One of the Saturday, May 20th sessions of the 2023 Annual Conference of Ukrainian Journalists of North America Association was with Teri Schultz – Freelance Brussels Correspondent, NPR/DW. The session’s lead Michael Bociurkiw presented Teri Schultz and called her a friend of the Association.
Schultz, who was present virtually from Brussels, has been covering NATO and the EU from that city since 2007. She began her international reporting career in Helsinki, Finland in 1989 and spent much of her time in the Baltic states. She also spent a decade inside the Beltway in Washington DC, including many years covering the State Department and has made no less than six reporting trips to Afghanistan. She is also a classroom instructor with Lie Detectors – a journalists driven NGO countering disinformation.
Bociurkiw’s first question to Schultz was about differences in attitudes in Estonia and Norway that she recently visited.
Schultz: Absolutely, there couldn’t be more difference. The Baltic states are countries inside NATO, inside the European Union that feel that Ukraine is fighting their war. Leaders in a lot of countries say that, but the Baltic feel that with every fiber of their being. That’s why, when Estonia ordered Javelins from the US even before February 24th, when Javelin shipment came in, they didn’t even unpack one of them in Tallin. They sent the entire shipment to Ukraine. They’ve done that with other weapons and Latvia and Lithuania aren’t far behind. Estonia is giving one percent of its GDP as assistance to Ukraine right now. They are the ones that came up with the plan for getting ammunition delivered more quickly. In the EU there are bureaucratic, and psychological holds on that, but they’re definitely working on it. They are ones who feel they are with Ukraine. And Poland, of course as well. And then you get other countries that are further away, where you even hear that too much money is going to Ukraine. “Do we really need to do this?” In Norway in the border town people, I would say, perhaps slowly came to the realization, that there is no doing business with Russia. A lot of income of this little town was based on doing repairs on these Russian fishing ships that would come and dock there and that’s very limited now. The Norwegian government just last week issued a reminder that they are not to do anything to help the ships stay in international waters off their coast any longer than necessary, any longer that they’re allowed to be there in international waters, that they’re not allowed to do anything to help them. 20 companies in Norway are currently under investigation for actually doing more repairs on these Russian ships than are allowed. So, I think that the noose is tightening on Russia. It’s having these loopholes, where they’re doing business illegally, [is where] they still are helping Russia. We can only hope that they really crack down and that economically the Kremlin is brought to realization that it needs to stop the war.
Bociurkiw: Traveling to places like Estonia and into countries right on the border with Russia, is there a palpable sense, that you picked up there, that they could be next in Vladimir Putin’s aspirations to widen this conflict to seize more territory?
Schultz: This is what they fear. And here are Baltics, which were occupied. They can never rid of that feeling in their stomach, that yeah, sure, we are members of NATO, we are members of the EU. Yeah, sure there is Article Five… They still have that fear that Putin will give that order. I felt that before, three weeks ago in Finland where they are now building the fence for the first time. I was on the border with Russia. At the moment all that exists, is a rock, showing where the Finnish side is. And now they decided that not because they necessary think tanks will come, or this barbed wire fence, that they’re building, will stop a tank. But they do worry about this asymmetric hybrid warfare where they are bringing migrants and funnel them across the border. It happened to a small extent up in Lapland. And before it has happened in other places where they just wanted some people riding bikes over the border because you’re not allowed to walk. We of course saw its really disruptive effect in Lithuania a couple of summers ago, and Finland really no longer trusts Russa at all. It doesn’t any longer believe that Russia will not do this also to Finland.
Bociurkiw: And, as we’ve been talking about this at the conference, there are other parts of the Russian arsenal, not only military – bullets and drones and missiles, – but also disinformation, misinformation, manipulation. In Finland, you were telling me, that they have a quite a robust educational program there about teaching kids about how to spot or deal with disinformation. Can you talk a bit about that?
Schultz: In Finland school children as young as eight are taught to question things they read of their own government, which is the squeakiest cleanest that exists, but they are taught to question things to pick up things in the media that don’t look right and to look deeper into them. And this is something that’s part of their everyday education known as among the best in the world if not the top. And interestingly enough when Sputnik tried to establish bureaus in many countries in Europe and they did so in the Baltic states and in the Nordic states, they closed the one in Finland after a year or two because they found they just couldn’t make any headway. I mean they were there to sort of seed this information into the population. And it wasn’t getting anywhere. So, they decided it wasn’t worth their money and they closed that office on their own. For example in Latvia, which also recognized it as a source of disinformation and didn’t allow it to operate. This is something also true in Sweden with a robust system in the whole society to counter all kinds of threats. In Finland, they don’t necessary think as much as in Baltics, that there could be a military attack against them, but they are countering those attacks all the time.
Bociurkiw: If we look at the group picture from the ongoing G7 Summit in Japan, what stood out for me, is you have only two females there: the head of the EU and also Giorgia Meloni from Italy. However, in Scandinavia, some of the Baltic states, Moldova have female leaders. You’re seeing the emergence of those leaders, and I’m wondering, can we expect a different approach from female leaders when it comes to solving the world’s problems? Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s conflict like the one going on in Ukraine? And the reason why I ask this because I was with UNICEF, we always used to say that, you know, when you have female leaders, they have much more community-based approach to solving problems, they have different “eyesight” to put it another way. Do you think we going to see changes because of that?
Schultz: I rather see tough leaders, we don’t see a tougher leader on Russia right now than Kaja Kallas, the Prime Minister of Estonia. She is going right to the point! And Sanna Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland also went from being this Social Democratic leader who said “we will not see even a discussion about NATO in my term” to being the most fervent advocate of her country joining NATO. And she also had this absolute mic-drop moments, when she came out of the EU leaders meeting, where, you know, you come out and you like mumble-mumble… and it was on cutting off gas or something like this. Somebody asked her about cutting gas imports into the EU as an answer to ending the war in Ukraine. Her answer was simple: Putin, get out of Ukraine! And she walked away. And so those two leaders were tougher and more outspoken than anybody else. So, I don’t think we are talking about a softer approach when it comes to Ukraine. I hope not. I haven’t seen any sign of that. When it comes to climate, I’m going to be honest with you: we don’t talk as much about climate change right now, as we probably should. I don’t think any Ukrainian is going to think we shouldn’t be talking about Ukraine. But I’m not sure there’s a big difference. We don’t necessarily expect women to talk about climate, and men to talk about war. You don’t see the big difference now.
This article is written under the Local Journalism Initiative agreement