A View from Tallinn
some thing are too ugly to avert your eyes from
In the second half of the first decade of this century, I had the chance to work with two Estonian Officers, one a Major and the other a Colonel. The Major was a talkative and entertaining man who had some great stories about being a conscript at the end of the Soviet Union. The Colonel started his career as a Soviet Junior Officer - and a very serious man. His Russian was better than his English, and though he was a nice man and great professional, he was not a chatty person about anything prior to 1991.
In Afghanistan, I kept an eye on the exceptional work the Estonians did in RC(S), and before I moved back to the USA at the end of the decade I had a chance to visit Tallinn ... and that set the hook for me. Well, that and their tax policy.
In any event, the more I learned about Estonia and their history, the more they became one of my go-to countries. When I saw their MOD earlier this month published Russia's War in Ukraine: Myths and Lessons, I knew it had to be good.
Few have a better national understanding of Russia than the Estonians, and it shows;
Most of Russia’s attention is currently focused on its ruthless war in Ukraine, but Putin has not lost sight of the bigger objectives. In fact, in Russia’s view, success in Ukraine serves as a major stepping stone for reaching further goals.
Russia’s long-term strategic aims remain unchanged: to dissolve the rules-based world order. Putin has written and talked about this for the past 15 years, and Russia’s actions have brutally proved it. Re-establishing spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and recreating buffer zones are the key steps in turning the current international order around for Russia. This is the most important reason why Russian tanks rolled over the Ukrainian border on February 24, 2022, and why similar scenarios have unfolded
Putin and his policies enjoy widespread support in Russia, which has only strengthened during the war in Ukraine.
Should Russia manage to gain any territory as a result of this war – either de iure at a negotiationtab le or de facto by freezing the situation in its current state, keeping the occupied areas under its authority for a longer time – it will have essentially moved closer to its goal. The Kremlin will have demonstrated that altering national borders with military force is feasible and the West and its rules-based world order can be weakened.
Hence, as long as the territorial integrity of Ukraine has not been fully restored, it is the rules-based order of the West that is facing a strategic failure. It may have come at a higher cost than expected, but Russia is still on track towards its strategic aims. Historically, political concessions are only a fast track to another “special military operation”, possibly against Allied countries.
If it works, why stop?
I also have no illusions about what a precarious time we are in and the dangers that are very real with the conflict in Ukraine. I also suffer no false belief that you can choose your time or preferred history. We are right to help give the Ukrainians what they need to fight for their independence and territorial integrity. We would not have achieved ours without outside assistance either.
Is Ukraine a perfect republic? No. It is a republic at war. Our republic was not perfect either as it fought to stand on its own.
Anyway, there is no positive gain for the USA or its European allies - or anyone really - if Russia continues to gain territory through military means. She is in the middle of demographic collapse in any event. The odds of her maintaining her borders over the next 50-yrs are small. There simply will not be enough "Russians" to defend Russia.
There will be more war over land - best to have it contained in a smaller mass of the rump Russian Empire with fewer ethnic groups clawing for their place.
Read the Estonian report in full if you have a chance. Well worth it.
Could it all go south and get worse? Sure can.
Will it all go south and get worse if the West were to leave Ukraine to its fate?
Regardless of what cards come out of the deck, it is better for Ukrainians to fight for Ukrainian independence east of the Dnieper, than for an American-Polish force to try to hold the line at the Vistula long enough for a German-British-Franco led force to set a second line at the Oder.
Averting your eyes from what Russia decided to do west of the Azov since 2014 will not make it go away - however inconvenient it is to anyone's pet theory.
Keep in mind, that is from the guy who over a dozen years ago wanted almost everyone to come home from Europe.
I still want that - but facts on the ground changed. We will have to wait awhile longer.