By Tom Squitieri
Red Snow News
TALLINN, Estonia — There is no mystery to Estonians as to what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan is to win in Ukraine nor what he plans to do next, in the Baltics, as he waits out a battle of attrition that they say is in his favor.
They know because, among other things, their grandparents told them.
“Seeing those, those butchers, deportations of kids, mass graves, executions, all these things, you know, these, until recently, these were stories from our grandparents, and now they are being relived, again,” Kristjan Mäe, head of the Estonian Ministry of Defense’s NATO and EU department, said.
“Except this time, these are televised on social media and so forth. So in that sense, it’s just not an assumption. It’s me as an Estonian citizen, really wanting Ukraine to win this war, knowing the cost if Ukraine will not win this war,” he said.
Mäe said if Russia is not defeated — not just stopped — in Ukraine, it is only a matter of time before Putin strikes the Baltic nations and elsewhere. Estonia borders Russia.
His superiors agree.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told the Munich Security Conference that no Russian crime against Ukraine and its people must go unpunished, and no Russian leader be immune from responsibility. “So that history does not repeat itself, we need to prosecute the crime of aggression,” she said.
The defense minister, Hanno Pevkur, said Russia will be in for a surprise if it continues its efforts and that “It’s not too late and it is never too late” to send more weapons and support to Ukraine.
“Don’t play with us,” Pevkur said during a news conference here with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “When there’s a hope, and when there’s a last man standing, there is, there is a chance to win this war. As long as we international allies, international partners of Ukraine, can deliver them what they need.”
For his part, Austin provided reassurance in words to match U.S weapons and personnel flow to Estonia.
Responding to an Estonian reporter, Austin recounted his pre-invasion pledge to Pevkur: “I told him that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would deploy forces to Estonia the next day. And we did. We were the first to be here. And we meant every word we said, and we’ll live up to our commitments going forward,” Austin said.
Yet Mäe and other Estonian officials fret that no one beyond those in the Baltics and possibly Poland grasp how Putin really is and how he operates.
“Putin does not recognize the border of the Baltic States as an internationally recognized border,” Mäe said. “He calls that the contact line.”
“Our concern is that Russia feels very comfortable with the war of attrition. They can outlast the relative cost for them,” he said during a 45-minute interview. “I don’t think we are currently winning this war.”
Mäe projected that the upcoming fighting “will be intense, bloody, but they might still not lead to the strategic breakthrough, that perhaps we would like to see.
“But that attrition war will not end in three months time, six months time. So it’s a battle of narratives, but it’s a battle of strategies as well. Today, we are not changing the calculation, the tank brigades, additional air defense systems and missiles are not changing the calculation,” he said.
“Fundamentally, Russia has won this war, because they have moved closer to their strategic objectives. And their objective is to undermine the international order.”
The Estonians, like Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, are among the fiercest advocates for more assistance to Ukraine and are among the loudest in warning about Putin’s greater intentions and how he chooses to conduct warfare.
Estonia was taken over by the Nazis in World War Two and subjected to a brutal occupation. Some of the government officials who were slain have their names on a plaque at the entrance to Stenbock House, where Austin had a meeting with Kallas.
Soviet troops drove out the Nazis only to impose a higher grip of subjugation, forcing Estonia into part of the U.S.S.R. Thousands of Estonians were slain, tortured, deported, disappeared, and imprisoned during the Soviet rule.
Both occupations explain why Estonians have been unceasing in their forceful admonitions that more and more is needed to help Ukraine now — or else.
Mäe and other Estonian officials point to the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed after Putin illegally annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014 as a reminder. In subsequent years, Putin enhanced pro-Russia separatist operatives in several eastern Ukrainian cities and in parts of Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, and Estonia— showing how he is fine with using stagnation in conflicts as steps toward his larger goals, they say.
“That’s that’s the concern, we, we’re making it easier for him, if we send these messages, he doesn’t have the necessary kind of pressure within the system,” Mäe said.
Mäe noted that economic sanctions have not put much pressure on Putin. “So we need to ratchet it up,” he said. “So kind of simplistically speaking, we need some sort of an economic spring offensive as well.”
Estonia is spending 1.1 percent of its GDP, the most among all nations, in support of Ukraine. It has also welcomed roughly 60,000 refugees.
“We have never done it in our, in our past, or in the 30 years. And it’s not like Ukrainians have been tremendously close to Estonians,” Mäe said. Instead, it is “because the majority of Estonians understand the importance of this war, and the outcome of this war.”
He notes that others in the world — especially China as it hungrily eyes Taiwan — are watching to see if NATO and the west convincing deals with Putin.
“We are punishing Russia. But it’s not changing course,” Mäe said. “We can change the course.”