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The unpredictable future of the Nordic-Baltic region

The triple menace of Russian revanchist, American opportunist and eurozone disintegrative tendencies does not bode well for future prospects of the Nordic-Baltic region, the Icelandic diplomat and former foreign minister, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, writes.

The prospects for the Nordic-Baltic (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden – editor) region are radically different from what they looked like in the late 1980s and the 1990s. This is mostly due to external forces, which are in flux, rather than due to any outstanding internal failures. Let’s have a closer look.

When I became personally involved, trying to garner support for the restoration of independence in the Baltic states – in the late 80s and early 90s – most of us retained a healthy dose of optimism for the future. The grounds for our optimism have turned out to be elusive.

Revanchist Russia

I presumed that post-Soviet Russia would somehow manage to become a democracy of a sort. Despite the traumatic transition from a centralised, statist economy to a market-driven economy, we hoped some sort of a democratic governance would gradually gain hold. This would include an independent judiciary, free media and the rule of law. As a consequence, we hoped Russia could become a “normal” country – meaning a country that could cooperate with her neighbours, rather than being a threat to their sovereignty.

All those hopes have come to naught. Russia under Putin and his power-clique has reverted back to her deep-rooted authoritarianism. Russia is not a democratic country, but a plutocratic state. Instead of a free media, the state orchestrates its propaganda through submissive media. The judiciary is strictly beholden to an all-powerful state.

“Russia under Putin and his power-clique has reverted back to her deep-rooted authoritarianism.”

Although economically weak, the government has channelled a disproportionate share of its limited resources to a military build-up. Dreams of an empire are back. The privatisation process á la Rus turned out to be the “theft of the century”, in the words of the impressive Canadian foreign minister. The foreign policy is revanchist. The aim is to restore the imperial “sphere of influence”. Russia is not going to tolerate Ukraine as a genuinely sovereign state. The power-holders in the Kremlin know that without Ukraine, Russia will be unable to restore her empire. And the Baltic countries will remain under steady pressure. The preponderance of the Russian ethnic minorities in Latvia and Estonia makes direct interference in their domestic affairs a continuous threat.

So far the oligarchs have defied Western sanctions. The political will of the Western leaders to maintain harsh sanctions in the long term is questionable.

America the unpredictable

Since the Second World War and all through the Cold War, the United States guaranteed Europe’s security through NATO. This basic premise of Western security is now being questioned by none other than the president of the United States himself. No one could have foreseen this in the 1990s. If the Trump phenomenon comes to remain more than a temporary lax into insanity, it is nothing short of an epoque-making rupture in international relations. The current power-holder in the White House is a corrupt businessman who feels more at home in the company of Russian oligarchs or Arabian oil-mandarins than in the councils of democratically elected leaders. Admittedly, policy statements from the president vary from day to day, and even by the hour; one day NATO is obsolete, but not the next. So, unpredictability is the order of the day.

“The current power-holder in the White House is a corrupt businessman who feels more at home in the company of Russian oligarchs or Arabian oil-mandarins than in the councils of democratically elected leaders.”

But at least the president has consistently refused to confirm unflinching support from the US for Article 5 – the collective security guarantee of the Western alliance. This not only strengthens the hand of the Kremlin in the current power game in Eastern Europe – if allowed to stand – it simply forces the leaders of the European Union to reconsider the basic premises of European security. Not a small order, by any standard. Does this not affect the traditional policy of neutrality and non-alliance pursued by Sweden and Finland? Will Baltic and East-European leaders be forced to insist on activating a common, European defence and security policy in response?

Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, in March 2016. Courtesy: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

The eurozone sclerosis

In the early 90s, leaders of the newly independent countries in Central and Eastern Europe were united across the political spectrum in seeking membership in the European Union and NATO. The primary concern was security within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. NATO was there to provide hard security. The European Union was there to provide long-term prosperity. Now, both those basic premises are being questioned: NATO, because the basic US-security guarantee is being withheld, without the EU responding in any way; and the European Union, because of its failure to deal decisively with the consequences of the post-2008 financial crisis.

Instead of being a step forward in the European integration process, the European Monetary Union has turned out to be a force for disintegration. The crisis revealed major structural flaws in the monetary union, which have not been amended. The austerity policy, imposed by Germany upon the weaker member states, has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The victims of this ill-conceived policy have suffered a lost decade of economic stagnation and social disruption.

“Instead of being a step forward in the European integration process, the European Monetary Union has turned out to be a force for disintegration.”

