U.S. media: developments giving Estonia pause

Neeme Raud
, ajakirjanik
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Photo: Sander Ilvest

U.S. Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville announced on social media late Friday night that he will resign as a sign of protest against the policy of President Donald Trump.

“For the president to says that the [European Union] “was set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,” or that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA” is not just factually wrong but proves to me that it is time to go,” Melville wrote on Facebook. The ambassador said he will be leaving Estonia on July 29.

Washington Post journalist Avi Selk writes in his analysis of Melville’s resignation that “the sudden resignation” comes at a bad time for countries bordering Russia when the chance of military conflict is in the air and Trump is rethinking USA’s support for allies living in Moscow’s shadow.

“Both Russia and NATO have recently staged military exercises that some analysts see as thinly disguised simulations of a war over the Baltic region,” Selk writes. He reminds the American reader that Estonia is one of several formerly Soviet-controlled countries that have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — essentially allying with the United States and Western Europe, whose militaries protect Estonia against Russian aggression.

“The recent behavior of the leaders of the two most powerful countries in the world is worrying in light of a potential conflict,” Selk writes. "Russian President Vladimir Putin sounds increasingly hawkish toward what many Russians see as an aggressive, expansionist military bloc on their country's western border — and Trump sounds increasingly amenable to the Kremlin's point of view.”

The author recalls the interview President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid gave the Washington Post a few months ago where she says she is not afraid because Estonia is in NATO.

Selk finds that Trump has given Kaljulaid a lot more to worry about since then. Trump has suggested that the United States may recognize Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. He has appeared to undermine the European Union. He has accused NATO members of not spending enough on defense and — as Axios has reported — directly disparaged the alliance in front of other world leaders.

Washington Post recalls how Estonia’s neighbor Sweden handed out leaflets warning people to prepare for a possible war.

American foreign affairs magazine Foreign Policy writes in its coverage of Melville’s resignation that NATO members are afraid Trump might corner them further at an upcoming summit – before meeting with President Vladimir Putin, who is among the few world leaders Trump has never badmouthed, in Helsinki.

American news portals have written that a scenario similar to what happened at the G7 summit in Canada and Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un is possible also the week after next: a meeting with allies is scheduled to take place in Brussels on July 11-12 that will end in a squabble and be followed by a triumphant meeting with a man who clearly does not share America’s interests in Helsinki on July 16.

Melville is not the first high-ranking U.S. diplomat to have resigned over Trump’s policy. The resignation of ambassador to Panama John Feeley has created a lot of reverberation in the American press. The man said in interviews that he could not continue serving under Trump because “his values are not my values”.

CNN recalled how U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson resigned in March for the same reason as Feeley and Melville – Trump’s utterances, in this case concerning Mexico.

All three ambassadors were career diplomats who got their postings after years of work in the foreign service, not “political ambassadors” appointed – as per American tradition – to represent the country for supporting the president.

Washington Post columnist Max Boot wrote at length on how Trump, meeting Putin in Helsinki, wants to “Finlandize” the USA by offering the following definition for the term: creating a situation where a country avoids confrontation with the interests of a more powerful counterpart (in this case, Russia) without being its political ally.

As Trump has mentioned the possibility of the USA recognizing Crimea as part of Russia because “everyone speaks Russian there”, Boot recommends the Baltics remain mindful.

The owners and editorial staff of the New York Times write in a joint opinion piece the paper publishes next to ordinary editorials from time to time that the Trump-Putin summit might turn out dangerously friendly and that unpredictable Trump might announce the withdrawal of American troops from the Baltic countries the aim of whom is to deter Russia from taking aggressive steps in the region – just like he unexpectedly canceled a U.S. – South Korean joint military exercise after meeting with the leader of North Korea.

Luckily, the editorial finds, “Mr. Trump’s national security advisers have a more realistic view of the Russian threat than himself. As do the Republicans who control the Senate. They are more obligated than ever to try and convince Mr. Trump that what’s at stake in meeting with Putin is national security, and that he must prepare for the meeting very carefully.”