Pabriks: "We have a choice: Peace or Appeasement"
The West shares the belief that the latest escalation by the Kremlin is a serious threat to Europe and must be confronted. We are faced with two choices on how to respond to Russia’s aggressive behavior and unprecedented ultimatum. We can choose the approach taken by Winston Churchill in response to Nazi Germany during the Second World War, or we can choose the approach of Neville Chamberlain. Considering our long experience in dealing with Russia, there is no doubt which choice Latvia supports. We are sure that the only way to discourage burglary is to install an intruder defense system instead of relying on mercy. The only way to deter the Kremlin’s current policy of coercion and ultimatums is to take initiative, to implement an enhanced NATO defense and deterrence posture now. In other words, we choose long term peace over short term appeasement, and following humiliation.
This is the only way to avoid a further spiral of escalation currently presented by Russia’s concentration of its forces on the borders of Ukraine. Some ask what does Russia want? Is it destruction of Ukraine’s independence, dissolution of NATO or even restoring the former Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe? Possibly all of the above. Putin has proved numerous times that he is ready to possess everything that is left unprotected. This time will not be different.
The impending conflict is not just about Ukraine. For the Kremlin it is a fight for Imperial glory and maintaining power, as well as a fight between authoritarian, oligarchic and kleptocratic systems against liberal-democratic values and freedoms. Unfortunately, this confrontation is here to stay whether we like it or not. Today’s crisis is a manifestation of a long-term problem. Russia is a revisionist power, increasingly internally unstable with an aging but extraordinarily ambitious leadership who dreams about a return to Soviet might and spheres of influence in Europe. All of this will heighten the Kremlin’s aggression even more as they hope to reverse Russia’s fortune in the following years.
If Europe’s policy will choose appeasement and “peace at any cost!” then Europe and the liberal-democratic world as we know it will fall. Russia will continue to escalate and brutally push towards its goals because of our indecisiveness and short sightedness.
History teaches us that long lasting peace and prosperity are gained by upholding the principles of liberty and by ensuring military deterrence. The Cold War was won by military strength and the will to fight for values and principles, it was not won by a “wait and see” policy.
To save Ukraine and not to lose Europe during the next rounds of Russian demands and ultimatums, we should regain initiative and push forward actions that increase our own security today and in the long term. Traditionally, Russia respects strength, which Europe currently is hesitant to display. In Moscow, our politeness is interpreted as weakness and encouragement to act against neighbors.
The Kremlin is accelerating its tactics with the assumption that it can achieve its goals through further escalation, military pressure and even bluffing. With high degree of certainty, we can expect to see the break of dialog like in 1939, another Gleiwitz incident or Mainila shelling or many other things from the Soviet/Nazi handbooks of 1939/1940. The Kremlin assumes that this is the best way to break Western unity and push the West to concede. We need to prove that this assumption is wrong and that we have enough will to deter Russia from further aggression by implementing some of the announced measures already now.
First, we must permanently strengthen the defense posture across EU and NATO’s eastern flank. Our defense must be iron clad with no gaps. Latvia and the Baltic states are ready to defend themselves and we will do it. But our aim is peace and deterrence. Therefore, NATO reinforcement is important right now and not when Russia invades Ukraine.
Second, we must with great urgency support Ukraine’s defense capabilities. Latvia will supply Ukraine with Stinger missiles and individual equipment. We must remember that Ukraine is fighting for democratic values and is de facto defending all of Europe. I consider military support to Ukraine a moral obligation of Europeans.
Third, the main objective in the dialog with Russia is confidence and security building measures based on verifiable transparency. We have observed for years that Russia’s strategy is based on breaking legal frameworks, deception and even lies. The current deployment in Belarus is just another example. And, although arms control is important tool in achieving stability, it only works if there is mutual interest and trust. We are not there yet.
Fourth, we Europeans should invest more in our own defense to avoid finding ourselves with rather limited choices when next crisis comes around.
Latvia and the Baltic countries have their bitter history of 50 years of occupation and repressions. We still remember what it is like to live on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This time we will not repeat our mistake of 1940 and will not allow us to be placed behind the Kremlin’s Curtain without a fight. But we also see that this as the last chance for Western community of democratic countries to comprehend the strategic consequences of the current crises. If we will not show our will and determination the consequences of the crises will be more serious than can be imagined. Therefore, we need to follow in the footprints of Winston Churchill and seek strategic peace instead of falling for Nevil Chamberlain’s appeasement. Those who do not learn from mistakes of others have to pay for their own mistakes. Today the consequence of this mistake will be Europe’s security crushed into pieces. We would like to believe that nobody among us is willing to pay such a price.