An Estonian View on the Crisis with Russia

Almost three weeks ago now, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by the Estonian Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Eerik Marmei was born in Estonia and has since developed an impressive reputation as a diplomat.

Marmei started working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993 as a desk officer for the United States in the Political Department. He then moved to a position as the Director of the Bureau for International Organizations and Security Policy. In 1998, he was assigned to be part of Estonia’s delegation to NATO as well as the Estonian Embassies in Washington and London. In 2008 he headed the NATO and European Union Department as the Director of Security Policy and Arms Control Division in the Political Department. Before working as the Estonian Ambassador for the U.S. here in Washington, he served in Warsaw as the Ambassador to Poland and Romania.

Even after leaving a few of the less interesting positions out, that’s still quite the resume.

Marmei spoke about the political climate in Eastern Europe and how the tension between Russia and Ukraine has increased tensions between Russia and all the European states along its border. Military demonstrations on the Russian/Estonian border have been on the rise, more so by the Russians than by the Estonians. He labels these actions as a “clear policy of intimidation.” Russia, in its takeover of Crimea and many of its other aggressive demonstrations around Eastern Europe, has proudly ignored the agreements it had made previously with its neighbors. According to Marmei, “it is clear that Russia has undermined certain portions of international law.” Although a generality, it’s a statement that couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Speaking of international frustration, Marmei also spoke fairly extensively on the topic of NATO involvement in the ongoing crisis and how it’s pertinent that allies of Estonia (as a part of NATO) heed Estonia’s request for assistance. All NATO members are required as part of their participation in the organization, to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Of the 28 member countries, only 4 countries achieve this spending goal: England, Greece, Estonia and the United States.

“It’s clear that European allies should commit more resources to defense” – Ambassador Eerik Marmei

Estonia is caught in a tough spot with the whole eastern European crisis because of its reliance on Russia for energy. The power grid that runs through Estonia is connected to Russia, and if deemed necessary, Russia would be able to cause serious damage to Estonia simply by cutting off their energy supply. This puts them in a very vulnerable spot. At the moment, they are trying to remove themselves from Russia’s energy grip by working with Nordic countries as well as neighboring nations to establish an alternative way to receive energy.

Marmei, in his bout of criticism on European involvement, continued on to criticize the European Union as a very slow, reactive organization. Because of its reputation as less of a military entity that instead places more focus on economics and politics, it refuses to take large strides to help its Eastern European members. He does pause for a moment to address the fact that NATO allies to Estonia, mainly the United States and England, are doing a good job in terms of air support along the Estonian/Russian border. Troops from the US, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and 13 other countries participated in the annual NATO exercise called BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) and performed an organized amphibious landing on the coast of Sweden, all in practical preparation for possibly serious involvement with Russian forces. According to Marmei, it is the first time the operations have included Swedish and Finish forces.

He finished by broadly addressing his opinions on the Russian mindset and the overall wellbeing of the Russian people as a result of Putin’s decisions. He believes that Putin’s oppressive decisions are making it harder and harder for Russia to reverse its oppressive objectives and pull out of these countries. Marmei says that Russia is “entering a spiral” that is not helpful and does not benefit the common Russian. He described the power dynamic in Russia as very vertical and does not understand why they seems to be clinging to such an unhealthy “regime, clique, supported by oligarchs.” His passion for his country and sympathy for their oppression began to come out and it was clear that his frustration went far deeper than the topics he was skimming over for the sake of the lecture.

Towards the end of the lecture, he replied quite bluntly to an audience member’s question saying: “everything Russia is doing goes against logic.”

As the Obama administration continues to refuse to supply weapons to Ukraine, hundreds of people in Ukraine with no way to protect themselves against larger weapons (such as tanks) continue to be killed by Russian forces. Is it the responsibility of the United States to supply weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces? We are in possession of anti-tank (and other) defense artillery that could greatly reduced the death count across the Atlantic.

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“Don’t hit at all if it’s honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft!”

-Theodore Roosevelt

(Published with consent from Avery's blog: 14th and Constitution)