Opinion | Estonia needs to call for NATO air intervention in Ukraine

Ruuben Kaalep.
Ruuben Kaalep. Source: Riigikogu

At the level of all parliamentary parties, the Estonian people have made clear that we stand with resolve behind Ukraine in the war forced upon them by Russia, attempting to destroy her independence, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Ruuben Kaalep writes.

Sincerely, we hope to aspire towards extinguishing all our internal political dispute and to have as our only goal standing as a united front against the Moscow regime.

This is so since we understand the Ukrainian people are holding the front line of European nations, and were it to break, the Baltic countries would be the next logical victim of any Russian invasion – this is dictated already by historical reasons.

NATO, the EU and our western allies have clearly also stated that Russian actions are unacceptable, barbarous and criminal. They have promised to resolutely stand against them, to impose sanctions and give Russia a drastic diplomatic response. This means high expectations.

Despite all the hardships, the brave soldiers of Ukraine are holding a frontline that threatens to break any moment, and behind it being their homes, their land, their freedom.

Ukrainian land forces have faced the challenges surprisingly well. Russia had expected the state and its command structure to collapse on the first day, but that did not happen and the army remains a strong opponent.

A weaker chain is what Russia has attacked especially furiously: The aerial defense forces of Ukraine, thereby getting control over her skies.

As a result, the country of Ukraine has asked the west for help: To support implementation of a no-fly zone in Ukrainian aerial space, providing that any foreign aircraft to violate it would be shot down by NATO forces.

This was supported by various members of Britain's House of Commons, including by the chairman of its defense committee. However, the defense minister's statement came as a cold shower: We cannot implement a no-fly zone if it would mean British pilots fighting against Russian pilots.

 The readiness of the EU to assist Ukraine by sending them fighter planes – which would be piloted by Ukrainians – is certainly a step in the right direction. But for several reasons it is not enough.

First, direct military intervention by NATO is still being avoided, but in its current stage, only this would be a sufficient deterrent in order to force Russia to pull back its troops and start actual negotiations.

Second, the aircraft would be very vulnerable as long as they would be only able to launch from Ukrainian soil and without being able to use bases in NATO countries. This is caused again by fear of a direct intervention, but it is a sign of European weakness.

Yes – if European air forces hurry to help Ukraine keep peace in her airspace, this would mean losses in combat against Russian air force that is right now bombing both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. But if we refuse to do it, we suffer losses as well.

First, we would lose our honor by leaving a free European country alone in its darkest hour.

Second we lose a chance to stop Russian invasion in its onset and would be forced to retreat to another frontline – the border of Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries – and the next steps from the aggressor would be just a matter of time.

Third, all well-meaning words given by European countries to Ukraine would lose their meaning – because right now, military assistance is all that matters. And as we have the capability to provide it, any delay would really mean supporting the aggressor.

The main demand of Russia on Ukraine has up to now been to relinquish joining NATO.

If now, during street battles and civilian losses, NATO would distance itself from Ukraine, this would mean her abandonment. Even if for western European countries this would seem reasonable, front line countries like us cannot agree.

Thus it is extremely important for Estonia to support the implementation of a no-fly zone and therefore providing direct military assistance for Ukraine.

This no-fly zone would mean launching NATO fighters from their bases in Poland and Romania with an objective to destroy Russian aerial superiority in Ukrainian airspace. This would be a great step, yet the NATO allies fear it at the moment.

Of course they have a reason for it – deterrence of Russia. Most European countries still hope to avoid a conflict with Russia. Because nobody really knows what a direct aerial war would lead to – if even to nuclear war.

Is this really a reason to let the Ukrainian soldiers die defending their land without any direct assistance? At the same time, NATO air forces in Polish and Romanian bases have been put to alert, but only to reassure the allied countries – excluding Ukraine. Yes, the article 5 does not touch Ukraine. But we, East European frontline countries should feel that this will not go. We cannot be witness to killing of our friend, protecting only ourselves.

Because that would give birth to a precedent. If the Western countries will be ready to again sit behind a table with Putin – which could very well happen in the next days – this will mean that borders will be drawn above our heads. And we cannot forget that the Russian demands are not limited to Ukraine. The demand to stop any exercises in the Baltic countries and remove allied forces is a direct infringement on our internal affairs. This is exactly as in Ukraine. NATO's Article 5 is what Putin will test next. If Article 4 does not bring any military action with it now, Russia's natural wish will be to test the validity of Article 5.

If military assistance is refused, then the sole silver bullet would be sanctions. And here our hands are tied, due to the weakness of the West in previous decades.

For months, everyone had a chance to prepare for a sudden termination of economic ties. But this was not done – whether from pacifist hope that Russia would actually be peaceful, or from fear before a strengthening force. The sanctions that are on table now seem to be getting no reaction from Russia. Russian economic relations with China will still continue, even if the Western countries agree to stop purchasing gas, to completely isolate Russia and to stop her from using the SWIFT system.

The Baltic countries, standing on the frontline as well, need to speak up. For Estonia, the fall of Ukraine would be not just a tragedy but the removal of last defense before our homeland.

We know in our hearts that the Ukrainian army fights for our freedom as well. Our duty is to demand military assistance for Ukraine from NATO. And the no-fly zone is what Ukraine yearns for.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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