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Committee Corridor: War in Ukraine - the threat to the Baltic states

7 July 2022

NATO needs to come up with a solution which deals with the current threat from Russia and has the potential to defend and reinforce its Eastern flank, urge committee chairs from Latvia and Estonia in the latest Committee Corridor. 

Episode 5 of the podcast from the House of Commons Select Committees considers Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the eyes of the Baltic states. 

Rihards Kols is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Parliament. Marko Mihkelson is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament. They were part of the first Northern Neighbours Conference, hosted by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in June 2022, where representatives of nine equivalent European parliamentary delegations gathered in Westminster to discuss the most pressing international and security challenges and how to coordinate responses. In today’s podcast, they are joined by Tobias Ellwood MP, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee. 

“What has happened in Ukraine and Russia's war - heavy, brutal, genocidal war in the middle of Europe today, in 21st century - we have to understand that this is a point where we have to finally become proactive, put together strategy, which really leads us to the strategic defeat of Russia,” Marko Mihkelson tells Tom Tugendhat MP, the host of Committee Corridor and Chair of Westminster’s Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Russia’s actions mean that all of Europe is connected to the war for independence in Ukraine, says the Estonian Chair. “With Putin’s Russia, we won't have normal relations, not only between Estonia, Russia - but Western countries and Russia. How the hell we can sit behind the same table with [a] war criminal - this is unimaginable. And that brings us to the point why it is so essential today. Coordinate better and help Ukraine to win their independence war.”  

In April, Latvian and Estonian parliaments voted unanimously to declare that Russia had committed acts of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The two countries, on NATO’s frontier with Russia, have increased their level of defence funding but believe some degree of burden sharing among NATO countries will be required to strengthen the defence capabilities on the Eastern flank. 

“We are closely following how Russia is conducting its war in Ukraine. What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? And we obviously see that the air defence, in case of Ukraine, is vulnerability number one,” says the Latvian Chair, Rihard Kols. 

“And we will not lie. That is the same case when it comes to the Baltic countries, we don't have proper air defence systems, not at all, not at all. So therefore, this is something where immediately, NATO needs to put their heads together and come up with a solution that's at least for the medium term to really abolish these kind of threats and have the potential to defend.” 

Europe has enjoyed 30 years of relative peace and has become a little risk averse since the last Cold War. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a ‘huge wake up call, a real shake-up on European security’ says Tobias Ellwood MP. 

“Putin has been clever in working out what to do, probably surprised by the scale of response by the Ukrainians, but he probably got it right - the fact that the West remains rather hesitant to really go toe to toe with Russia” he says. “It's so important that we ensure that we encourage and support Ukraine to make sure that they can win rather than just stop them from losing.” 

But five months into the conflict, war fatigue is a growing concern, suggested Tom Tugendhat, with reduced news coverage and the prospect of growing pressure to resolve energy problems ahead of winter. 

“I think Ukraine fatigue is the biggest issue here,” agrees Tobias Ellwood. “If you are the last man standing as an aggressor, then you've won. You could throw everything at it, happy to lose personnel, equipment and so forth. But if you've got the territory at the end of the day, and had the patience, you will win.” 

The UK is supporting two battle groups in Estonia. The Defence Committee Chair said he hopes they will remain there and that the line moves eastwards, includes Finland and Sweden and the Baltics too. However, the recent Integrated Review has seen the UK reduce its troops by 10,000. “There are huge questions, not just for NATO, but for Britain as well in recognizing that security - geopolitical, you know, our security across Europe - is on the demise.”  

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Image: UK Parliament/Andy Bailey