Estonia’s President: ‘Does Putin Believe in Article 5?’

Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves, Nov. 6, 2013Excerpts from interview of Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves by Lally Weymouth of the Washington Post.

Do you think Putin would be clever enough to try the strategy of appealing to the Russian-speaking Estonians so he wouldn’t have to invade Estonia with troops? Or do you think he might actually try to invade the Baltic States?

It is all so new, so it is hard to say. It’s not about conventional forces going over the border. They used the “little green men” [counterinsurgency fighters] until they were getting badly beaten by the Ukrainians and then they brought in their conventional forces.The big difference is that Ukraine is not in NATO and we are. This is about Article 5 — if it ever fails, then NATO no longer works. Then no one trusts it.

Do you feel you’ve crossed the Rubicon by joining NATO?

We are on the right side of the Rubicon. . . . There is a big difference between NATO and non-NATO. Why is NATO not defending Ukraine? Because Ukraine is not a member of NATO and we are. The question is not if we believe in Article 5. The question is, does Putin believe in Article 5?

Would the U.S. and Europe react?

I think they would. Obama said quite clearly that Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius are no less secure than Paris, Berlin and London.

You’ve talked about the NATO-Russia Founding Act and how it should be changed for a new security environment.

The problem with the NATO-Russia Founding Act is that [it was signed] in 1997 when Boris Yeltsin was president. It was like peace and love and Woodstock, and now we are in Altamont. I would argue that, between 1997 and 2014, the security environment changed substantially.

I think we have to revisit this illusory partnership that exists between NATO and Russia.

Do you see an absence of American leadership?

The U.S. is not going to put troops on the ground in a non-NATO country and risk a firefight with Russia. They would risk a fight in a NATO country because it is a treaty obligation. There is no treaty obligation for Ukraine.When we became independent, we got the best and brightest to work on getting Estonia into the E.U. and into NATO. Thank God we did.

Image: Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves, Nov. 6, 2013 (photo: Latvian Armed Forces)