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Kadri Liik: Putin wants to pressure West into talks, not war in Ukraine

Kadri Liik.
Kadri Liik. Source: ERR

The kind of war with Ukraine promised to us by U.S. was never Russia's plan, foreign policy expert Kadri Liik said on ERR's "Otse Uudistemajast" on Wednesday.

According to Liik, an offensive with a high number of casualties and the occupation of Ukraine does not fit Russia's logic.

At the same time, Liik also doesn't believe that Americans talking about the threat of war have lied to the world either.

"What they saw via satellite did look like that, but the goal [of building up troops on the Ukrainian-Russian border] wasn't to go to war, but rather to jolt the West out of its comfort zone and initiate talks about arms control measures and the future of the Minsk agreements, for example," she said. "Russia wants to talk about these in terms that the West won't necessarily like. This was their goal."

Now, she believes, we will start seeing lengthy and sporadic diplomatic negotiations. Background tensions will be constant, and cyberattacks will be part of this.

Nonetheless, Liik won't rule out the possibility that Russia may conduct some sort of limited military operation, which would further improve the Russian's position in any negotiations.

"These military operations crop up suddenly overnight," she explained. "Most likely with airstrikes; they won't be putting boots on the ground in Ukraine."

West in comfort zone until now

"Of course, the West would like to live in the 1990s world, where security was organized by the Paris Charter," Liik said. "I'm afraid that era is in the past. The provisions of the Paris Charter applied when we were all in agreement. Now it is clear that Russia has not become a democracy. Europe is once again divided, because Russia and the West have entirely different views on security interests."

No one should expect any rapid changes to the security order, however.

"I don't believe that it will be possible to gather around a table and agree on a new order," the foreign policy expert continued. "Things are starting to adapt clumsily, because the world is in motion: China and Russia are sort of moving targets. In security, provisions are slowly starting to be adapted that no longer apply.

"I believe it's true that Putin is a very proud person and it is difficult for him to back down, even when things go obviously wrong," she said. "Like when the Malaysia plane was shot down, the Russians did not acknowledge anything but their own official version. The Ukraine crisis, however, is through and through Putin's creation. Here he adjusts the heat as he sees fit."

Germany a principled ally

According to Liik, the West is flattering itself if it thinks Putin sent troops to the Ukrainian border in order to get European leaders to join him for talks in Moscow.

"I don't think getting a meeting is a goal for him — that isn't an issue for him," she said. "We are flattering ourselves if we think that [he is] willing to do insane things simply for a meeting with us. Putin wanted to change the quality of the conversations, not just get conversations. This using of communication as a reward, which for us is in our blood, does not work at all. Russia has shown that it is capable of coming out of isolation and establishing itself as a player in the world, as it did in Syria."

Liik believes that the West's unity makes no difference to Russia either. "[People] in Estonia mistakenly fear that France and Germany will chicken out and start colluding with Putin," she explained. "In reality, these countries' point of view is significantly more principled than believed in Estonia. For another thing, they don't have anything to offer Russia that the latter would want."

"In 2014, Russia did hope that German business interests would start outplaying politics, but it's the other way around," she confirmed. "Germany took the annexation of Crimea very seriously, and German business interests align in accordance with politics, not the other way around. The English- and Estonian-language media is much too harsh on Germany."

NATO maintaining Estonia's security

Asked by the host whether Putin wants to restore the Soviet Union, Liik responded in the negative.

"The Kremlin's primary goal right now is to force Ukraine to fulfill the Minsk agreements," she explained. "The Russians don't want to restore the Soviet Union; they may want to dominate over their neighboring countries. The Baltic countries aren't part of these plans, although our situation may change significantly once the next Trump-type president comes along that says that NATO is pointless. Right now, for Putin, we are in the U.S.' sphere of influence."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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