Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' (Reform) warnings about a possible Russian attack if Western countries do not increase their defense capabilities are entirely appropriate, security expert Meelis Oidsalu told ERR. Only by strengthening themselves can Russian aggression be prevented, he added.
"It surprises me that we periodically come back to this fear in Estonia, too, when there is talk that Russia might attack NATO. NATO, if we recall, was established to keep Russia out of Europe, not only to prevent the emergence of new Nazi states and internal strife in Europe. In other words, NATO's original idea was to deal with the Russian threat, to become stronger, and to do everything to that end, to ensure that once its strength had been built up, Russia would lose its appetite for aggression," Oidsalu said on Vikerraadio's morning show.
Oidsalu also commented on Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' remarks in an interview with The Times, in which she said that Europe needs to strengthen its security in the next three to five years, at which point Russia could once again threaten countries on NATO's Eastern Flank.
Oidsalu also referred to a previous appearance by Kallas in the media during the summer of 2022, ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid. At that time, the Estonian PM said that according to NATO's defense plans, Estonia would be destroyed.
"NATO has been reviewing its plans since Kallas' speech, and we know from the latest news that even Germany is now discussing how to actually implement the deterrence that was agreed for the Baltics a year ago – that if a Russian threat comes, how to move additional NATO troops here quickly. That is being addressed. Also this (Kallas' interview in The Times – ed.), Kallas' statement is really to motivate the Allies, not to scare our own people," Oidsalu stressed.
"And if we are talking about whether it is at all appropriate to discuss this and what the responsibility is for talking about Russia attacking NATO, then again I come back to the fact that NATO was formed because such a threat is real. And if we are talking about the fact that perhaps NATO today is not up to its original task, then that is commendable in every way, and that is what we should be talking about, and we should not be alarmed about it," the security expert said.
Oidsalu also referred to the fact that following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, The New York Times already wrote an article entitled "Is Narva next?"
"This story is ten years old and we don't control this narrative anyway. If people are worried that there is no foreign investment, that American investment funds have not wanted to put money here for a long time, the answer to getting out of this situation is not that we remain silent, or as the chair of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee says, that if we talk about it the enemy will suddenly come at us. The answer is that we talk the hard talk, make the preparations, and then in two or three years' time there will be no threat – that is the only normal and realistic solution to this situation," Oidsalu said.
Oidsalu elaborated further on that same topic during Raadio 2's morning show.
"First of all, no one is saying that there will definitely be a war, no one can say that. But what they are saying is that the threat is increasing, and that if Russia frees up resources, it could launch new offensives. This threat has to be discussed and, most importantly, it has to be followed up with action," Oidsalu said.
"Pressure must be applied, because we have used this tactic of silence before, when Kaja Kallas told the truth about these NATO plans for how we would be defended. Where has this got us? Nowhere, it only increased the stagnation within NATO. This is not what is needed!"
Oidsalu also recalled that while the West could essentially strangle Russia with its overwhelmingly superior economic resources, it has not done so because it has not decided to do so. "This is what Kallas is pointing out and she should be thanked for it. The difficult issues need to be discussed. Kallas also shocked us the year before last when she said that NATO had no deterrence plans in case of an attack on the Baltic states, and a lot of good came from that," Oidsalu said.
In response to a question on whether current relations between the West and Russia will inevitably lead to military conflict, Oidsalu referred to the experience of the First World War, when there was a feeling that war was inevitable.
"Today, this sense of inevitability does not exist, and once again – returning to Kaja Kallas' warnings – the purpose of her actions now, when talking about these difficult things, is to create such an additional amount of preparedness that this inevitability disappears. War is most inevitable when Russia perceives weakness. When it recovers itself, then it will attack. No one can provoke Russia, history has proven that," Oidsalu stressed.
"And that is what Kaja Kallas is trying to do, to remind NATO Allies that war is not inevitable if we are prepared for it. That is the point," Oidsalu said. "The likelihood that Russia will do something is higher if we don't talk about the problem, if we don't prepare and if the Russians themselves don't believe that we are prepared to prevent any mess they want to make."
Scenario of a possible Russian attack
Oidsalu also talked about what a potential Russian attack on Estonia could look like.
"The question is, what they want to achieve. One scenario is that they put a hundred missiles on the way, then let Europe and NATO argue themselves into a stalemate before making some kind of political demands. Military operations do not always mean conventional invasions and harassment. Testing can be done in a different way," Oidsalu told Raadio 2.
"But even if there should be a war on Estonian soil – in the last thousand years, there has probably been a century when there has not been a major war here, history shows that unfortunately it may come – even then, nothing will happen. The Estonian state will remain intact, the Estonian state was born in the War of Independence, our troops have been under St. Petersburg and Riga, so let us not be so afraid of these things!" Oidsalu said.
Herem boosted self-confidence of Estonian Defense Forces
The security expert also paid tribute to the current head of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), Gen. Martin Herem, who, on Tuesday, announced his plans to step down from the role.
"He has put his own stamp on Estonia's military defense. If we talk about his merits, he also made the army believe that Estonia's defense does not depend only on the allies," Oidsalu said.
He referred, for example, to Herem's view that there should also be close cooperation among the Baltic states and, if Latvia were attacked, for example, Estonia should go to their aid. According to Oidsalu, Herem has brought a lot of changes in defense thinking, as well as an increase in funding. "He has brought us down to earth when it comes to defense, before things were too much in the air," the expert said.
"He has had a huge impact regionally and also in NATO. NATO was becoming something like a beer club, where people got together, talked and brainstormed – NATO was more of a think-tank, but now it is becoming a place of action again," Oidsalu added.
Editor: Michael Cole