Aho Rebas is the former Director of Estonian Military Intelligence and Security
Much has been written about Russia’s deteriorating relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Western countries have condemned Putin’s aggression and have adopted economic sanctions against his regime, but many European nations are dependent on Russian gas and are intimidated by Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Russian autocrats have oppressed and stolen from their own people since medieval times.
Historically, they have violently expanded their empire at the expense of numerically and militarily weaker neighbors.
The communist dictators who assembled the The Soviet empire also created a vast apparatus of violence – a giant army with nuclear weapons and secret police (NKVD, KGB, FSB) – that were deployed with the singular purpose of terrorizing millions of lives without a shred of conscience.
Today, Russia is led by many former leaders of the Soviet terrorist organization, with Vladimir Putin at the forefront and his KGB/FSB colleagues placed by him in strategic positions.
Too many wishful Western leaders have responded to Putin as a peer and colleague and have for too long turned a blind eye to his increasingly authoritarian rule, blatant lies, political assassinations (Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, Magntisky), injustice (Khodorkovsky Pussy Riot), endemic corruption (Sochi Olympics), support of rogue states (Syria, Chechnya) and his attack on Georgia.
Estonia has long since become accustomed to Russian threats, harassment, defamation and punitive tariffs.
Depending on Putin’s mood and his regime’s need to boost domestic public opinion ratings, Russian aggression has oscillated between neighboring countries in the Central and Eastern European region.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians who have seen through Putin’s policies and who have the means, have emigrated to the West leaving behind Putin’s kleptocrats who remain to manipulate, disinform and further steal from the masses of impoverished Russians.
Russia’s tactics in Ukraine and Crimea are the same as those that they used when the Baltic States were forced into the Soviet empire in 1940: ultimatums, military mobilization, boundary violations, the infiltration of provocateurs to create unrest and finally an invasion “to protect fellow citizens.”
The Soviets deported entire populations, and cultural genocide was conducted through mass migrations and through Russification campaigns. Later, communist authorities organized “democratic elections” where the new manufactured majorities obediently decided on accession to the Soviet empire.
Sweden’s role in the current Russian power play has, as usual, been modest and opportunistic. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Swedish politicians decided to radically reduce defence commitments, which turned out to be alarmingly premature.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said a year ago that the defence was a narrow “special interest”. However, his government has pledged to support Sweden’s neighbors if they are attacked and the alliance government has had an active and well-informed Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. But how will Sweden help its neighbors when it cannot defend its own territory?
When dealing with the Putin regime, the West must assume that it is dealing with serious criminals and treasonous perpetrators – anything else would be a dangerous delusion.
Unlike Western nations whose cooperation and agreements are built on mutual trust and common values, Russia’s rulers only respect the brutal strength and the acquisition of material and power. The emerging regional threats are grave and the risks are great: Sweden must improve its defenses and, like the Baltic states join NATO.