ILMAR RAAG Neutrality is impossible for Estonia. Yet some Estonians wish harm upon their country

Ilmar Raag
, strategic communications expert (The Right)
Photo: Konstantin Sednev
  • Russia would still have demands on the political organization of even a neutral Estonia.
  • Claims of NATO expansion having caused the war only contain a fraction of truth.
  • Immediately after Estonia regained its independence, Russia tried to put pressure on our politics.

​Some people want peace in a way that would actually harm Estonia. One such advocate is Varro Vooglaid, who supports neutrality for Estonia, Ilmar Raag from The Right party writes.

Additionally, I have met people who believe that there are some secret diplomatic tricks to avoid wars. In reality, there are no such tricks. Peace does not depend solely on the skill of diplomats.

Why is neutrality impossible for Estonia?

There are only two arguments.

Geography makes it impossible

If the Russian general staff believes that NATO or any foreign power wants to attack Russia, they will conduct an exercise familiar to all military schools. They will look at the access routes to the target. Looking at the map, it is clear that to conquer St. Petersburg and Northwestern Russia, an opponent would use the territory of the Baltic states. This was the case in World War I and again in World War II. The same applies to conventional war scenarios now.

Leaving all ideology aside, the Russian general staff's conclusion is correct – to reduce military threat, they would need to control the Baltic states' "bridgeheads" and not let the «opponent» do so.

It seems that to ensure peace, all troops should be removed from the Baltic states, and all problems would resolve themselves. Unfortunately, this conclusion is wrong because it assumes Russia is always reasonable and good. Before World War II, Estonia was neutral, but the Soviet Union still occupied the Baltic states. Preemptively. As Soviet historians explained, it was necessary, among other reasons, to preempt the Germans. There is technical logic in this from the Russian military perspective. Unfortunately, this neutrality exposed the weak point in Estonia's defense logic. We decided to be neutral, considering Russia's legitimate security concerns. But did anyone consider the security of the Baltic states at that moment? Of course not.

This one-sidedness is the most disturbing aspect of certain Western «realist» scholars, analysts, and politicians (Jeffrey Sachs, John Maersheimer, and so on). When discussing the Ukraine war, they always point out that Russia has the right to be concerned about its security, but they never acknowledge that Ukraine or Estonia has the same right. From the "realist" perspective, the security concerns of Estonia or Ukraine do not matter because we cannot change anything anyway, but it is apparently acceptable for Russia's concern to drag the whole world into a major war. Consequently, the disappearance of Estonia or Ukraine is just a small price for maintaining greater peace.

I admit there is some logic to this, but it is unfair. This theory implies that you, I, and Ukrainians do not have the right to live.

Russkiy mir makes neutrality impossible for Estonia

Another mistake made by «realists,» imperialists, and Varro is reducing everything to Russia's security interests, as if NATO bases are the only reason for Russia's irritation. They completely forget the Russian policy of spheres of influence, centered on Russia's 1999 law concerning compatriots abroad.

Let us recall how immediately after Estonia's re-independence, Russia tried to put pressure on Estonia's internal politics, with the primary issue being the protection of interests of the Russian minority. This soon included a fight over historical memory, with Russia trying to prohibit Estonia from presenting its version of World War II events. This was criticism against the so-called rewriting of history, with Bronze Night being the most vivid symbol. Thus, there is a precedent for a Russian revolt that has no relation to the expansion of NATO.

Let us also recall the Russian protests in Latvia against abolishing Russian-language schools. This movement also had no connection to NATO expansion. The same issues were topical in Ukraine.

Estonia was a minor concern in Russian foreign policy, with the interests of local Russians considered only as far as it was tactically necessary for the Kremlin. When a decision was made to tactically warm relations with the West, the Russian Foreign Ministry was ordered not to provoke the Baltic states. When circumstances changed, so did Russia's rhetoric and influence activities. Former Russian diplomat Mikhail Demurin has some very interesting things to say about it in the podcast «How to Bring the Baltic Republics Back to the Home Harbor.» (Как вернуть балтийские республики в родную гавань – Youtube)

Thus, even if Estonia were neutral in terms of security, Russia would still have demands on our internal political organization. An Estonian nation state is definitely unacceptable to Russia. Therefore, greater peace might require not just military neutrality but a vassal state status, where the prioritization of the Estonian language and culture has been ended. As we remember, this state ended with the Singing Revolution.

The same applies to Ukraine

Many claim that NATO expansion is what caused the war in Ukraine, but there is only a small grain of truth in that. In 2008, Ukraine was indeed given a general perspective of joining NATO, but from that time until the start of the war in 2022, no concrete steps were taken towards NATO expansion into Ukraine. No NATO summit discussed a membership action plan for Ukraine, and no head of state demanded it. Everyone understood that Ukraine's actual NATO membership was postponed indefinitely, meaning «it is not something we will see in our lifetime.»

Even though military cooperation between Ukraine and NATO increased, its actual impact was minimal. This was evident at the beginning of the war when Ukraine fought predominantly with Soviet-era weapons. The claim that NATO armed Ukraine before the war turned out to be a myth. NATO countries did provide some training, intelligence cooperation, and a small amount of infantry equipment just before the war, but in the grand scheme, this was very little.

So what was it that really motivated Russia? Remember the end of Mikhail Bulgakov's play «The Days of the Turbins.» In it, the Red Army invades Kyiv during the civil war, and White Guard Russian officers conclude that the Reds are better than Ukrainian independence fighters: «Because they won't let the empire fall.»

Or recall Nobel Prize-winning author Joseph Brodsky, who also ridiculed Ukrainian independence. This explains why Ukraine's policies of establishing its cultural self-awareness did not sit well with the great Russian soul. This means that even if the NATO aspect is removed, the actual essence of the current war is a struggle of national identities. The nature of this war is cultural Darwinism, where neutrality does not exist. You can either be part of the «Russian world» or not.

This also challenges those who desire abstract peace. If you want to give up being Estonian for yourself and your loved ones, then indeed, there is a possibility of a greater peace. But even that possibility is not absolute, as, just like in the time of Catherine II when Estonian peasants were sent to war against Turkey, under certain conditions, all Russian vassals can find themselves in a war.

I want peace, but even more, I want the right to remain myself. I know my friends feel the same.