Unlike a number of Western nations, Estonia has not recommended or ordered its diplomats to leave Ukraine. According to Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reformierakond), this is primarily a message to Ukraine that we keep supporting them not only in peacetime but also in case of a crisis and possible tense situations.
Laanet emphasized that every independent state has to decide for itself based in the existing information whether the risks are high enough to bring home diplomats and embassy staff. “Estonia’s present decision is that no one would be returned and the embassies would not be closed," ta ütles. “If the situation should escalate, there is a plan for ensuring the safety of the staff.”
Military threat to Estonia is currently low
The suspension of several routes has raised even more questions in the international public than the return of diplomats. Some bolder commentators have described the situation as a paradox: while public diplomacy threatens Russia with sanctions, the victim Ukraine is the one to suffer through some measures even before any sanctions are taken.
“This could be interpreted in different ways. But reality is that the aviation companies’ airliners are generally leased, which must be insured and of risks go up, the insurance companies oppose X aircraft flying to Ukraine. The reason is simple but must be sufficiently important to bring along certain decisions,” Laanet said.
The Estonian government gathered Monday morning at eight o’clock to discuss the security situation. The meeting comprised two parts. The first one was about information; the ministers were briefed about the situation. “The second part, muidugi, concerned what we have to do to be better prepared and our security on NATO’s eastern flank was increased. And this second part was secret”.
Starting from November, the US intelligence has been informing publicly everyone about the developments along Ukraine’s border, so as to show Russia that their plans are known. Public pressure has not forced Russia to change its attitude, as Monday’s briefing admitted. Now it has gone so far that the US intelligence warned that an attack against Ukraine could take place already on Wednesday (veebruaril 16). “The days this week and early next week are crucial for historians. Whether something will happen and if it should, to which extent,” Laanet said. Both the minister and Deputy Commander of Defense Forces Major General Veiko-Vello Palm said that there is no direct military threat to Estonia. Kuid, certain risks exist and war in Ukraine would influence us through possible wave of refugees
Border areas with Estonia have been cleared
A joint military exercise with Russia is currently in progress in Belarus and the Baltic states have fruitlessly requested explanations from Belarus. “According to the Vienna Document, states are obliged to inform their neighbors if the exercise involves more than 9,000 soldiers. As far as we know there are more than 30,000 involved. Let alone the capabilities transferred to Belarusian territory,” said Laanet. Palm stressed that the events in Belarus are not an exercise as it has been described in public, but concentration of forces, which could attack Ukraine or some other neighboring state after a short preparation.
Although the concentration of more than 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border is not nearly enough for occupying and controlling the entire country, according to experts, Palm described how extensive an operation Russia has undertaken. “Relocating one battalion or 700–800 troops within Russia requires one train of at least 60 carriages. Sixty carriages make a huge train. By Now Russia has concentrated there not 700–800 but 100,000 troops. This has required a very long preparation, it has been very purposeful and we have been observing it all the time because it is very difficult today to hide something like that.”
In order to achieve such concentration of ground troops, airborne forces, warships, aircraft and helicopters near the Ukrainian border, Russia has practically cleaned the remaining state of military forces. “We have never seen so few ground units near to our borders,” Palm remarked.
Several countries have invited their diplomats back from Ukraine
The countries which have recommended their citizens and diplomats to leave Ukraine include the USA, Finland, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Latvia, Norway, Italy and the UK.
The USA and Canada have brought the diplomats’ family members and less important embassy staff back home and are evacuating the rest to the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv. These two countries as well as the UK have also withdrawn military instructors. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Sunday that it recalls nearly all its diplomats from Ukraine. David Sulik, former EU diplomat to Kiev, speculated that the evacuation of diplomats could be viewed as a strategic message to Russia that the West is serious about the situation.
The closing or reduction of diplomatic representations of democratic nations in Ukraine has been criticized, beside others, by Urmas Paet (Reform), Deputy Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “This drives up social stress in Ukraine and is also a simply incomprehensible decision. Under the present Russian pressure, international present in Ukraine, as extensive and meaningful as possible, is especially necessary,” Paet said.
In connection with the worrying situation at the Ukrainian border, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has renewed its travel warning. Due to the increased threat of Russian military activity the ministry recommends not to travel to Ukraine without urgent necessity. Estonian citizens in Ukraine are invited to consider the urgency of their presence there and to return to Estonia if possible. The ministry also asks Estonian citizens in Ukraine to register their presence there at the ministry homepage.