When NATO leaders meet in Warsaw on Friday, little will have changed since the 2014 summit in Wales to offer the hope of better relations with Russia. There is no sign that Russia will honor its international obligations or acknowledge its military role in Ukraine; in fact, the opposite is true. NATO must meet this challenge with resolve, strength and presence.
The question of how to respond to increasing Russian aggression remains Estonia’s top priority. The facts are stark: We have seen violations of our airspace and irregular flights and mysterious submarines in the Baltic Sea. The Russian navy and air force engage in confrontations with NATO forces patrolling the sea, thereby normalizing a mentality of war for their pilots and sailors — and for the Russian public, which consumes these facsimiles of war through state media.
Before NATO confirmed the deployment of four new international battalions (up to 4,000 troops) to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Russia announced that it will send three new divisions (30,000 men) to its western and southern borders.
With all due respect to those who claim that NATO is “warmongering” or “provoking Russia” with our exercises, this is the reality: NATO drills prepare for the defense of our territory, our allies and our people in case of attack. Russia’s drills are offensive, simulating the invasion of its neighbors, the destruction and seizure of critical military and economic infrastructure, and targeted nuclear strikes on NATO allies and partners.
We hope that the new NATO battalions will be backed by predeployed equipment that will ensure a rapid response to any Russian challenge to Estonia or the other Baltic states. We also hope that the arrival of the new battalions will be accompanied by discussions about how to disrupt and respond to any Russian attempt to activate its anti-access/area denialcapabilities and cut the Baltics off from the rest of NATO. This may require unconventional thinking on new responses to hybrid threats.
When Estonia fought for European Union and NATO membership, we knew we were choosing to be the permanent front line between forces of history. Estonia will remain open to productive dialogue with Russia, but we do not have any further obligation to indulge Russian insecurities when its actions have shown that doing so encourages only the worst behavior.