The sad economic performance of the peripheral eurozone countries compares unfavourably with the quick and resounding recovery of Iceland, which suffered a devastating crisis, but rejected EU-type austerity policies in favour of fiscal stimulus, with resounding success. The miserable performance of the eurozone countries and their disruptive social consequences has undermined confidence in the future of the European Union, both within member states and among those outside. In the case of Iceland, overwhelming support for EU membership immediately after the crisis has completely evaporated in light of the failure of the current EU leadership in dealing with the crisis.

This triple menace of Russian revanchist, American opportunist and eurozone disintegrative tendencies does not bode well for future prospects of the Nordic-Baltic region.

The Nordic model: still standing tall

In light of the aforesaid, it may sound paradoxical, but the fact is that the Nordic model is still standing tall. That is even an understatement. It is the only socio-economic model emerging from the ideological conflicts of the last century, which has stood the test of time in the age of globalisation. Soviet-type communism has been wiped off the surface of the earth – relegated to the dustbin of history. And unbridled capitalism – or market-fundamentalism of the neo-liberal variety – has only been saved from complete bankruptcy through a massive rescue operation by its arch enemy – The State. And it may be only serving time.

The global financial mechanism, run for the benefit of “maximising shareholder value”, continues to usurp the real economy and concentrate wealth and income in the coffers of a tiny elite. This system is inherently corrupt and utterly unsustainable. The massive eradication of jobs due to the ongoing technological revolution of automation will ultimately make this financial rentier system unworkable. Underneath the surface deep-rooted social discontent is gathering strength, waiting to erupt, although the manifestations of it are still diverse and incoherent. But we are waiting for the gathering storm.

Amid those reverse surroundings, the Nordic model has turned out to be surprisingly resilient. The Economist, a staunch advocate of market-liberalism for more than a century, couldn’t conceal its envy. On almost every criteria of socio-economic success, the Nordic countries come out at the top of the class. This is surprising because the neo-lib critique of high taxes making those countries uncompetitive and ultimately technological laggards, devoid of entrepreneurial spirit, had gained much credence. But here we are: economic growth, productivity per hour of work, technological innovation, participation in the labour market (especially by women), quality of education, social mobility, quality health care, equality of income, affordable housing for all, access to unspoiled nature – a vibrant democracy – you name it, they’ve got it.

“On almost every criteria of socio-economic success, the Nordic countries come out at the top of the class.”

This outstanding performance disqualifies the neo-liberal critique in one swoop. The facts speak for themselves.

Why is this solid performance not being emulated by others? Why do our friends across the Baltic Sea not look to the Nordic model to counteract the polarising effects of their market-fundamentalist policies? Why do the countries of Southern or Eastern Europe, suffering from the devastation of German-imposed austerity, not look to Copenhagen or Stockholm for advice on how to combat systemic unemployment and the increasing polarisation between rich and poor? Not withstanding the success or failure of the social-democratic parties in the Nordic countries, this is where social-democracy works. In the rest of Europe, it does not. Why?

The Western Nordics: Victims of Climate change?

The Nordic cooperation – if you include the western Nordics – encompasses a huge area. Greenland is on a continental scale of its own and the Northern Seas are vast. But the populations are tiny and what is holding us together may be tenuous. Are there any cultural ties between Greenlanders and Icelanders? If so, they are not immediately visible. Is Iceland – still the preserve of our ancient, common Viking-language – a shareholder in the common Nordic model? Having been turned into a laboratory for neo-liberal experiments – with disastrous consequences – Iceland is still reeling from that experience.

In spite of our speedy recovery from the financial crash in 2008, the restoration is based on the same precarious foundation, with the underlying problems unsolved. Our welfare state is in tatters and our physical infrastructure has proven to be wholly inadequate to sustain the tourist boom flooding the country. Continuing with the experiment of the smallest independent currency area in the world is simply too risky for comfort. The business class has turned out to be surprisingly corrupt, hiding their wealth in tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Not exactly a description of a Nordic welfare-state.

“Having been turned into a laboratory for neo-liberal experiments – with disastrous consequences – Iceland is still reeling from that experience.”

