Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist and a prominent cautionary voice on Putin's Russia, spoke to ERR News earlier this month.
We're currently in this fortnight where Estonia tends to sleep with one eye open, between the anniversary of the Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn and May 9 Victory Day. Now NATO countries have committed additional fighter planes and, for the first time, airborne troops have been deployed in Estonia. How do you assess that? Obviously it's a symbolic move, but …
It's more than just symbolic. It creates a tripwire and the most important thing we need to do is make clear to the Russians that the Baltic states are not some "NATO-lite," that NATO really is committed to defending them. This is a process which has improved a lot since 2008, we have contingency plans, we've had numerous exercises, but particularly Steadfast Jazz, we've got beefed-up air policing.
Realistically it would be unwise for the Baltic states to ever completely rely on military defense of the Baltic area itself, because short of covering the entire country in concrete and living in fallout shelters on the side, it would be difficult to make it militarily defensible in a purely regional sense; the real point is to make the Russians think that, "if we mess with the Baltics, we mess with all of NATO. We're vulnerable everywhere - in Vladivostok, in Murmansk, in Novorossiysk." We need to make it absolutely clear that the the Baltics are part of a wide security alliance which stands behind them and together with them, and that's as important as the military side.
What would you say to opponents on the left, there are certainly many who would say that the deployment of troops is in fact setting off Russia's tripwire instead of serving as a tripwire for Russia?
You can make that argument but I think that's wrong. We've seen what happens when we don't have any kind of serious forces in the Baltics. We had Zapad-09, which was a military exercise designed to intimidate the Baltics, rehearsing their occupation and invasion and culminating with a nuclear strike on Warsaw. We've tried to keep our profile low, and it didn't work - we've ended up with what we've got in Ukraine. So it's a noble, pacifist, idealistic, wrong-headed approach that has been tested on Russia and found completely unsatisfactory. I don't think that the Baltics should have to pay the price for a sentimental, idealistic approach of always and in all circumstances preferring dialogue over confrontation. Sometimes if you want dialogue you have to have confrontation first.
A fellow journalist recently credited you for looking forward when you could have used this entire spring to say "I told you so." But there still seems to be a need to tell people what must be done now. What is the main thing the West must now do?
We need to understand that Russia is prepared to do three things that we're not prepared to do yet. First, to accept economic pain on itself as the price of what is perceived as national security interests; secondly, it's prepared to use force; and thirdly it's prepared to lie, put a lot of big money into propaganda. And we need to counter those, and accept there's no cheap way of containing Russia. We've left this very late and if we leave it any later, it will be even more costly and painful.
We have to accept that we've made mistakes in the past decade, which mean that economic disengagement from Russia and in particular from Russian energy is going to be difficult but we have to do it. Second, we have to make it clear that we are willing to use force, NATO is ultimately a military alliance and if attacked we will defend ourselves. Third, we need to counter the information warfare we are getting from Russia.
At the end of the Cold War, we made two big mistakes. We thought that free speech would take care of itself and that money was neutral. Both of those are wrong. We need to get back into information warfare big-time, both on offense and defense. And we need to clean up our systems so that the Russians won't exploit it by using corruption. And of course we need to spend more on defense, Estonia is exemplary in this, other countries less so, but until we beef up our defense forces and spend proper money on it, we won't be able to deter Russia militarily.
What's your opinion on Latvia and Lithuania's suspensions of Russian Federation-based Russian-language media?
I can see why they do it. I think I would rather compete than ban, on the whole. What we really need is excellent Russian language programming which takes a pro-European point of view, which is consistent with the Russian tradition of human rights and respect for human dignity. I would want to go down that road, but I can completely understand the Latvians and Lithuanians took the step they did.