Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal talks to President Toomas Hendrick Ilves of the Baltic state, Estonia,. And while he doesn't want to say 'I told you so.', he told us so;
"Everything has changed," President Ilves says almost as soon as we sit down for a Thursday afternoon coffee.
"The post-Cold War order. Peace, love, Woodstock. Everyone gets along—sure we have minor problems here and there, human rights not always so good, but there are no more border changes." After last month, he says, "that's out." Russia annexed Crimea, massed forces on Ukraine's eastern borders, and prodded "Russian speakers" to rise against the government in Kiev. Moscow also pointedly complained about the treatment of Slavic kinsmen in the Baltic states, the same charge used to justify the invasion of Ukraine.While Sec'y of State Hillary Clinton was hitting the reset button, Estonia was more realistic. Fat lot of good that did;
The Russian attack on Georgia in 2008 set off alarms in the Baltics, which renewed their push to strengthen their defenses. Germany vetoed them and the U.S. concurred. An American diplomat in 2009 called Estonia "paranoid" about Russia, in a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, Estonian leaders have steered clear of the I-told-you-so's. "I don't get any, unfortunately, thrills out of vindication," says Mr. Ilves. "But we have been told by some of our friends, 'We did think you were paranoid and overreacting and now we think you're right.' "Thinking, is about as far as Barack Obama wants to go;
The U.S. and the rest of the alliance stopped short of the demands from Poland and the Baltic states to forward deploy NATO troops. Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO's blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.
"It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do," Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.
To Mr. Ilves, the alliance's most urgent need is "increasing deterrence in the region." He won't get drawn into discussing a wish list, but with deliberate understatement says, "boots on the ground is kind of a good idea." The Estonians have told U.S. officials that American boots are best. The presence of U.S. soldiers in the Baltic states and Poland, the other front-line state, would become the most reliable tripwire for a NATO response to any Russian encroachment. Mr. Ilves offers a different formulation: "I wouldn't say a tripwire but a sign that we're serious here."Serious? The Obama Administration doesn't do serious. For POTUS, it's all about keeping up appearances. Foreign and domestic.