In the next few decades, the fundamental effect of climate change will put the precarious ties holding us together to a severe test. The melting of the ice will not only make rich mineral resources accessible to the world, but also open up the northern sea routes for heavy traffic between the rising Pacific powers and the Atlantic Sea board. Will the tiny population of Greenland be able to assert control over the multinationals, awash in cash, queuing up to exploit their natural resources? Will Iceland be turned into a transportation hub – a new Rotterdam in the High North – for heavy cargo, shipped from the “new workshop of the world” – China and South-East Asia – on its way to America and Europe? Follow the money. Will this gradually lead to an undue influence from China (and perhaps Russia) in this hitherto Nordic region?

And what about the European Union?

None of the countries involved – Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway – are members of the European Union. Given the EU’s inability so far to solve its inherent crisis, none of those countries are likely to apply for membership any time soon. That means the European Union does not even have a seat at the table in the Arctic Council, except through Swedish or Finnish representatives. And what about the security dimension in the High North? The United States closed down its naval presence in Iceland in 2006, on the premise that Russia had become a partner for peace.

China is already an active participant in Arctic councils – investing heavily in scientific research in the area. The Middle Kingdom is historically known for its long-term thinking. So, everything is in flux.

Norway and Iceland (along with Lichtenstein) still maintain what is left of the European Free Trade Association. They manage their relationship with the European Union on the basis of the EEA-agreement from 1994. Both are rich and resource-based economies. That explains why Norway has twice rejected membership of the EU; it is also the main explanation why Iceland is unlikely to renew its application any time soon.

The EEA-agreement provides those two countries with full access to the European inner market – without saddling them with the disadvantages of the common fisheries policy – which is an unmitigated disaster – or the European monetary policy (EMU), which is structurally flawed to a fault at German insistence. This means those two countries are under no pressure to seek other arrangements with the EU, in spite of the sovereignty infringement involved (ie they receive the rules and legislation, governing the inner market by fax).

The Brexit-flop and the future

With British politics out of control – after prime minister Theresa May’s failed bid to strengthen her hand in the post-Brexit negotiations with the EU, the EEA-agreement has once again been presented as the ultimate safety valve, safeguarding the UK’s massive trading interests vis-a-vis the EU. Were this to be so, it indicates how utterly the Westminster government has lost its grip on the course of events after Brexit. And it means a total reversal of declared policy. Immediately after the Brexit referendum, the UK government rejected an EFTA membership, since its sovereignty deficit would be wholly unacceptable for a major country like the United Kingdom. Also, it would involve continued British contributions to the EU-budget, as well as accepting free movement of people and foreign jurisdiction.

This is a measure of how dismally the British Tories have handled the Brexit affair, if they end up with no alternative but the EFTA. On the other hand, an EFTA membership and access to the internal market through the EEA agreement would make perfect sense for independent Scotland, were the UK to break up into its constituent parts after Brexit. This is not as farfetched a possibility as it may seem for the time being. Scotland, after all, voted against leaving the EU, and the home government is insisting on Scotland’s rights to maintain access to the inner market. This, indeed, could become an interesting outcome of Brexit – one of the greatest political flops of recent history.

So, what is the future of Nordic cooperation?

The resilience of the Nordic model points to its strength. The tenuous ties linking the western Nordics to the heartland of Scandinavia in a foreseeable sea of change points to its weakness. The internal division between the hardcore eurozone members on the one hand and the reluctant members and outsiders on the other, seems to exclude the possibility of a common path for the future. The dominance of external forces – Russian revanchist policies, the unpredictability of US opportunism, and the debacle of the eurozone crisis still unresolved – all point to a future of uncertainty, in which the security dimension presents the greatest risk.

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Cover: The Nordic countries. The opinions in this article are those of the author. This article was originally published in Diplomaatia magazine.

The US to allocate USD5 million for radar equipment on the Estonian-Russian border

The United States will allocate USD5 million to support the construction of radar systems at the Estonian-Russian border to improve the frontier’s electronic surveillance.

Andres Anvelt, the Estonian minister of the interior, said the construction of the country’s eastern border is important to Estonia, the European Union and NATO.

“Therefore this needs to be done thoroughly and to last for generations,” he noted in a statement, adding that the full construction of the border will be one of the biggest challenges for the country and he is glad that partners from outside Estonia also contribute to it.

The construction of radar systems at the Narva River consists of projecting and constructing a radar tower, the radar, cameras, electricity, access roads, communications, an alarm system and more. Constructing those positions significantly improves guarding of the border on the Narva River and makes it easier to discover illegal border crossings, the ministry of the interior said.

Estonia’s goal is to build the most modern state border in the European Union, fully covered with electronic surveillance that would do justice to the external frontier of NATO and the EU.

