November 23, 2016

Potential Russian Threat in the Nordic-Baltic Region

Interview from Kalev Stoicescu to SME.

Interview from Kalev Stoicescu to SME.

Original article: SME (in slovak)

Do you feel any rise of the tensions in Estonia (both political and/or social) after the US elections?
There are definitely no tensions in Estonia as a result of the US presidential elections, even if Hillary Clinton was largely regarded as the preferable winner. Some sensationalist headlines in international media channels suggested that Estonia is in “panic”, which is, of course, far for the real truth. However, as everyone else in the world, we also try to assess the future political agenda of the president-elect, especially in terms of foreign, security and defence policy.
Do you have any evidence that the Russian state is interfering in the Estonian domestical politics?
It is reasonable to say that Russia does not have direct influence on any Estonian political parties that are represented in the parliament, including those which form the government coalition. Nothing comparable to Russia’s relations and influence with regard to e.g. Le Front National, Alternative für Deutschland etc. It is true that the Estonian Centrist Party held close relations with Russia until the ECP was ruled and ideologically directed by its former leader Edgar Savisaar. However, the leadership and the platform of the ECP has changed drastically in the past months, whereas tomorrow a now Estonian government will take office, to be headed by the new ECP leader Mr. Jüri Ratas (the new government coalition includes the ECP, the Social Democratic Party and the Fatherland and Res Publica Union party on equal footing). The new government gave a strong pledge to continue Estonia’s foreign, security and defence policy along the same lines as before.
How imminent is a potential military threat from Russia? Is NATO in reality capable of defending your country after the newly announced deployment of additional forces into the Baltics? Is it enough to deter Russia?
The Russian threat is real. However, it is impossible to either predict an imminent Russian aggression or to exclude such a scenario. This depends on Russia’s intentions (which are clearly oriented towards destabilizing and weakening Western nations and institutions, including NATO and EU), but not less importantly on our own ability to deter Russia. NATO is capable to defend all its allies. The enhanced forward presence of allied forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are a moderate, but hopefully also an efficient deterrence measure. These forces are not intended to be sufficient to withstand a massive Russian attack, because they would be complemented, if necessary, by NATO’s rapid reaction forces, roll-back forces etc.
To what extent have the relations with Moscow changed after the kidnapping and releasing of Mr. Kohver? Are you worried that a similar incident like this could repeat in the future?
The kidnapping of Eston Kohver, an Estonian Security Police officer, from Estonian territory provoked, obviously, a crisis in the Estonian-Russian relations. Finally, this incident was solved, and he is back to his country and his family. However, we got a lesson learned and we are far better prepared to prevent such incidents from happening in the future. Russia got, in its turn, also a lesson that it did not achieve any benefits from such behavior. Quite to the contrary, it only added tensions in Russia’s relations with the West.
Can you comment on the past statements from the member of the transition team of the US president-elect and potential secretary of state Mr. Newt Gingrich about the Estonia being a suburb of St. Petersburg?
For now, it doesn’t seem that Mr. Gingrich will occupy a significant position in the Trump administration, if at all. Nevertheless, we may kindly offer him – as a gift – a more detailed map of Europe (or of St. Petersburg). With regard to other controversial statements by Donald Trump or his associates, it is still premature to judge if those would be followed by real deeds (e.g. Will there be a wall on the entire US-Mexican border? Especially one payed by Mexican taxpayers…)
Do you justify recent comments of Mr. Trump that to the NATO members which don’t spend 2% GDP in military the Article 5 don’t apply? (which is not the case of Estonia)
I think that Donald Trump made, in his way, the right point – i.e. to draw the attention of all NATO allies to the necessity to fulfil their obligation to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence (and there is also the question about the quality of spending, i.e. to invest sufficiently also in modernization of equipment and armaments, as well as in defence research and development). However, Trump gave this message in a largely striking (inadequate) manner, as if suggesting that some allies would not be eventually defended by the Alliance (on “budgetary” considerations).

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