For the Baltic States and NATO, the best outcome of the war in Ukraine would be a complete defeat of Russia, according to the president of the Baltic Security Foundation, Olevs Nikers. However, Nikers feels that the most likely scenario for the end of the war would be a peace agreement, which means that the Baltic states and the Western world will be forced to deal with Russia on the long run.
If Russia were to defeat Ukraine, the Baltic states could be its next target
VERIDICA: How do you evaluate the current security situation in the Baltics taking into account the ongoing war?
OLEVS NIKERS: The security situation is much better than we expected. The first moment was shocking for us and for the first European-Atlantic community. But the strength of Ukrainian society and their ability to fight came as a surprise and now the situation is much different than it was in late February and early March. This is a great tragedy but thanks to the Ukrainians themselves and to the coordinated action by NATO and European Union, the situation at large extent is under control and the trends are quite positive.
Speaking about the changes in the Baltic countries, there are changes in the perception of security both among politicians and common people. The war has been a game-changer. The Baltic countries, particularly Latvia, were living comfortably under the umbrella of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, but now we see that countries came back to conscription which is a great step forward in engaging the society in national defense. Also, the Baltic societies could see the advantages of living in peace and acknowledge the fact that life in democracy and peace is not for free.
VERIDICA: You said „better than we expected” – it means that there were doubts about Ukrainian’s abilities to resist?
OLEVS NIKERS: The situation is „better” in the sense that the second biggest army in the world attacked Ukraine and it could have been a totally different story, a situation in which Russia would need just several weeks to achieve its goals. Despite this, we see that the Ukrainians are still fighting. We also see the resilience that was strengthened since the 24th of February. If Russia had succeeded, it could do something in Eastern European and the Baltic countries as well and it worried us. The Baltic countries could have been one of their next targets and this is something we cannot rule out even now.
VERIDICA: The Baltic countries are one of the most generous donors to Ukraine, particularly if we take into account their GDP. How do you evaluate these policies and should the Baltic countries help even more or less?
OLEVS NIKERS: As nations, the Baltic countries really showed maturity. In other words, from consumers of security, we became providers of security. We provided weapons, air defense systems, ammunition, and helicopter parts. We also sent humanitarian aid worth hundreds of thousands of euros. These are not big numbers in terms of the total amount and everything the war requires but this is a very strong message of solidarity and support and it says a lot about our societies.
Security in the Baltic region, strengthened in response to Russian aggression
VERIDICA: Seems that one of the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the Baltic region is Finland’s and Sweden’s decision to NATO. Moreover, NATO bases are going to be built in the region. Is this going to strengthen the Baltic’s security?
OLEVS NIKERS: This is the best and ultimate thing that could happen in the name of Baltic security. We have in NATO these resources but they have to be placed around the Baltic Sea. And the most effective way to strengthen the Baltic countries is Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO. This is the bright side of this very tragic and sad situation. Because of this war, we will be in better shape than before.
One of the consequences in the Baltic states is the fact that a certain number of young people will probably be forced to join the National Defense Service. While they go on with their studies and jobs, those young people will also learn the knowledge necessary in the army. In Lithuania and Estonia, such a system already is in place for years and Latvia is an exception.
This is a good policy choice, but it should have been made a few years earlier, I would say in 2015 or 2016. We had quite a long time to discuss this subject within our society in order to arrive at quality solutions timely, for instance finding the best answers to the questions like „Which model we should adopt? How should we do it?”. There were always calls in the society to discuss these issues, but it was somehow prevented by the policymakers. At the same time, we must ask ourselves if we did the best in order to strengthen our army reserves since 2014? And again, we had many years to make things better. And now, facing the major crisis, we had to make quick decisions on the State Defense Service in Latvia, but probably the best policy options in this regard are still ahead of us. I believe that young people are more worried about the model and implementation of these policies, not about the very idea of military service. It is up to politicians and executive institutions to adjust the conscription model in accordance with the priorities of national security and fit it up to the pulse of modern society and to the needs of young people. This is the dialogue we missed for years.
A firmer policy towards Russia
VERIDICA: One more quite important issue here in the Baltic states in the context of the war is related to the Russian-speaking people. How would you evaluate their attitude and behavior regarding the war and the Baltic countries’ politics?
OLEVS NIKERS: This is one more good trend in Latvia. Before, Russian-speaking people were consolidated around one big party, „Harmony”, and all these years it was one of the main concerns in terms of security. But now – since the war in Ukraine – we see that Russian-speaking people are fragmented. Not only this monolith has been broken but also the whole political party did not enter the parliament. We should take this as a momentum where the main Russian-speaking party is not so popular. Another good thing I would like to mention – the monument (of Victory or, as the Latvian-speaking calls it, the monument of Occupation dedicated to the Soviet army) has been demolished, smething which would not have been possible before the war in Ukraine. And, finally, the only language thought in school in Latvia now is Latvian. I believe that all these small pieces will help us develop a more coherent society in the future and we will see that Russian-speaking people will change their attitude.
VERIDICA: In September, the Baltic countries closed their borders to Russians. Was it adequate?
OLEVS NIKERS: Sure. It was a matter of national security and a political message towards Russian society. In other words, the decision not to let Russians come to Baltics is one of our stronger actions which could be very controversial about whom and how it affects. Nevertheless, this is a very wise step that impacts not only Kremlin but any Russian citizen.
VERIDICA: The Baltic countries have declared Russia a terrorist state. What is the idea behind it?
OLEVS NIKERS: This is a condemnation of the violent acts against the civil population and civil infrastructure, like schools, done by Russia in Ukraine. We can qualify it as terrorism. And here it does not matter whether the state itself or someone supported by the state commits these acts in the territory of another country. This is the worst way that some countries can use but Russia has chosen this path being a terrorist state.
If the Baltic states fall, it would be a defeat for NATO
VERIDICA: Are the Baltic countries important to the rest of the world?
OLEVS NIKERS: Every nation matters. The problems in one community immediately affect another community and global society. The Baltic countries are three democratic and free nations. We are at the forefront of the coalition against Russian aggression, we have always said that there is something wrong with Russia and it will come back to us and Europe. We have experienced all these information attacks, issues of cybersecurity, and other malicious Russian activities. If something was not heard by our Western partners before, it is impossible to ignore the realities now, that Russia has started such a massive war against Ukraine. Our positions are now being taken into account. In the terms of Northern Atlantic security and regional security, the Baltic countries matters the most because they stand in the first line. We have to do everything to prevent them from falling, because if they do, it will be a failure for NATO as well.
VERIDICA: Now – can the Baltic states feel safe and secure?
OLEVS NIKERS: All the European regions, not only the Baltic states, may feel secure only in case Russia is defeated in Ukraine completely. No compromises.
VERIDICA: So, no chance for international peace agreements?
OLEVS NIKERS: If we are following the realpolitics, then most probably this is what we will have – a peace agreement. Leaving something frozen. And the violence spiral in Europe will continue. This is the most realistic scenario. But the best scenario for the Baltic, regional, Europe, and the whole Transatlantic security would be the complete defeat of Russia in Ukraine. Currently, we see that Western powers and the United States want Ukraine to sign the peace agreement with Russia just keeping Herson and Zaporizhia. It is not bad but it is not the best scenario for the future.
VERIDICA: According to the borders on 24th February?
OLEVS NIKERS: Yes, but this is the question of the principle on international policies that Russia must be punished. There should not have been any appeasing policies toward Russia. This also could be the most realistic scenario but not the best one for the future.
VERIDICA: Sounds pretty pessimistic…
OLEVS NIKERS: Sounds as if we will deal with Russia in the future as well.