The entire project is budgeted to cost over €70 million (USD82 million).

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The cover image is illustrative (Shutterstock).

Estonian-American admiral Edward Masso named the next US ambassador

US president Donald Trump announced his intent to name the retired rear admiral, Estonian-American Edward “Sonny” Masso as the next ambassador to Estonia.

According to the White House, Masso is a decorated naval officer and the founder of Flagship Connection, a consulting company on business development, strategic planning and operations analysis in the areas of missile defense, cyber security and data analytics.

“During his distinguished 32-year career in the US Navy, he held nine command assignments, including Commander, Navy Personnel Command/Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel,” the White House said in a statement.

Masso has also served in NATO and the United States European Command. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Cyber Security. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1977.

A son of an Estonian refugee

According to the US Navy, Masso’s decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit (Gold Star), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (three Gold Stars), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Navy Achievement Medal (Gold Star).

“He is most proud, though, of being an honorary Chief Petty Officer and of the Meritorious Unit Commendation awarded to the men and women of Navy Command Center 106 for actions during and following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” the Navy said.

Rear admiral Masso is also a contributor to Breitbart News, a right-wing news, commentary and opinion website that is managed by Steve Bannon, president Trump’s former chief strategist.

According to the Estonian media, Edward Masso was born in the United States as a son of an Estonian refugee.

Masso will have to be confirmed by the US Senate before assuming his duties as ambassador.

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The cover image, a US flag in Estonian flag colours, is illustrative.

VIDEO: Watch the A-10 Thunderbolt II land on Estonian highway

Ten American A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, belonging to the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard, practiced landing and take off from an extension of a highway in northern Estonia.

The landing and take-off exercise took place on 10 August on the extension of the Jägala-Käravete highway, a portion of a longer road known as Piibe highway.

The jets were deployed in Estonia on 4 August in order to support Operation Atlantic Resolve.

This wasn’t the first time the US Air Force A-10s practiced highway operations from a public road in Estonia. In August 2016, the jets belonging to the 303rd Fighter Squadron, 442nd Fighter Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, performed highway operations from the same highway extension during their deployment to Estonia.

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Images courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces.

CIA documents: the West backed forest brothers in the Baltics

Some newly declassified CIA documents show that the US government provided limited covert assistance to the underground armed resistance groups that operated in the Baltic countries after the Soviet Union had occupied them during the Second World War.

Many in the Baltic countries and elsewhere still celebrate the US non-recognition policy which specified that Washington would never recognise Joseph Stalin’s “forcible incorporation” of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union, a policy that sent a clear message to Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians that they were not alone in their fight for freedom.

But at the same time, some of them have asked over the years why the US did not do more to support the Baltic peoples and their aspirations – even though US policy did not ever promise to take any actions to liberate the three occupied countries, a point Washington was consistent about from 1940 to 1991.

However, as some newly declassified CIA documents show, the US government not only carefully kept track of “the forest brothers,” as the underground armed resistance to Soviet power there in the late 1940s and early 1950s was known, but provided some limited covert assistance to these groups.

Portions of these documents are being published in Russian translation by the Russian staff of the unified news portal of Latvian Radio and Latvian television.

Like the NATO film released about the forest brothers a month ago, these documents have attracted Moscow’s attention. One commentary by Sergey Orlov of Svobodnaya Pressa directly states that with these documents, “the US has acknowledged its role in the support of ‘the [Baltic] forest brothers’”.

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Read some of the newly declassified CIA documents here and here. This article is an amended version of the article originally published by Paul Goble on his Window on Eurasia blog. Cover: Screenshot from the CIA document, entitled “Communist activity and resistance in Estonia.” Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Over half of Americans think the US should help the Baltics if they were attacked

Fifty-two per cent of Americans agree that the United States should help defend the Baltics if Russia were to attack them, according to a Chicago Council survey.

This is the first time a majority of the US public would support using US troops to defend a Baltic NATO member.

Also, according to the survey, 53% of Americans think the US should work to limit Russia’s international influence rather than cooperate, which is a reversal from 2016, when 58% of those surveyed preferred cooperation to containing.

“The percentage describing Russian military power as a critical threat has increased (42%, 23% when last asked in 2002), and for the first time in Chicago Council surveys, a majority of the public would support using US troops to defend a Baltic NATO member if attacked (52%),” the Chicago Council said.

