NATO presence in the Baltics must be permanent, a goal that is already being worked toward. Much will depend, however, on how Russia's attack on Ukraine ends, Permanent Representative of Estonia to NATO Jüri Luik said in an interview with ERR.
ERR: In the case of Russia's previous wars, we've seen that Western countries have reacted and been shocked, but they seem to have somehow gotten used to it; this has become normal and been forgotten, in a way. Is there reason to fear that this could happen again as the years go by?
Jüri Luik: Right now, Russia's steps have been so massive, and its warfare so absolute. These images are so very reminiscent of the events and battles of World War II that attitudes toward Russia and the understanding of how Europe's security system must be defended have drastically changed. This is long-term, and I don't see things going back to normal.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called this the new normal, and that is of course true. Right now, measures need to be developed that will ensure in the long term that NATO's European allies are protected and that democratic Europe's security system is likewise protected. This is currently being worked on in NATO in the short term, and the rapid arrival of NATO forces in Eastern Europe is a very good sign — like the additional British military contingents that recently arrived in Tapa.
Another matter is the so-called long-term process, in which ongoing principles are being developed regarding how to deploy NATO troops in Eastern Europe. These decisions are expected to be made [at the June NATO summit] in Madrid. But both are important. Both rapid short-term action and, as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Gen. Tod D. Wolters has said, he currently has enough troops both in Eastern Europe and in the European theater in general to ensure the security of NATO states and NATO's territorial integrity.
On the other hand, a great deal of thought is currently going into developing that long-term solution.
ERR: In terms of a long-term solution, should we be talking about so-called NATO bases in the Baltic countries?
Luik: I believe we should be talking about them. It has been our long-standing position that NATO presence in the Baltics must be permanent, clear and unequivocal, and we are working toward this as well.
But we have to take into account here that we are in a hot ongoing crisis, and a great deal will also depend on how forces will be positioned following this crisis. For example, whether Russia will position a nuclear weapon in Belarus or Kaliningrad, whether Ukraine will achieve some sort of victory over Russia and manage to drive Russian forces out, or whether it will be conquered in full or in part.
All of this will affect the positioning of troops, as this is of such political importance, but all of this must also be militarily justified and well thought out.
ERR: How does it feel seeing shots at NATO Headquarters of residential areas [in Ukraine] being bombed with cluster bombs, knowing that NATO actually has the capability to stop this, but cannot use it?
Luik: These are tragic and dramatic photos, naturally. And I think that these photos are being looked at at NATO Headquarters exactly as they are at EU headquarters or in our capitals. This is a very tragic situation, and NATO states are doing a great deal to ensure that the Ukrainians have a realistic chance to fight back.
The stream of weapons currently en route to Ukraine from various NATO allies as well as many other countries that aren't NATO allies is still considerable. And the major sea change that has occurred in countries like Germany, Sweden or Finland — decisions to give the Ukrainians weapons for direct combat — for many countries this is still a very dramatic change. In our case it isn't surprising, but in the case of many countries it has been a pleasant surprise that they have changed their positions thus.
There has been a lot of talk about a no-fly zone, but the thing with that is that this is a direct military operation. The logic behind this operation is that every Russian plane to fly would be shot down by NATO jets, and it's clear that this would entail a potentially massive war between NATO and Russia. And NATO states are not prepared for this. So we're doing everything we can, but indeed, NATO is not going to war in Ukraine.
ERR: Should a political decision be made, how quickly would it be possible to accept Finland and Sweden into NATO?
Luik: Generally speaking, there is a fairly lengthy and comprehensive procedure involved in joining NATO, but the current political reality is such that I am absolutely certain that if Finland and Sweden were to submit applications right now, then they would be reviewed very quickly. I couldn't give you an exact deadline, but certainly very quickly.
A special cooperation agreement meant for times of crisis has actually already been activated between NATO, Finland and Sweden. The Finns and Swedes are already participating in meetings about Ukraine.
In terms of the Ukraine crisis, Finland and Sweden are actually totally in a special status right now due precisely to this protocol, which was meant for times of war and crisis — intensified cooperation — and has been activated now.
Editor: Aili Vahtla