Estonian ambassador to the US: Ukraine aid changing as the war develops

Estonia's Ambassador to the United States, Kristjan Prikk.
Estonia's Ambassador to the United States, Kristjan Prikk. Source: U.S. Helsinki Commission

American assistance to Ukraine is evolving in line with military developments on the ground and with Ukraine's changing needs, Estonia's Ambassador to the United States, Kristjan Prikk, told ERR in an interview which follows.

Prikk, a former defense ministry undersecretary, also commented on Estonia's military defense picture.

When talking about Ukraine and aid from the U.S. granted to Ukraine, has the latter received what they need as things stand currently, or are there other aspects which, from the U.S. perspective, would be important to them?

It is probably correct to state that Ukraine's needs have been changing a little as this conflict has been unfolding. It is certainly not correct to say that Ukraine has everything it needs, and no longer requires anything more as of today.

The war has shifted from what was considered a probable or possible scenario on February 23, or even on February 25, 26, 27.

Ukraine has been, even for some earlier assessors, surprisingly successful in its defensive war.

In order for Russia to lose its war in Ukraine, the latter also needs the means to carry out more than it has done so far, and, as U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed yesterday, the U.S. machinery is constantly working to see what else they can give Ukraine and whether there are resources that the U.S. itself may not have, but which the allies can provide.

Or in some cases, if the U.S. even has some tools, which, because they do not suit very precisely to the situation in Ukraine, could be replaced by those in the hands of other member states.

With regard to the latter I can bring an example, which relates to anti-shipping missiles, where the U.S. anti-shipping missiles are carried mostly either by plane or by vessel.

Since the situation in Ukraine is such that it is namely the coast where its own vessels essentially have no opportunity to operate which needs defending, other allies [than the U.S.] are being sought who also have anti-shipping defense systems installed on their own coastlines.

And just recently now, the Brits have announced that they will be supplying these types of missiles to Ukraine.

Are anti-shipping missiles something which we can now see in the forthcoming conflict? Are the Ukrainians focusing more on defending their coastline?

I don't know. I am aware that Russia had certainly already amassed equipment ahead of this conflict, which could either bomb the coastline from afar or conduct coastal landings, and I also know that the news that Ukraine has gained in capabilities means that to act against these vessels should be a daunting prospect for Russia. 

It will now be their own military-political decision that they would venture to make. I hope, of course, that the message that Ukraine has become more capable will be delivered in such a way that, in reality, there will be no further maritime actions against Ukraine.

If Ukraine is to be on the offensive more and more now, what are the means by which they need to do so, and are the Americans prepared to provide them with those means?

On the one hand, Ukraine itself has stressed air defenses, which are undoubtedly important even if when advancing towards the enemy itself. This means air defenses are still key, but on the other hand, the need to upgrade or improve their own armored units, i.e. tanks, infantry fighting vehicles etc., has also been stressed. 

Add to this, for example, offensive drones, which would allow a longer range of influence to be inflicted on the opponent, and the carious types of artillery, which would again allow the opponent to be threatened from a longer range than the means currently available to Ukraine permit.

Will the U.S. be able to deliver all of this? Almost certainly not. You can't put together everything from the U.S.' own stockpile, or it can also be the case that some American tech is not appropriate.

However, the current trend is towards U.S. thinking to be more about techniques which would require somewhat more training for Ukrainians, but which would also have a greater real military impact. 

Over the first seven weeks of the war, the Ukrainians have shown their mettle, repelled Russia's initial, destructive attacks and created a "breathing space", during which they can really provide this additional training and integrate new or unused technology into their doctrine and training.

How does training function at all in this type of military scenario - it all seems quite complicated?

The precise details would certainly interest me; no doubt I don't know everything, but it is believed to consist of a combination of studying abroad, where the armies of various partner countries have been training Ukrainian soldiers - especially instructors, so that they in turn can go to Ukraine as instructors themselves. 

The other aspect would be in Ukraine itself, where it is expected that training is being provided behind the scenes. 

However, of course, during war-time, this is not an issue that Ukraine or other countries directly involved would be willing or able to talk about in great detail, and I think we can only talk about general principles.

If we can discuss NATO; there has been more and more talk lately that the eastern flank should be strengthened. What are the gaps that need to be strengthened now, on that flank?

The need to strengthen NATO's eastern flank has arisen not only in the wake of the aggression against Ukraine, but we are also really looking backwards a few steps. Essentially, Belarus has been introduced as an additional concentration area for the Russian army, and a zone where the Russian army can carry out any activities that are necessary for the Russian leadership and which are imposed on the Belarusian leadership.

However, of course, in the light of full-scale offensive against Ukraine, the need to strengthen the eastern flank is also clear. It is also clear that, in addition to military capabilities and changes in the military-strategic landscape, it is impossible for us to assume that the Russian leadership will not make any further miscalculations following its aggression against Ukraine .However, the cost of such miscalculations could be catastrophic, especially for a small country on the eastern flank.

For this reason we need to switch out the principle of deterrence, which we have considered sufficient on the eastern wing so far. Perhaps we need to turn [the current] deterrence into a "deterrence by punishment or by denial" approach.

A deterrent whereby the primary force already opposing a potential aggressor is so great and so capable, that even initial military successes cannot be achieved.

We also consider it necessary that we supplement the already existing structure, which has been put together in Estonia, between Estonia and the NATO allies. 

We can see that the steps today have all been right in themselves, and we will not have to change fundamentally the units of the allies based in Estonia today, or Estonia's own defense forces, but we will need to supplement them. 

We will need to upgrade at the expense of capabilities, which are scarce today. 

For example, air defense, that long-range artillery with which we can harm an enemy, will rise both in range and in caliber.

This is primarily on the land side, but we can also see that military attitudes within NATO's air forces and navies need to be improved, so that even initial progress cannot be made [by an opponent] in these areas as well.

How much can we do ourselves and how much help do we need from the allies?

In any case, these solutions are a combination of what Estonia is doing itself and what the allies are doing. We do not envisage that the activities done for Estonia's own defense should change fundamentally.

I will give very extreme or hopefully clear examples that if Estonia has not yet considered it possible and necessary to develop its own destructive air force or bombing air force together with its allies, today we do not see that we will start doing so. Estonia will also not procure submarines or aircraft carriers and train all people for them.

However, the Estonian government has already boosted its defense budget, twice, in the last few months. Within this spend, there are also components relating to military defense which enable the faster development of changes that were previously considered necessary. The government has also opted to increase or improve our military structure, all of which have already been done from the same view that we must complement somewhat the principles of local defense and protection.

We, however, expect the allies to be ready to add to the existing NATO battle group, increase its size, and bring additional capabilities which will bring significant success or superiority in air defense or, for example, long-range artillery. 

When it comes to air security, we can see that the peacetime air security operations (the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission – ed.), which has done a very good job to date, should make the decision to move over to so-called classic air defense operations. 

This need not mean that a civilian would now notice any change somewhere in Jõhvi, or in Tallinn, or in Kilingi-Nõmme, but it does mean that the pilots and their support personnel, the lines of command, the weaponry and some other aspects are different, and this sends a very clear message.

What is the attitude towards the already highly likely accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO here in the U.S.?

The issue of Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO is very interesting in the sense that, on the one hand, there has been a lot of talk about it and, in the opinion of European security enthusiasts, it is a step that will carry with it the greatest strategic impact, at least on the north-eastern flank. On the other hand, there is also great awareness of the sensitivity of the issue in Sweden or in Finland themselves. 

It is certainly perceived that these countries should not even be under the impression that they are being put under pressure by one or another member.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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