Narva is a NATO border town and it will remain so
Arvamus 17 Feb 2015  EWR
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Marko Mihkelson February 16, 2015
These days 70 years passed from the event that laid the foundation for the world order after the World War II. At the Yalta Conference, the then allies the Unites States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain decided to establish the United Nations Organisation in order to prevent great disasters in the future. Dividing of Europe became its price, and the central issue was the fate of Poland.

One of the participants of the Yalta Agreement Winston Churchill said at that time: "Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin." But still Churchill was wrong. Stalin broke his promise about free elections in Eastern Europe. Barely a year later, it was Churchill who announced in the speech held in Fulton that an Iron Curtain had descended from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea.

It is doubtful if Churchill had read the Long Telegram the US diplomat George Kennan had sent from Moscow to Washington just a few days before the Fulton speech. In the telegram Kennan, who also knew quite a lot about Estonia, analysed why Moscow refused to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and how Communism should be isolated.

Churchill's brave speech and the doctrine offered by Kennan gave the Western World directions and principles for repelling Communism. The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 became possible largely by valuing these principles.

The collapse of Communism together with the disintegration of the Soviet empire marked the end of the Cold War. The West had won it, and especially the European countries that had suffered in the great wars focused on cashing in the dividends of peace. But in the shadows, it remained unnoticed that the changes in Russia had been only decorative.

The West failed to see that when the conflict between Yeltsin and Gorbachev ended, one of the most important pillars of the empire – the secret service – managed to keep itself almost untouched. Therefore it is no wonder that after Yeltsin retired, Vladimir Putin became the new President of Russia.

Russia's conception of the world became more and more openly revisionist. At the time when Europe believed in the irreversible reform course and democratisation of Russia, the Kremlin switched full gear to revising the results of the Cold War. President Putin's statement that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century became its ideological slogan.

"We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression. We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement."

Believe it or not, but namely these words have been written by nobody else but the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. On a very significant day, on 11 September 2013, he warned the USA against using force in Syria in an opinion piece published in the New York Times. Only half a year later, under the cover of "little green men" Putin started a war against Ukraine, one of the largest countries in Europe. By today, thousands of innocent people have been killed.

And in Ukraine everything Putin did was the direct opposite of what he had so nobly emphasised in connection with Syria only some months ago. There is nothing to wonder about this, because using of strategically planned disinformation against the Western countries has had an important place in the practice of the special services of Russia since the end of the 1950s.

In the end of last year, Time magazine asked the last President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev to assess the current events. Gorbachev answered without hesitation that a new Cold War was going on, and it had been started by the United States.

In reality the new confrontation was naturally not started by the West, but stems from the unwillingness of the present leadership of Russia to accept the results of the Cold War. President Putin let the world know of his intentions in a more serious way already eight years ago in a speech at Munich Security Conference.

Today we are in a situation where Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov in that same Munich compares the annexation of Crimea with the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes it seems as if the West and Russia live in parallel worlds that have very few points of contact or none at all.

The leaders of European countries, led by the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and the President of France François Hollande, try to restore peace in East Ukraine. But will peace at any price solve a more serious challenge – Russia's revisionist attack against the Western world?

It is important to Estonia, a border country of the free world, that the price of peace in Ukraine would not be splitting it or, even worse, the destruction of free Ukraine. Therefore the sanctions implemented to restrain Russia's aggressive foreign policy can be eased only when Moscow realises that their intentions are a dead end. Unfortunately it seems that in the nearest future or even in the coming years this is impossible.

Thus the West has to be ready for a longer low in relations with Russia. This requires patience, staying true to one's principles and strong leadership from the politicians. Is Europe ready for that? What can we do that the European Union and NATO remained unified?

The greatest challenge of Estonia's foreign policy both today and in the visible future is to unite guaranteeing of security in an increasingly unfriendly neighbourhood with preserving and strengthening of our international competitiveness and favourable investment climate.

There is no reason to deny that the times are uneasy. During the last twelve months, the international media has consistently speculated with the idea that the pressure of Russia against the West may emerge more sharply in the Baltic region.

Even the former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen admits that Russia's ambition may be to test the unity of NATO namely in the Baltic States.

What should we think of this? First, it does not come as a surprise for us that the expansionist foreign policy of Russia has not disappeared anywhere. We heard this same militant rhetoric already in the 1990s, when the Baltic States has just started to approach NATO.

Second, during the last year NATO has shown by its deeds that it takes defending all its members seriously, should a need for that arise. And the deterrence capabilities of the Alliance in the Baltic-Polish region are much higher today than it was just a year ago. Narva is a NATO border town, and it will remain so.

Third, Estonia itself has been consistent in the real increasing of its defence capability. The fact that Estonia today invests more than 2 per cent of its GDP into national defence has given us a status of a reliable partner among our allies.

In spite of all the increased threats, the security of Estonia has never been so well protected than it is now. In the free world there simply is no better and more functioning insurance policy than NATO to defend a democratic small country.

However, in the international dynamics of today we have to smartly increase our foreign policy activity. As the border country of the free world, Estonia has to get used to the new normality as soon as possible. Threats on our borders must not become brakes to Estonia's development.

Therefore we have to ask ourselves: have we put all our foreign policy levers to serve the main problems faced by Estonia? How well are our foreign policy activities coordinated between our different agencies of executive power? Are our network of embassies and the tasks set to them in accordance with Estonia's priorities? How successful have we been in expanding the foreign policy's richness of ideas in cooperation with our and international think tanks? How successful have we been in preserving and strengthening the unity of the Western countries? We certainly have room for development in regard to all these questions.

