The events in Ukraine have sparked a paradigm shift in the world and going back seems highly unlikely, and the security of the Baltic states must be bolstered by the countries themselves as well as allies, the Chief of the Estonian Defense Forces, Major General Riho Terras, said in an interview to ETV on Monday.
Russia’s aggression in Crimea and current events in Ukraine have made people, who did not think Russia could pose a military threat to European countries, see the light, Terras said.
The war in Georgia and even Chechnya were wake-up calls - some countries decided to hit the snooze button but some countries woke up, Terras said, listing moves that have followed like NATO’s defense plan for the Baltic states, and a shift in Sweden’s defense thinking.
According to him, there has been a serious paradigm shift. “It is probably very difficult to reverse these changes. Going back to sleep seems impossible in the current situation. I would be very sorry to be wrong about that,” he said.
However, the news that France will not cancel the sale of the Mistral class landing ships is problematic. According to Terras, France fails to see that it is an issue of military technology, not economy, and he plans to address it with his French counterpart again.
When asked about a permanent US base in Estonia, Terras replied that he would like a permanent presence of all allies, not just the US, while stressing that “our allies will only protect us if we protect ourselves”.
He agreed that the Baltic states are vulnerable due to their geographical location and the ratio of conventional weapons is out of balance in the region, but said that since the war in Georgia, the number of visits of high NATO officials has increased - “I should know because I have to host them all”. The realization that security in the Baltic region must be increased has sunk in now, Terras said.
While the defense spending of Latvia and Lithuania has dwindled over the years, Poland is an important ally and regional player, who has invested extensively in its security by purchasing weaponry and appointing young, educated officers in key positions, Terras said.
Terras disagrees with the idea that the US should turn its gaze away from Asia and back towards Europe. “I think the Americans should turn their gaze towards the Chinese and together they should turn their gaze towards Russia, but we’ll see,” he said.
He also said that even though 65 percent of Finnish officers support joining NATO, Finland should not be pressured into it, because they have been more successful in their security decisions than Estonia. However, since the doctrine of Russian President Vladimir Putin holds that “those who are not with us, are against us”, Finland will have to make a choice and it will probably mean joining the alliance eventually.