The new Minister of Defence of Estonia, Sven Mikser, is the author of the opening article in the April number of Diplomaatia. He analyses the impact of Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine on European security. Mikser states that things which seem new have sometimes just been forgotten, indicating that Moscow’s imperial ambitions and the desire to control its nearest neighbours are not a novelty in itself. However, Mikser reveals a new trend that causes concern—the fact that Russian politicians and analysts supporting the Kremlin are increasingly and openly discussing that Moscow need not find any pretexts or create such with the help of provocateurs before planning aggressions against neighbouring countries in the future.
When the April issue of Diplomaatia went to press, the situation in eastern Ukraine had grown increasingly tense. Russian special operations forces who had infiltrated the country (and who for some reason are still called “pro-Russian separatists” by many Western media channels) occupied government institutions, settlements, and city centers. Ukraine’s armed forces and internal ministry troops had received orders to restore lawful state authority in the eastern part of the country. The first small and sporadic firefights took place. Large groups of Russian troops had moved into attack positions just behind the Ukrainian border. Fortunately, a full-scale war had not yet begun (and we hope one will not begin at all).
Many people in the Old World and the US seem to think that Vladimir Putin had been wearing a mask during his previous years in power—a mask that left only the eyes exposed (eyes that are said to have revealed his soul to some people, while others saw only the three capital letters “K, G, B”). It’s as if he has now decided to discard the black mask once and for all. This is, of course, not the case.
The features of Putin’s doctrine and regime have been quite distinguishable to all who have taken the time to look closely at his actions. This is a man who became president of Russia in the wake of the Second Chechen War—a war that some say was intentionally escalated in order to ease Putin’s path to the presidency. He was practically unknown before August 1999, but by December of the same year he was virtually a national hero. Well over a hundred thousand Russian civilians were killed in the two Chechen wars and in combat activity elsewhere in the North Caucasus—most of them likely under Russian fire.
Since the turn of the millennium, Russia has organized aggressive special forces operations to destabilize neighboring countries, while also conducting large-scale exercises to practice attacking and occupying other neighboring states. The attack on Georgia in 2008 and the current aggression against Ukraine represent the grim but natural continuation of this process.
By now, Moscow under Vladimir Putin has clearly shown that it only understands the logic of force, and will not hesitate to use force if others allow it to do so. The West must confront Russia—otherwise, not only Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are in danger, but also the West itself as a whole. The question is no longer about the security of some Eastern European states. The issue is whether the principles of the current world order will survive or perish.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.