For years the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu has been the forge of the Estonian foreign policy trends. This is a place in our foreign policy debate where all smaller or greater differences of opinion of our political parties should merge into a common policy. Years of experience have proven that the foreign policy of Estonia is based on a broad consensus. This is especially important in the times when the great changes in the world require the small country Estonia to act persistently in defence of its national interests.

Today’s debate of foreign policy is the last for the 12th composition of the Riigikogu. Therefore it is the occasion for recalling what have been the priorities of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and how we have influenced the foreign policy attitudes of Estonia during the last four years.

Since spring 2011, the Foreign Affairs Committee at its nearly 300 sittings has discussed the developments in more than 80 countries of the world. The main aims of more than ten visits abroad have been the strengthening of our allied relations, discussion of security issues and making Estonia more known on the growing markets of world economy, especially in Asia.

I would like to point out four larger issues the Foreign Affairs Committee has focused on during the last years. They are the Asian strategy, analysing the Nordic-Baltic security environment, the problems of Estonian-Russian border treaty and the network of Estonian foreign representations. The Committee has involved researchers, citizens' associations, businessmen and foreign policy specialists in the discussion of these issues.

One of the characteristics of the great changes in the world is the consistent emergence of the Asian countries as both economic and political great powers. The growth factor of China is naturally the most important.

As a summary of tens of hearings, the Foreign Affairs Committee prepared the report “The Opportunities and Interests of Estonia in Asia until 2025”. The Asian strategy has given a visible impetus to the public debate on how to expand Estonia's export possibilities better and in which way the domestic activities could support it. As an especially positive example, I would like to highlight the decision of three Estonian universities to establish a common curriculum of Asian studies since autumn 2016.

At the same time the Government should restore the Asian Programme in order to better coordinate foreign trade activities and support to our entrepreneurs for accessing the markets. In doing that, it is necessary to give up passive waiting. In Asia, greater success is ensured by the principle: the state comes in first, and the entrepreneur beside or after it.

In 2012 the Foreign Affairs Committee decided to launch a thorough analysis of the Nordic-Baltic security environment. Already then we thought that in medium-term time framework the danger level in our region may increase. The only thing we could not think of was the unexpectedly fast worsening of the security environment.

Naturally the reason for that has been Russia's aggression in Ukraine. At the same time namely the trans-border activities of Russia have enabled more essential security debate than before, for example with Finland and Sweden who are not members of NATO.

The issues connected with the Estonian-Russian border treaty are a very vivid example of how a really functioning political consensus can support the achieving of Estonia's foreign policy objectives.

The active parliamentary diplomacy of the Foreign Affairs Committee to a great extent contributed to the fact that on 18 February 2014 Estonia and Russia concluded the border treaties formulated in the way that takes into account our main national interests. Their ratification will be discussed by the next Riigikogu.

The network of Estonia's foreign representations, its development and the preparation of our diplomats were also under the greater attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the leaving composition of the Riigikogu.

On the basis of the analysis ordered from the Foreign Policy Institute and the hearings held in the Committee, we concluded that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should make a serious audit of the locations of our foreign representations and their actual capabilities. With the existing resources, the present 45 foreign representations are the maximum Estonia can afford.

We have drawn the attention of the Government to the fact that the decisions on closing and opening of embassies should also undergo preliminary discussion at the Foreign Affairs Committee. In the same way as the Foreign Affairs Committee gets acquainted with all ambassador candidates of Estonia.

One of the visible levers of Estonian foreign policy is the development cooperation and humanitarian aid capacity. At the moment the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is preparing new development programme and choosing target countries. I strongly emphasise to the Government that a document of such importance has to be approved by the Riigikogu.

The main target countries of our development aid in recent years have been Afghanistan, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. Besides supporting the sustainable development principles of the UN, it is in the interests of Estonia to support especially the countries of our closest neighbourhood in reinforcing their sovereignty.

Today the situation is the most critical in Ukraine. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu reacted to the Maidan events with its first statement of support in the end of January of the last year. In August the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu passed the Statement in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Last autumn the Riigikogu ratified the Association Agreements of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with the European Union on the motion of the Foreign Affairs Committee. By today, about half of the contracting states have done the same. Completing the ratification process without delay would be an additional signal from the Member States of the EU about our serious interest in integrating these three countries with the Euro-Atlantic values space.

However, the achieving of this aim most of all depends on Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine themselves. If necessary reforms are delayed or distorted to silence political opponents, the hopes of success of the countries are endangered.

In conclusion I would like to thank all my colleagues in this Riigikogu who have represented Estonia in international parliamentary assemblies or helped to strengthen contacts with other countries through the activities of parliamentary friendship and support groups.

I would especially like to highlight the activities of the Estonian delegation in the consistent reforming of the Baltic Assembly. It has been complicated and time-consuming, but our good friends in Latvia and Lithuania have seen the need for changes. The Baltic cooperation is of great relevance today, and its results largely depend on how we can best apply our limited resources for creating a strong common ground.

Our parliamentarians have been visible in foreign relations, and their activities have contributed to strengthening the international position and reliability of Estonia.

It is especially important to forward the experience gathered during the years of work to the members of the Riigikogu to be elected on 1 March, because they will bear the serious responsibility of the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2016 and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2018.

My speech at foreign policy debate in Estonian Parliament on 12th of February 2015.
Source: author's blog
 
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