Marina Kaljurand is Estonia’s minister of foreign affairs.
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.
Russia routinely holds military exercises, often unannounced or with little notice, simulating an attack on the Baltic states or our Nordic neighbors, often practicing to cut off the Baltics from the rest of NATO or otherwise challenge the Article 5 collective defense principle of the alliance. Russia will hold more than 2,000 military exercises this summer; the scale of these exercises, sometimes involving more than 100,000 troops, dwarfs those of NATO .
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.
Estonia is grateful for the renewed commitment of U.S. resources to regional defense and enhanced readiness. Estonia spends 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense — one of the few NATO allies to meet its defense spending commitments — but we are a small country, and we know how critical the support of NATO will be.
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 denial capabilities and cut the Baltics off from the rest of NATO. This may require unconventional thinking on new responses to hybrid threats.
Post-Brexit, NATO should be revitalized as the common commitment between the United States, Canada, Britain and Europe to transatlantic security. Russia has been clear that it views transatlantic unity and a world order based on the values of representative liberal democracy as a threat to its national interests. It deploys money, promises, threats and pressure to find converts to its cause and to disrupt our decision-making. The parade that we have seen of former and current European leaders to Moscow calling for rapprochement — and tacitly agreeing to the dismantling of Europe — has been disheartening for those of us who understand that a unified Europe with a strong American partnership is the only reason we have a choice at all about where our futures should be.
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.
We will welcome the new NATO battalion to Estonia. We also hope there will be U.S. regular and Special Operations forces beside them — and beside us. But Russia has rebuilt a war mentality in its armed forces and in its people. It is clear that the Russians will continue their aggressive behavior until they achieve their goal of breaking the Western alliance — and we must be similarly prepared for a long-term, steadfast defense of our independence and our values.