I constantly get asked, “Will Putin push farther into Ukraine?” and “Will Putin invade the Baltic states?” And here’s how I answer these questions.
Vladimir Putin is two things: an opportunist and an absolute capitalist. Putin began practicing judo at a young age, and one important aspect of the sport, is the judo master uses his opponent’s strength against him. He looks for his opportunity to crush and he proceeds to do so. This mentality describes Putin perfectly. Let’s look at the Georgia crisis in 2008. What happened? Russia pushed into neighboring Georgian territory, the world was kinda upset, and then we all forgot about it.
Fast forward to 2014. Russia pushes, or some people would use the word “annexes”, into Crimea, the eastern part of Ukraine. The world takes notice…and surprise…it totally pisses people off. My guess? Putin was surprised at the response. He probably thought it would be another Georgia where people would forget about it in a week and move on to more important things, like Kim Kardashian’s next husband. But, we didn’t forget. In fact, people are still up in arms and concerned that Russia is pushing into Crimea and may push farther in Ukraine, as far as Kiev, the capital.
What’s stopping Putin from marching troops into the whole of Ukraine? The sanctions the world has imposed on Russia are hurting her economically. As I said before, Putin is an absolute capitalist. So when Russia is hit financially, that wakes Putin up to reality. If the world had a response like the 2008 Russo-Georgian crisis, he’d be hanging out in Kiev, setting his sights on the Baltic states.
Which brings me to…Estonia. Will he invade Estonia? My answer is yes…but only if he sees the right opportunity and this opportunity may have already passed, meaning that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, also known as the Baltic states, are in NATO. NATO will protect these three countries militarily. It would take a majorly sly, fox-like opportunity for Putin to get in Estonia now, and if he does, I guarantee the world will have a collective freak-out. Keep in mind, Estonia is small nation, only the size of New Hamsphire and Vermont put together. It has a mere one million inhabitants, who for the most part, are nonviolent. How did the Estonians fight their aggressors, the Soviets, back in the day? Well, they held a Singing Revolution, which was a literal singing protest. And the three Baltics states participated in the Baltic Way, where the protestors held candles and national flags with black ribbons. But let’s be serious…as much as I love the Baltic people, especially the Estonians, that shit isn’t going to cut it. And that means all-out war against Russia, with the NATO states fighting the battle. The nonviolence aspect aside, Estonia is a tiny country with a teeny-tiny military. Combat against Russia? It will be a blood bath. Estonia needs her NATO sisters to fight that war.
But what if…what if Putin found a way to slide in the middle of the night into Estonia? Where would he enter? The answer is easy: Narva, Estonia. Narva is a city that’s nearly 94 percent Russian speaking. When I would visit there, I couldn’t speak any Estonian at all. I had to switch to Russian. The street signs are in Russian, the people are Russian. There’s a small bridge over a small river separating Narva from Russia. A small, walking bridge. That’s it. I would sit on the banks of the Narva River and watch Russian workers walk over the bridge in the morning to go to their jobs in Estonia, and in the afternoon, return to Russia.
Eighty-two percent of Narva’s population is ethnic Russian, compared to not even 4 percent that are ethnic Estonian. That’s a problem. Couple that with Estonian-Russian relations are always heated. The Estonians view the Russians as occupiers. The ethnic Russians feel they aren’t treated well as the minority living in the east side of Estonia. In 2007, the ethnic Russians got super pissed off at the Estonians when the Estonian government decided to relocate the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn. The ethnic Russians viewed it as a direct insult to them, and in response, they rioted for two nights in Tallinn (referred to as Bronze Night), beseiged the Estonian embassy in Moscow for a week, and cyber-attacked Estonian organizations. The moral of the story? Never piss off an-already angry Russian.
If Putin and his army seized an opportunity and came marching into Narva, the ethnic Russians living in Narva would probably be OK with it. And happy about it. The Estonians? Not so much.
My prediction is if Putin has the opportunity, if he doesn’t suffer economically from his actions, and if NATO doesn’t fight back–a perfect storm of three aspects that seem impossible to me–he’s going into Narva. On a personal level, if this happens, I fear for the Estonian people. I lived in a village in the south of Estonia for two years, and I fully understand how much they value and cherish their independence and their way of life. What a lot of people don’t understand about Estonians is that they’re not that culturally Russian influenced, not as much as you would think. The Estonian culture is similar to that of Finnish culture, their neighbor to the north. Estonian language is similar to Finnish; I could understand some Finnish because I could understand some Estonian. The golden rule of silence, the stoic personality, the treating friends like family, the shamanic roots, the secular society, etc. it’s all more related to the Finns. Even the way the Estonians dress their children in winter clothing and have a love for cross-country skiing, that’s more connected to the Finns. For Estonians, an invasion by Russia would be heartbreaking, a loss of culture and identity…again.
Also, the Baltic states, especially Estonia, have done an incredible job of recovering economically from the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have thriving economies, each individually. Estonia is technologically advanced and is a popular tourist destination. Cruise ships dock in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city, and Europeans spend long weekends for bachelor parties there. When I visited in 2008, I couldn’t believe how “EU” Tallinn had become. Where’s my little Tallinn, I thought. I have memories of walking around the medieval fortress city and going to pubs and restaurants with my friends. My favorite restaurant is now long gone, swallowed up by fancy EU restaurants and Westernized store chains. But I’m happy for the Estonians. I’m happy they’re doing well.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe everything Putin does is right. I’m against the gay propaganda nonsense, the international adoption ban, and I’m certainly against invading Estonia. I only hope Putin doesn’t get the perfect opportunity, because if he does, I know what’s coming. And it won’t be good for Estonia.