Estonia 'May Be Next.' It Was Also First (33)

Kristopher Rikken
3/20/2014 9:42 AM
Category: Opinion

The more alarmist headlines say Estonia may be the next target for Russian aggression and land grabs. Sure, we've heard this before, and as a friend half-jokingly says, when you live in this part of the north, you keep a bag packed and a good pair of running shoes at the ready. But I have a question: along with being the next, wasn't Estonia first - just last month?

The current Russian border adjustment didn't technically start with Russia taking possession of Crimea's 26,000 square kilometres. It started with the Russian Federation successfully sealing the deal on its 1944 land grab of 2,600 square kilometres of Estonian soil. If this de jure enlargement didn't embolden Russia, it certainly couldn't have deterred it, either.

On August 23, 1944 - the fifth anniversary of its secret pact with Hitler, incidentally - the Soviets annexed those areas just as surely as Crimea was taken now, incorporating half of the Seto region into Russia proper. The following January, it annexed Estonia's western Ingrian region in the northeast.

No one knows exactly why Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet went to Moscow in February of this year and signed away those 2,600 square kilometres of Estonian territory in the form of a new border treaty. There's no statute of limitations on major violations of international law, so that couldn't have been it.

No one knows exactly why Estonia, 70 years later, in the midst of a security crisis, is saying, 'OK, sure, have it your way, Russia.' No one knows why the national conservative party IRL, which you'd expect to oppose legitimizing a Soviet land grab on general principle, is in favor of it. The most specific reason heard was that, "Ultimately we need Russia."

I don't have any illusions that Estonia should expend major effort to get these areas back in real life. Though it will probably break the old Setos' and Ingrians' hearts to hear it, the territory - ancient Finno-Ugric tribal land though it may be - just isn't that pragmatically important.

But to let it go now without an argument must qualify as the one of the most hideously ill-timed olive branches ever proffered.

The message to Russia: if you wait long enough, people will forget. Because you're big and influential, we will let you get away with theft and murder. 

Although we're currently inundated by analogies to Nazi Germany and blitzkriegs, Russia (or Hitler in the mid-1930s) is happy to play the waiting game. 

The waiting logic is built into their actions. They perpetrate an audacious maneuver, wait for the smoke to clear (or outrage on Facebook to die down). The situation hardens and cools (heard anything lately about getting South Ossetia back? Didn't think so), then they move again. Wait long enough and with luck, the very demographics of the territory will have changed in the interim, perhaps vast bedroom communities of Russian workers will materialize. It has been known to happen. At that point, it's time for Russia to start nibbling at the next piece.

Because of the message sent by legitimizing a past land grab, the cancellation of the new Estonian-Russian border treaty should be high among other no-brainer sanctions.

Some criticize the EU for not punishing Russia and lambaste NATO for "pondering" and "assessing" too long. They have a point. It's disspiriting, and part of the reason Ukraine surrendered in Crimea is perceived lack of support.

But it's also worth taking a hard look at the Estonian government. As always, there are areas in which Estonia can lead and set an example. This is one of them.

If Parliament ratifies the new treaty, offering a concession when punitive measures are called for, that strikes me as a worrisome clue as to Estonia's stance in a real conflict.

Will Estonia resist at all? Or will it go gently, like in 1939, or like 2014 in Crimea, with troops ordered to stand down and disarm? Armed conflict is never a popular option, but it's depressing to see politicians mocked or seen as a ilability because they harp too much on national defense issues. Defense, and the motto "never again," is exactly what we need to consider right now, alongside social justice, ethnic integration and peace-building. 

As much as I like E-stonia as a buzzword for online public services, we're not ready to upload the entire nation into a cyberdiaspora just yet. The physical state is still the only guarantee for the survival of Estonia as a nation and culture, and Estonia continues to be the only place in the world that supports the growth of the Estonian language and people in its native environment. That's why I, and a number of others, count postwar resistance fighters among our various heroes, and won't stand for a single inch of the homeland to be given away.

Kristopher Rikken works for ERR News. The views herein are his own.
  

 


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