful for them.
So with that, we welcome you to Estonia, and please, let me introduce you to the staff of Embassy Tallinn.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Well, good afternoon, everyone. It is wonderful to see each and every one of you here today. And let me say to the chargé, there’s another reason why this mission is performing so well, and that’s your leadership here. I’m grateful for it, the partnership is grateful for it, and it’s, I think, important to be here at this particular time.
I was struck – I hadn’t realized that the last time a Secretary of State was here on a bilateral basis was Secretary Baker in 1991. There’s something to me that’s very poignant about that, because I have tremendous reverence for Secretary Baker, someone I admire a great deal. And the historic resonance, given what’s happening today, could not be more powerful. So if even there’s any small way in which I can be following in his footsteps, with the extraordinary leadership he showed at that pivot point in history, that will be a good thing.
You know this because you’re living it every day – you’re living it with our Estonian friends, partners, allies, for the locally employed staff who are Estonian – you feel this. You know what is at stake with this Russian aggression against Ukraine.
We’re seeing the stakes on a very personal and individual level with the suffering of the Ukrainian people, the destruction that we’re seeing in Ukraine, the now more than 1.7 million people who had to flee the country for their safety, the hundreds of thousands more who are internally displaced, people living in besieged cities where they don’t have access to food and water, to medicine – nothing can come in, and they can’t get out safely.
So I know that you know and you feel the personal stakes and the lives that have been lost, the lives that have been changed.
I think friends here in Estonia and you also know why this is also about even more than Ukraine, and why it matters to the United States, why it matters to countries in Europe, why it matters to countries around the world. And that’s because some of the foundational principles of the order that we tried to help establish over many years to keep peace and security, however imperfectly, that those principles are being challenged, that order is being challenged. And if we allow that to stand with impunity, then we open a Pandora’s Box where this will not be the last conflict that we see – it will be the first of more to come. So we have a profound interest in doing everything we can to end Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, and it’s an interest that is felt very profoundly here.
The President asked me to come here now to Estonia, but also to Lithuania and to Latvia, our Baltic partners and allies, to make one thing absolutely clear, and that’s his absolute commitment and absolute commitment of the United States to making good on our commitments to our NATO Allies and partners, to making sure that we’re prepared, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory if it comes under attack. And it’s important that our friends in Estonia know that, know that they can count on that, because I know how concerned people are, how nervous they are about the implications for them of what’s happening in Ukraine.
But the bottom line is this: Every country should have its sovereignty respected. Every country deserves to be able to make its own choices about its future, policies, with whom it will associate. And that’s what’s at stake when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
I really appreciate the fact that even as you’ve been grappling with this, even as you’ve been grappling with COVID – which I want to come back to – you’ve done remarkable work to continue to build, to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Estonia. There are a couple of people that I just want to single out very quickly for the great work that they’ve done and they’ve led. I don’t know if they’re actually here in the room today, but is Megan Naylor here anywhere? Yep, Megan.
Thank you for five months of intensive diplomacy on something that people don’t fully necessarily grasp but that is of huge importance, and that’s the global minimum tax, and working with our Estonian partners to secure their support for that. That’s going to have a powerful effect going forward in making sure we don’t have a race to the bottom around the world in search of low tax rates – giving countries a real resource base to actually provide for their people. It’s one of the most important achievements I think we’ve had over the last year, and I thank you for your part in making it real. Thank you. (Applause.)
I know we have colleagues here from the Secret Service, from the FBI, who’ve done such incredible work with our Estonian partners on cyber security. Again, one of the great challenges that we face – we have in Estonia one of the strongest partners anywhere in the world because of their remarkable facility with all things cyber, and I’m really grateful to our colleagues from the Secret Service, the FBI, for the great work they’ve done in working with our Estonian partners.
We’ve seen in this crisis new levels of collaboration and coordination. To folks who are here with the defense attaché’s office, the Office of Defense Cooperation, what you’ve done working with the Estonians to facilitate the transfer of Javelins and other defense equipment to our Ukrainian friends has made a huge difference. And we’re grateful for that.
And then to colleagues who are here from the consular section, going the extra mile, including working to support American citizens in Russia after the close of our consular section in Moscow.
All of these things are making a huge difference and they’re making a big difference in people’s lives.
As the chargé said, I know that here, as in embassies around the world, you’ve had to do your work over the last two years and deal with COVID at the same time. That’s had a big impact on the professional part of your lives, and I know for many it’s had an impact on the personal part of your lives. Some getting sick, some losing loved ones, but through all of this you kept going with tremendous resilience, with tremendous camaraderie, looking out for each other. And I especially want to thank the management and MED units here for keeping the embassy safe and getting us through COVID.
Finally, I want to mention a couple of people by name. And, again, I’m not sure if they’re here with us today but let me just say the locally employed staff here, as in every embassy, are the lifeblood of this mission, of this institution. We can’t do what we do without you, without that partnership. I’m so grateful for it, and I want to mention Taimi Veedla. Is Taimi here? Not here. Well, LE Staff of the Year, and so I just wanted to recognize that.
And let me just mention a couple of other people as well. Craig Shaffer, Tina Mills, Tõnu Jää – are any of you here today? Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you’ve done to keep people connected, for the exceptional IT services that you’ve helped provide. I know there was a telephone upgrade for the entire mission. Having had some telephone issues of my own back home, I know how challenging that is. Thanks for getting that done.
And then finally to the community liaison officer Melissa Padgett – Melissa, are you here? Melissa, thank you most of all for everything you’ve done to just keep people’s spirits high. That makes all the difference in the world, especially in a challenging time, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the challenge we’re dealing now with Ukraine. I understand, and I’m actually extremely jealous that I’m not around to benefit from that, so I may have to come back – sauna trips to Estonian bogs – that sounds very good – cross country skiing, obviously great. I’m not quite sure what to make of this – a ghost tour of old Tallinn. That sounds like something I’d want to try to do, sounds like ghost stories in the old city. Great. All right, I’m coming back for that.
Finally, let me end with this. As you all know better than anyone, we are in a particularly special year in this relationship, about to celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations. And I know you’ve got 100 days to 100 years, with events planned to lead up to that. That, in and of itself, is a remarkable story. It’s a story of many ups and downs in history, particularly for Estonia, but also something incredibly constant, and that is the relationship itself and our commitment to stick with our Ukrainian partners through thick and thin. And it’s no more vital than it is today, so I’m grateful for that.
Now, finally, there is someone who has served here for 30 years, since we reestablished this mission. Evelyn Laasner, are you here? (Applause.) The very first employee when the embassy reopened, right there. Thank you. I was seeing applause over there. Thank you. Very first employee when the embassy reopened. You’ve seen Estonia go from Soviet occupation to this incredibly flourishing democracy. I understand that you’re retiring this year. I didn’t want to let this day go by without saying thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.).
And finally, whether you are locally employed staff, whether you’re a Foreign Service officer, a civil servant, whether you’re a family member, because family members too are our frontline diplomats, and we know how much you do to build this relationship, how much you do representing your country, whether you’re from any of the other agencies that we’re privileged to work with, from the Defense Department, DHS, DOJ, AID – thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing. It makes a difference that many of our fellow citizens back home don’t necessarily see, but in ways big and small they’re actually going to feel in their lives. I’m grateful to you.
And finally, to all of you who worked on putting this trip together on pretty short notice, I know how much goes into that, and all I can say is have a great wheels-up party. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.)
 Due to the Russian government’s forced reduction of our consular workforce and the resulting staffing shortage, American Citizen Services are available only on an emergency basis in Moscow, but the consular section at Embassy Moscow remains open.