“Americans already believed that Russia was working to try to undermine American international power and influence (rather than undertaking friendly cooperation), according to 2016 Chicago Council Survey results. That majority has increased slightly this year (74%, up from 71% in 2016). Two in ten continue to believe that Russia is undertaking friendly cooperation and engagement with the United States (22%, 24% in 2016).”

Also, a growing minority of Americans favour sending US troops if Russia invades the rest of Ukraine (from 31% in 2015 to 39% in 2017).

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan membership organisation that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues.

The organisation’s 2017 survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using a nationwide online research panel among a weighted national sample of 2,020 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia.

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Cover: A US Black Hawk helicopter on display in Tallinn during Barack Obama visit on 4 September 2014 (Estonian Defence Forces.) Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Pence and Estonian PM discuss deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system

The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, and the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, discussed the possibility of deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system in Estonia.

Ratas, having met Pence, who was visiting the tiny Nordic NATO member from 30-31 July, told the main news programme of the Estonian public broadcasting that he discussed the deployment of the Patriot anti-missile system, but there were no talks about a potential date when the system would be deployed.

“We discussed it today,” Ratas said, replying to a reporter’s question about the defence system. “We didn’t discuss specifically when it would happen,” he added.

“The main messages from both sides were that both Estonia and the United States are active allies in NATO,” Ratas told the public broadcasting.

“We also discussed the [Russian] military exercise to take place at the Estonian border – Zapad – and how Estonia, the United States and NATO monitor it and exchange information,” Ratas added.

Increased cooperation in cyber security

The two leaders also discussed opportunities for increased cooperation in the digital field and cyber security. Pence praised Estonia as a model for innovation and the use of technology to develop solutions for global economic, security and social challenges, and he thanked the country for hosting the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.

After meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Tallinn on 31 July, the US vice president again offered reassurances.

“Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defence – an attack on one of us is an attack on us all,” Pence told reporters.

In Tallinn, he also met allied troops from France, the UK and the US that are stationed in Estonia.

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Cover: A Patriot missile fired (Wikimedia Commons.)

Why the relationship between the US and Estonia matters

As the United States celebrates Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, the date on which the country formally separated from the British Empire, it’s timely to send good wishes from Estonia and be grateful for the American support throughout the years.

On 4 July, 1776, there were 2.5 million people living in the newly independent United States, comprising 13 former British colonies. Today, America’s population is more than 323 million and it is still the most powerful single nation on Earth, albeit under growing pressure from a “country of dragon”, China.

Just as for the rest of the world in the last century, the US has also played an important – and occasionally, major – role in the Estonian affairs, both institutionally and on a personal level.

While Estonians first started immigrating to America in the late 19th century and the United States established official diplomatic relations with Estonia in 1922, it wasn’t until the 1940s – the Soviet annexation of Baltic states and the WWII turmoil – that the role of the US became crucial.

The Welles Declaration

First, there was the Welles Declaration. On 23 July 1940, the United States’ acting Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, issued a declaration that condemned the Soviet Union’s aggression against Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Welles Declaration clearly stated that the invasion by the Soviet Union, which soon led to the annexation of Estonia, was unacceptable and initiated its refusal to recognise the legitimacy of Soviet control over these countries. For the next 51 years, it formed the basis for the American refusal to recognise the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states.

Even today, there are still a number of people in Estonia, who argue that the US and other Western allies could have done more to save the Baltic states from the Soviet takeover, calling it Western betrayal. They argue that the Yalta conference in February 1945 – at which Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill discussed Europe’s post-war reorganisation, leaving the Central and Eastern Europe under the Soviet domination – should have had a different outcome.

This author sides with those who say that realpolitik made it impossible to do anything else. Due to the significant power and role of the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany, the US was unable to confront the Stalin-led tyranny militarily in the region, immediately after the end of the war. But the Welles Declaration, at least, enabled Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to maintain independent diplomatic missions in the US, while their financial assets were also protected until they regained independence in 1991.

Crucial role

Then there were people. In 1944, in the face of Estonia being occupied by the Soviet Red Army, 80,000 people fled the country by sea – first to Germany and Sweden – becoming war refugees. Thousands of them were soon allowed to move on and settle in the US, where Estonians generally prospered.

Meanwhile, the US-based Estonian political activists and diplomats in exile consistently lobbied successive American presidents on their cause and made sure the Soviet occupation of Estonia would not be forgotten.

