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Raimond Kaljulaid: It is only right for the prime minister to warn against war

Raimond Kaljulaid.
Raimond Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

There is nothing controversial about thinking the Baltic countries could be Russia's next target and it needs to be discussed publicly. Of course, it cannot be just incitement of panic and Estonia needs a plan to counter a Russian attack from the first, MP Raimond Kaljulaid writes.

Kaja Kallas' interview to The Times where the PM said, among other things, that Russia will be able to threaten NATO's Eastern Flank countries in three to five years has created a fair bit of polemic in Estonia.

Influential Reform Party politicians Marko Mihkelson and Urmas Paet then opined that Estonia and the other Baltic countries should avoid painting themselves as potential victims of future Russian aggression.

But the debate goes beyond a single party. Eesti 200's Kalev Stoicescu, chairman of the Riigikogu National Defense Committee, expressed a similar position, while security expert Meelis Oidsalu has suggested Kallas' position is warranted. Who is right?

Naturally, it's Kallas and Oidsalu, while Mihkelson, Paet and Stoicescu are wide of the mark.

Let it be said that Kallas has not said that Russia will definitely attack the Baltic countries in the next three to five years. What the premiere has done is accurately point to our security agencies' assessment that Russia will be able to restore the necessary capabilities sooner than what some allied institutions have suggested.

This means that the West needs to considerably boost its defense spending, develop its military industrial complex and bet on activities that can provide tangible military capacity in the near term. The message is needed, timely and accurate.

As concerns the Baltics, it is clear as day that we are Russia's likeliest target on NATO's Eastern Flank on account of a series of political and military factors. Allow me to point out the most important.

First, the political and military leaders of the Russian Federation do not treat Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as sovereign countries but rather as artificial U.S. vassals in what is Russia's historical territory.

The fact that the Russian Federation has recognized Estonia's independence means nothing at all to its leaders. Soviet Russia also recognized Estonia's sovereignty in the Treaty of Tartu, while the so-called Bases Treaty (Soviet-Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty – ed.) also included relevant references. It was agreed in Yalta that the "liberated" peoples of Europe have the right to determine their own democratic future. Stalin signed it all, knowing full well he was not going to adhere to any of it, nor did he. Unfortunately, we must also keep in mind that Vladimir Putin dislikes Estonia especially.

Second, Russia knows that the Baltic countries have considerable Russian-speaking and Russian communities, which give it a series of advantages. It can point to the need to protect its citizens and compatriots. It is also possible to attempt to mobilize a part of that community to support military action.

There are politicians in the Baltic countries who can be used to justify aggression domestically and internationally both before and during war.

We probably have a pretty good idea in terms of which Estonian politicians would be willing to corroborate claims that the Baltics have consistently been discriminating against their Russian minorities and created a situation where Russia simply has no other option to protect its citizens and the Russian-speaking diaspora. Or to amplify the message that the aggression was caused by our irresponsible armament and NATO and U.S. troops being stationed on Russia's border.

It is quite possible people willing to go along with these themes will also be found in Europe and the U.S. Of course, we also have our own radical right-wing populists who seem to care nothing for social cohesion and unity and who consciously undermine the credibility of Estonia's national institutions and make efforts to split society.

The third set of difficulties in defending the Baltics is geographic.

Fourthly, Baltic national defense is not as united and strong as it could be. While Estonia and Finland have contributed what they can to national defense, this cannot be said about all the Baltic countries. Russia knows this.

Fifth, the defense of the Baltic countries largely depends on NATO unity and readiness, and while impressive efforts have been made to ramp up the latter in recent years, this has not been enough. We also understand the risks presidential elections in the U.S. this year pose.

Therefore, there is nothing controversial about thinking the Baltic countries could be Russia's next target and it needs to be discussed publicly. Of course, it cannot be just incitement of panic and Estonia needs a plan to counter a Russian attack from the first. The government has that plan and it is being executed.

We also need to prepare our society so people would know to consider the risk as well as make major expenses using taxpayer money. There is no other option.

The prime minister has not said anything irresponsible or wrong in this case, and the criticism is unfounded.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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