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European leaders urge House speaker to release billions in military aid for Ukraine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The leaders of 23 European Parliamentary Assemblies sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson asking him to release the $60 billion the White House has requested to help Ukraine continue its fight against the Russian invaders, saying Russia's increasing success on the battlefield is being supported by and is inspiring other dictators and, quote, "putting us on the brink of new confrontations," unquote. The move was initiated by Lauri Hussar, president of Estonia's parliament. We reached him in Munich, Germany, earlier.

LAURI HUSSAR: We had very long discussions with approximately 30 to 40 Congress members a month ago when the Baltic speakers visited Washington, D.C., and we had also a long discussion with Mr. Johnson, the speaker of the House. Actually, we had been really convinced that the will to help Ukraine is there. So therefore, making the letter, it is really talking about our common values. It is about the necessity to stop the dictators. And, of course, it is about a very tense situation in Ukraine.

MARTIN: Did you walk away from that meeting with any sense of why - if there is a will to help Ukraine, what the holdup is in moving this funding forward?

HUSSAR: Yes. He explained about the domestic politics, of course, but he also explained that he totally understands the necessity to help Ukraine. So therefore I'm still optimistic. And all the speakers of the parliaments are really interacting with each other, are trying to find the solutions to protect our freedom and our values. And I really hope that the U.S. Congress will make this historic decision on helping Ukraine, as the European Union did already the same decision. And also, Estonia is a small country, but we are actually the biggest supporter of Ukraine per capita. Estonia has already contributed to Ukraine 1.4% from our GDP as military aid. And starting from this year, we will give 0.25% from our GDP yearly as a military aid to Ukraine. That means that in 2027, the total sum will be 1.3 billion euros, and for 1.3 million people, it is a lot.

MARTIN: I understand you're saying that you are doing your part and that European countries are doing their part. You have 23 heads of assemblies from 19 countries who cosigned the letter, but there are 27 countries in the EU. So for those who were holdouts, did they give you any reason why they didn't participate in this joint letter?

HUSSAR: Probably there was not enough time to gather all the signatures, but we are all together in this fight against tyranny and aggression, and therefore we must also make together the decisions which actually really are trying to preserve the democracy and freedom in the world because this is not only the Ukrainians' fight for freedom. This is the fight for the free world.

MARTIN: How much of a threat is, in your view, a resurgent Russia, a belligerent Russia, an aggressive Russia for countries like yours which border Russia?

HUSSAR: We've never had the blue glasses. We always said that Russia is a threat, and therefore also we increased our defense budget to 3.2% from the GDP. We are trying to develop our defense capabilities as much as we can. Of course, we work closely with our allies. There are British, U.S., French troops. There are rotating air policing in the Baltics. That means that we are trying to do the utmost to build up such a deterrence that Russia will never dare to attack any NATO country. But still, as we saw what the actions of Vladimir Putin - he is preparing for a longtime war. He has built up the wartime economy. He is preparing for revenge. That means that we must prepare also ourselves.

MARTIN: That is Lauri Hussar, who is president of Estonia's parliament. We were able to reach him in Munich, Germany. Mr. Hussar, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HUSSAR: Thank you, and have a nice day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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