In theory, March this year should have been a festive occasion of sorts for Estonia. Ten years ago, on 29 March 2004, the flags of seven new member states were hoisted at a ceremony in front of NATO Headquarters in Brussels—the Estonian tricolour among them. Estonia had become a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. A little more than a month later, on 1 May 2004, Estonia also became a member state of the European Union.
A sense of arrival or the end of history was prevalent in Estonian society at the time. At last the Estonian state—a ship on restless seas—had reached a safe haven and cast anchor.
This is, of course, partly true even today. Estonian statehood is probably better protected than it has ever been before—largely thanks to NATO and EU membership. Moreover, Estonia has succeeded in asserting itself as a member of some weight in both organisations during the past decade.
However, today—ten years on—one must admit that the feeling of the end of history, the sense of final security, has turned out to be an illusion. As these lines are being written, Europe is going through what is likely the most serious security crisis since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Russia has entered Ukraine by force, occupied Crimea and organised a “referendum” which will, in all likelihood, lead to the illegal inclusion of the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Federation, i.e. its violent annexation. When this issue of Diplomaatia comes out, Russia will have concentrated a powerful spearhead of armed forces near Ukraine’s eastern border. Moscow has declared that it is prepared to take the “peaceful citizens” of eastern Ukraine “under its protection”. In effect this represents the military occupation of the eastern and central regions of Ukraine as well.
All this amounts to a geopolitical earthquake that is threatening to cast Europe back into a far darker period of history, to an era we had hoped to be lost. The actions of Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin disregard all written and unwritten rules, pursuing “such a principle [which], stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right”.
That characterisation is taken from one of the most famous speeches in recent European history. It is the speech with which King George VI of the United Kingdom addressed his subjects on 3September 1939. Two days prior to that, national socialist Germany had attacked Poland.
Europe today does not stand on the brink of another war. Nevertheless, everything that has come to pass so far has made it impossible to refer to one scenario or another and declare it impossible. It is possible that the coming years will be one of the most complicated periods for Estonian statehood since regaining independence.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.