We are at war. Bullets are not flying here, but there are more ways to be involved in a conflict. The war is that of Putinist Russia and it targets the West, including Estonia, former Justice Minister Maris Lauri writes.
The military attack on Ukraine on February 24 brought the realization that there is war again in Europe, while many still fail to realize that Russia is at war not just with Ukraine.
Russia's understanding of how the world and Western societies work is distorted as it is based on several misconceptions. But this does not mean Russia has no chance of being successful, even temporarily or to a limited extent.
One of the foundations of Russia's imperialistic logic is the notion of Russia's greatness but also the idea that all societies and states function along similar lines. This is complemented by the deeply chauvinistic conviction of the chosen and special status of the Russian people and constant belittling of others. This arrogance and shortsightedness is the reason why Russian authorities keep failing, which does not mean they cannot do a lot of harm to those around them first.
Russian authorities and propaganda mouthpieces have expressed their desires repeatedly and with no small measure of clarity. Because they come off as harebrained at first glance, many in the West do not believe them, and there are some who still don't. But Russia takes them seriously.
The aim is to divide Europe, and why not the rest of the world, between Russia and USA, with all "native Russian territories" going to Russia. This stands for every piece of land a Russian soldier has ever set foot on, going back centuries, and includes the right to decide the fates and choices of European states and peoples, the latter going beyond former Russian or Soviet territories.
We know what that would spell for Estonia, our neighbors and many other European nations. We have experienced it in the past and see it happening in territories Russia has seized from Ukraine. The Russian authorities have been clear enough: the liquidation, destruction, deportation, looting and impoverishment of entire countries and peoples. It is a reality that mustn't be ignored.
Russia has always attacked our neck of the woods when we have found ourselves alone, when the rest of Europe has been preoccupied with itself. These wars have been brutal and extremely destructive in which regard Russia has not changed one bit over the centuries.
Estonia needs allies and partners to remain free and rule out war reaching here. That is the reason why Estonia is a member not just of NATO but also the EU and many other international organizations. That is why Estonia must make sure to not just be involved in international politics but also shape it. Mediocrity is just not viable today.
It is easy to go after and break countries one by one, while Russia does not seem to be able to crack those that band together. Which is not to suggest it will give up on trying to erode that unity or attack in other ways.
Russia is fighting with more than conventional weapons. Their arsenal also includes words, energy etc. to render Western societies, including Estonia, scared, uncertain and economically fragile. All of those things can provide Russia with an opportunity, as history has repeatedly shown.
And so, we find ourselves at war, even though bullets aren't flying. The fact that Estonia is a border territory of Western civilization has been confirmed once again. It means that our efforts need to be greater and more clear-sighted, sometimes tougher and stronger. The state needs to assert itself to a greater degree, which is something everyone in Estonia needs to count on.
A society at war has somewhat different rules. Of course, a lot depends on what the war is like. For Estonia and the West, the conflict is largely one for hearts and minds, values, for which purpose cyber and energy warfare is used.
The focus is on energy right now. A Russia-manufactured energy shortage meant to leave Europeans with cold rooms, idle factories, empty hospitals, schools etc. Its aim is to bring people to the streets and force Western governments to fall back, abandon Ukraine and agree to Russia's December ultimatum.
Russia's war for people's minds, thoughts and spirit, its war of values has been waged over a long time, while it has become especially aggressive and revolting in the last six months.
The war is of key importance as the Putinists want to convert people in the West to the Russian cast of mind where only strength that one resigns and subjects to is acknowledged, where independent thought, skepticism and questions are crimes of the highest order and where survival and quality of life depend on bootlicking, treachery and the willingness to commit crimes. Such a world is easy to rule.
The West, including Estonia, has been quite meek in the face of Russia's poisoned words. Even though February 24 changed a lot of things, it has not been enough. Russia's activities have become more brutal and direct on the one hand, while they are more subtle and crafty on the other. We can see their effect in Estonia where even an MP has publicly sided with Russia.
It is very difficult to change one's thought patterns and convictions, admit mistakes and having had the wool pulled over one's eyes, especially if people one has considered friends or loved ones have been involved. But six months is enough time for everyone to decide between Russia and Estonia/West/Ukraine, whereas choosing the former should make people think about whether they really belong here.
We need to understand that wartime rules are different from peacetime. Estonia did not start this war, Russia did. We need to defend ourselves even when there are no bullets flying. It means changing some rules and the state taking a tougher, clearer and more restrictive line in certain matters.
Many will probably find it difficult to accept emotionally, but we need to understand that we're already at war. Luckily, it is not a hot war where bullets fly. As a border state, Estonia cannot afford people here siding with the enemy, even neutrality or staying on the sidelines is inadmissible as it often hides self-interest and preparedness to cooperate with the enemy.
Estonians have become instinctively vary of things from the East. Some harbor a subconscious fear mixed with respect (уважение).
I believe that we have no reason to fear as long as we remain confident. Those loudest and quickest to brandish fists are usually the greatest cowards incapable of independent thought and intrinsic values. They can always be defeated and outplayed as long as one remains wise and confident, patient and consistent. Good friends always help too.
But we also have weaknesses we need to keep in check. Stupidity, selfishness, greed and shortsightedness. Let us banish them as we managed to do in the late 1980s, early 1990s. If we can do that, we will win!
Editor: Marcus Turovski