EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis will hurt Russian consumers, but Moscow's retaliatory food import ban will have little effect on Estonian food producers, says Taavi Rõivas, the Estonian prime minister.

Taavi Rõivas, the leader of Estonia’s Reform Party, was nominated as prime minister last March, after serving as the conutry’s social affairs minister for two years. At 34, he is the youngest government leader in the EU. He was talking to Euractiv.Cz’s Jan Pavec, during a press meeting in Tallinn, Estonia.

What result are you expecting from the sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia?

There would not have been any sanctions without a belief that sanctions would lead to a de-escalation of the conflict. Their aim is to force Russia not to get involved in Ukrainian business anymore. I hope that Putin does not want [to inflict] such an economic sacrifice on the Russian people. I am persuaded that the biggest sacrifice will be made by ordinary Russian consumers. We can hardly imagine a situation in which Russian shops have no food from the EU, Australia and the United States. It will end in rows of empty shelves, a lack of choice and, probably, higher food prices too. This has already been happening because of the Rouble’s devaluation. Russian consumers will suffer heavily from what the Russian president has done.

Sanctions will have an impact on agriculture in many EU countries. But a lot of them have known since the 90s that doing business with Russia potentially carries very high profits but also tremendous risks. We are not happy that we had to impose sanctions on Russia but we had no choice. All the terms we gave were not met, and Russia offered no explanations.

Is there still a chance for dialogue between the two sides in the conflict?

Dialogue is always a positive thing, but we have to keep in mind that one country is intervening in another country’s affairs. The keys for a solution to the conflict are in the hands of Vladimir Putin.

What are the figures for Estonian exports to Russia? Is Estonia going to ask for financial help to cope with Russia's retaliatory food import ban?

Exports to Russia make up 8.4% of our total export market. Russia is our third biggest export partner. It takes 19% of our agricultural agricultural exports. But half of it is re-exported food, and especially alcohol. So it is less than one tenth overall - and one fifth of our dairy products. It is quite insignificant.

Are you afraid that a similar crisis to the eastern Ukraine could happen in Estonia?

The Estonian situation is totally different. We are a member of NATO, which is the strongest military alliance in the world. I do not see an imminent threat, but I see an ambition for empire.

Do you believe that in such a case, NATO would stand up for Estonia?

If any village on NATO’s border were successfully attacked without a response, it would be the end of NATO. No-one would trust this organization again. I am 100 % sure that NATO takes its commitment to defend all of its allies very seriously.