But it didn’t matter only to Estonian expats in the US – it mattered also to folks back home. When the Cold War – the confrontation between Soviet Union and Western allies – got into a full swing, the US set up a radio station, Radio Free Europe, in West Germany, as close as possible to the countries behind Soviet-controlled Iron Curtain. And Estonians caught the signal, too.

As Mari-Ann Kelam, the Vice President of the Estonian American National Council from 1986–92, wrote recently, “Each year on 24 February (the Estonian Independence Day), thousands of ears were pressed close to their wireless sets to hear, through the crackling generated by radio jammers, broadcasts of festive assemblies organised by Estonian expatriate organisations, the Estonian national anthem and the US president’s annual message to Consul-General Ernst Jaakson, expressing the hope that Estonia would become free again one day.”

And free it became again. In October 1991, the US officially returned to Estonia when its embassy started operations in Tallinn again, first in temporary offices located at the Palace Hotel. Few months later, in February 1991, the US embassy resumed operations in the same building on Kentmanni Street that had housed the pre-war US legation to Estonia until it had been forced to close in September 1940.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the US’s role became clearly evident again in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Made nervous by Moscow’s resurgent aggressiveness, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania asked for security assurances from their Western allies – until then, no permanent NATO troops were stationed there.

American support was crucial; enforcements – “boots on the ground” – arrived in hour of need. “The defence of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London,” the then-US president, Barack Obama, said while visiting Tallinn in autumn 2014.

Optimism and innovation

But the partnership between the two countries is not only tied to security matters. The US is a top 10 export partner for Estonia. In recent years, many Estonian high-tech companies and start-ups that have received American financing have gone on to open up US offices while maintaining important jobs in Estonia. There are also aspiring Estonian artists who have moved to New York or Los Angeles – to make or break in the global world.

“The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly,” John F. Kennedy, the iconic US president, once said. For this author, this saying really embodies what’s great about America – even if on these days these virtues don’t always apply anymore, they are always worth aspiring to. Happy Independence Day!

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: People waving the Estonian and American flags during president Barack Obama visit to Estonia on 4 September 2014 (photo by Rene Velli/Office of the Estonian President).

Ex-president Ilves presents Estonia’s highest award to former US president Bush

The former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, presented the former US president, George W. Bush, with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, First Class, the highest award granted by Estonia.

Ilves, while president, bestowed the decoration on Bush in 2012, but didn’t have a chance to present it in person until now. The order was awarded to Bush for a leading role in the expansion of NATO that led to Estonia’s joining the alliance in 2004, and for standing firmly behind Estonia’s foreign and security policy interests as a friend and supporter.

Ilves tweeted on 11 May that he had “put paid to a long-term debt finally presenting Estonia’s highest award to Pres. Bush for leading NATO enlargement for Estonia”, and in a separate tweet, “[a]nd for immediate [and] powerful support for Estonia these weeks 10 years ago when Estonia was under first wide-scale and political cyber attack”.

The former presidents met in Dallas, Texas, at the bipartisan roundtable, “Freedom, Free Markets and Security”.

Estonia joined NATO on 29 March 2004. In 2006, George W. Bush became the first incumbent US president to visit Estonia.

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Cover: In 2006, George W. Bush became the first incumbent US president to visit Estonia (photo by Marko Mumm/Eesti Päevaleht.)

US sends F-35 stealth fighters to Estonia

The US has sent two Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets to Estonia, as part of its first operational deployment to Europe. 

The jets, among the most advanced ones in the world, arrived on 25 April 2017 and will conduct training flights together with other US and allied air forces.

Information about the potential deployment of the new F-35 fighter jets first emerged in summer 2016 when the commander of Air Combat Command, General Herbert Carlisle said he’d like the F-35s “do some Baltic air policing”. The general also said at the time the F-35 deployments would send a message to the potential adversaries, like Russia.

The F-35A, the variant of the fighter operated by the US Air Force, is intended to replace the Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon. The stealth aircraft is expected to match the F-16 in manoeuvrability and instantaneous high-g performance, and outperform it in stealth, payload, range on internal fuel, avionics, operational effectiveness, supportability, and survivability, according to Wikipedia.

The Baltic Air Policing mission was established in 2004 to assist Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who have no airborne air defence capability of their own. The aim of the mission is to prevent unauthorised incursion into the airspace of the Baltic states and its most frequent duty is intercepting Russian aircraft and escorting them from the area. To the west of the Baltic states’ airspace is an air corridor often used by aircraft traveling to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad from territorial Russia.

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Cover: A pair of F-35s (the image is illustrative.)

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