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Foreign affairs show: Europe has begun to realize situation no longer safe

Gen. Micael Byden, commander of the Swedish Armed Forces.
Gen. Micael Byden, commander of the Swedish Armed Forces. Source: SCANPIX/Reuters

High-ranking defense officials in various European countries are increasingly drawing public attention to the need to boost defense capacity – and idea that politicians have been slow to go along with so far. But everyone could think about how to survive the first few days without electricity of water.

While it seemed that Western aid for Ukraine was faltering late last year, allies in Europe at least seem to be waking up. The EU is close to agreeing on an aid package worth €50 billion, while the U.K., Germany and France have all pledged more equipment for the Ukrainians, ETV foreign affairs program "Välisilm" found.

But this awakening has come with the realization that the general situation isn't nearly as safe as it was two years ago. Especially prominent are heads of armed forces in the Nordics, talking about windows of opportunity. Swedish army chief Gen. Micael Byden said that which estimate of when Russia will be able to restore its military capacity is accurate doesn't even matter.

"It could take three years, it could take less or it could take longer. It doesn't matter all that much, because the thing I want to say and people to understand is that we have a window of opportunity for doing what needs to be done. /.../ I have no other assessment than what I'm hearing from other countries," Byden said.

The army chief's interview from two weeks ago caused a mild panic among young people in Sweden. Adm. Rob Bauer, head of the NATO Military Committee, rushed to Byden's defense last week, saying that the warning might have a positive effect.

"People are surprised and they go out and buy a portable radio and some batteries. It's great. That is part of just what the Swedish authorities are saying. You need water, a radio, flashlight and batteries to survive the first 36 hours. These are simple things, while it all starts with them. You need to realize that not everything can be planned for, not everything will be tip-top in the next 20 years. I'm not saying things will start going wrong tomorrow, but we also need to understand that living in peace should not be taken for granted, and that there are relevant plans in place," Bauer said.

The committee chair said that NATO armies have changed a lot in recent years, while the rest of society must catch up. The message can come from well-known military personnel, state officials and politicians.

In Estonia, too, interviews Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has given to members of the foreign press and the warnings therein have sparked various reactions.

"I believe that mutual conversations with heads of state have led to Germany, France and the U.K. becoming more supportive. I also think that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy's visits have contributed. I believe that behind-the-scenes work of Estonian diplomats have contributed to the realization that Russia is an aggressive state and needs to be stopped. It is also sensible to include in parliamentary debate. But the question remains whether the head of government should pour more fuel on the flames," MEP Riho Terras (Isamaa) said.

"It's a game of balance. On the one hand, we should not contribute to social stress in Central and Eastern European states by periodically saying how something bad is about to happen. On the other, it works to put emotional political pressure on those who still fail to understand the level of threat Europe faces today," MEP Urmas Paet (Reform) remarked.

But how should the message be sent? Gen. Martin Herem, commander of the Estonian Defense Forces, said that warnings should be accompanied by explanation of what is being done to prepare.

"I believe that the most important thing is to be honest and demonstrate what we are doing to manage the risk. There are countries, like South Korea or Israel, where the threat is always just around the corner. I'm not aware of either having trouble attracting investments. Mainly because they take care of their own security," Herem noted.

A good example of said balance came from Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo who said while Finland sees not direct threat from Russia at this time and the Finns can sleep easy at night, all EU and NATO countries must nevertheless be prepared for whichever scenarios.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski

Source: "Välisilm"

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