Peace Time: Estonia Builds a Fence on its Russian Border


February 19, 2024: Believing that good fences make good neighbors, the tiny Baltic State nation of Estonia is building a fence along its 295 kilometer border with Russia. Estonia is a NATO member and that offers a lot of protection from Russian attacks. The NATO agreement means that if a NATO member is attacked, the other 30 NATO members, which includes the United States, come to the aid of the NATO member being attacked. For over 70 years no NATO members have ever been attacked. One reason Russia justified its invasion of Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from going through with its plans to join NATO and the EU or European Union for economic cooperation. Russia wanted Ukraine aligned with Russia and not the west. The Ukrainians disagreed. Ukrainian negotiations to join NATO and the EU are still active and the Ukraine will belong to these organizations once the Russian invasion is defeated.

The Estonian fence is not meant to protect Estonia from a Russian attack, but to aid Estonia in controlling its border with Russia. A growing number of people cross the border illegally as smugglers, illegal migrants, or Russian agents up to no good inside Estonia. That is an application of the good fences make good neighbors doctrine. Given the ongoing Russian belligerence against its western neighbors, the Estonian fence makes sense. Moreover, Estonia is not planning to close its border with Russia and legal crossings are still operational. If Russia does become belligerent towards Estonia, the Estonians have said they would use landmines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, along the border in addition to obstacles to vehicles trying to illegally cross the border.

For more than 20 years a new, aggressive Russia has generated some interesting reactions. Initially, most of Russia's neighbors were reluctant to criticize, or sanction, Russia for invading and trying to dismember its tiny neighbor Georgia in 2008. But within a few weeks, new reactions emerged. The Russian invasion has triggered an arms race among Russian neighbors. Sweden, for example, despite its decades of neutrality, and recent aggressive defense budget cuts, was now planning to build up its military capabilities. The Baltic States want more NATO and especially American troops stationed on their territory to further ensure reinforcements if the Russians invade. Ukraine was openly planning to revamp its military defenses.

If Russia believed its Georgian operation would discourage its neighbors from joining NATO to gain protection from Russian aggression, it didn't work. But Russia was not discouraged, especially since the Georgian operation was enormously popular inside Russia. The events in Georgia were interpreted quite differently inside Russia, where some politicians saw it as an opportunity for the rest of Europe to join with Russia in an anti-U.S. coalition. Russians really believed this, partly because the government had, in the previous few years, taken control of most mass media in the country. Russia also has a new set of satellite states like Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan who all expressed approval of the peacekeeping operation in Georgia. These Russian allies are all nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union and were still dependent on Russia for economic or political aid.

Meanwhile, the U.S. was providing Georgia with a billion dollars of economic and military aid. This included NATO sending technicians and equipment to link Georgia's air defense radars with the NATO system. That means anything the Russian Air Force does over Georgia, will immediately show up in NATO air defense command centers. The U.S. is also believed sending new anti-aircraft weapons initially short range Stingers would discourage Russian air strikes. This aggressiveness is partly in response to Russian sales of air defense systems to Syria and Iran. The new Cold War was heating up again.

The pressure from Western Europe, UN and the U.S. has resulted in Russia offering to pull all of its troops out of Georgia, and never turn off the natural gas supplies for Western Europe. These Russian troops were mainly manning roadblocks where even UN aid trucks were halted and teams of troops who went around destroying Georgian military equipment. Russia also announced that it would station a permanent garrison of nearly 8,000 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, separatist portions of Georgia which Russia recognized as independent of Georgia, and sort-of part of Russia. In addition, Russia was considering building more natural gas pipelines, so that it has other customers for all that gas. All of that natural gas was going to Western Europe, which wis why Russia could promise to not cut off the supplies to their only customer for the natural gas.




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