Expert on U.S. policy Lauri Almann told journalist Ainar Ruussaar on ERR webcast "Live from the News Building" on Wednesday that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's recent visit to Tallinn was a step forward from general symbolism.
Ruussaar asked Almann whether Pence's two-day visit to Estonia on Sunday and Monday was fist and foremost an encouraging message to member states along NATO's eastern flank or a warning message to Russia.
"This was a combination of both," Almann replied. "Mike Pence's visit was something more, and more concrete." He agreed with Ruussaar, that it was even more significant than President Donald Trump's visit to Warsaw in early July.
"Donald Trump's visit to Warsaw conveyed a message of providing a gneral sense of security," he explained. "Mike Pence's visit to Estonia answered the question of whether they would come to our aid; Mike Pence's visit to Tallinn was a demonstration of the fact that, if needed, the US. will come to our aid."
In Almann's opinion, the U.S. vice president's visit was fairly directly connected to the upcoming joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad, which is scheduled to take place in Western Russia and Belarus in September.
"If we consider with whom Mike Pence met, how he met them, the choreography of the visit — the Vice President of the United States meets with the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces — I believe that this was the strongest message in this category specifically," he remarked.
According to Almann, it isn't exactly typical for the U.S. vice president to meet with the commander of another country's defense forces; he noted that this broke with protocol in a good way, so to speak.
The expert agreed with Ruussaar that Pence's visit sent a very clear message both to Estonia's neighbor to the east as well as to Estonia itself.
"This was a clear message in a specific situation that we are already helping you," he commented. "My argument is that this is a step forward from general symbolism."
According to Almann, Pence's subsequent visit to Georgia, a candidate for NATO membership, this week was also a message to Rusia aimed at demonstrating that Georgia's potential accession to NATO is on the table and that this matter would not just go away.
"Montenegro was a message to Russia as well," he continued. "While in Estonia's case, Russian interference or threats are limited to cyberattacks and more indirect steps, Russia has in fact attempted to lead a coup in Montenegro aimed at paralyzing the country's road to NATO membership."
Trump's communication style sparks uncertainty
According to Almann, Trump having become president in the U.S. has brought with it some positive surprises, but also a great deal of negative as well.
"When we wake up every morning and check Twitter, the U.S. president's communication style sparks global and international uncertainty," he said.
In his opinion, criticsm of Trump and his administration's communication style has been warranted.
"Every question that is asked is reponded to with, 'But Hillary Clinton,'" Almann claimed. "Every question to which it is possible to anwer yes or no, truth or fact — so-called half-truths come at a drip that may prove to be false altogether."
US-Russian relations stand to get even worse
In Almann's opinion, relations between Russia and the U.S. could stand to get even worse, and so the world was not yet in any imminent danger.
"I think that Russians play this game very skillfully," he commented. "The Russians are letting Trump know what it really means to negotiate with Russsia, to ask them for concessions and make concessions to them. This is a classic — 'you make one concession, I take two steps forward.'"
Ruussaar also asked Almann what Russia's response could be to the U.S. delivering defense weapons to Ukraine.
In the political expert's opinion, Russia has already sent this message by expelling 755 U.S. diplomats from the country.
"'When you do something, then we have to react' — this is strength in predictability," he explained. "The question is how far this escalataion will be allowed to continue, and I believe we will find ou in Ukraine this winter."
On the subject of sanctions against Russia, Almann noted that Russia understandably couldn't be compared to North Korea.
"Russia nonetheless isn't conducting nuclear tests aimed at the U.S. or Japan," he said. "All of this needs to be taken in context."
Almann noted that with the recently passed and signed sanctions, however, Congress did leave itself the opportunity to block Trump, should the U.S. president at some point seek to make concessions to Russia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla