Boy, Obama sure threw the fear of God into Vladimir Putin during his visit to Eastern Europe this week. Yes sir, the Russians are well and truly cowed after the Golfer-in-Chief interrupted his retirement to tell them former Soviet satellites were strictly off-limits. He stood there in Tallinn, Estonia, and gave exactly the same promises of security Ukraine was given when they were persuaded to give up their nuclear weapons. Over at The Atlantic, David Frum called it “the sharpest language any U.S. president has used toward Russia since Ronald Reagan upbraided the Evil Empire.” No, seriously, he really wrote that:
One by one, President Obama repudiated the lies Vladimir Putin has told about Ukraine: that the Ukrainians somehow provoked the invasion, that they are Nazis, that their freely elected government is somehow illegal. He rejected Russia???s claim that it has some sphere of influence in Ukraine, some right of veto over Ukrainian constitutional arrangements. And he forcefully assured Estonians???and all NATO???s new allies???that waging war on them meant waging war on the United States. ???[T]he defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said. “Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now.”
This is the ultimate commitment, given by the ultimate authority, in the very place where the commitment would be tested???and would have to be honored. There???s no turning back from that. Today, for the first time perhaps, Eastern Europeans have reason to believe it. And Vladimir Putin? His depredations have brought about the very result he claimed most to fear: a reanimated NATO rededicated to the defense of all its members, new and old, West and East, backed by the ultimate commitment of the United States.
In Tallinn, President Obama gave the most important speech about European security???and issued the most important pledge???of the post-Cold War era.
If you like your independence, you can keep your independence. No one will take it away from you, period.
So awed was Russia by this “ultimate commitment from the ultimate authority” that two whole days went by before someone launched a cross-border raid from Russia into Estonia, and kidnaped one of their counter-intelligence officials, as claimed by Estonian Public Broadcasting:
An official from the Internal Security Service (ISS), Estonia’s national agency for counterintelligence and high-profile corruption investigations, was abducted at gunpoint at Luhamaa border checkpoint this morning where he was discharging service duties, and taken to Russia.
The incident occurred at about 9:00 on the Estonian side of the border and was preceded by jamming of communications and use of a smoke grenade, the agency said; the interference was said to originate from the Russia side.
The ISS said the official was in the process of interdiction of a cross-border crime.
The area is in Võru County, by Russian border post #121. The border is largely demarcated and lacks major fortifications; the area is thinly populated.
The whereabouts of the official are not known, Postimees daily’s online site said.
There was no immediate explanation on the late disclosure of the incident – more than six hours after it occurred – which comes during a period of more tense relations with Russia.
Officials from the ISS (KaPo in Estonian) and the Office of the Prosecutor General have called a press conference for 17:00, which is now in progress.
Meanwhile, criminal case formalities (kidnapping and illegal border crossing) have been launched.
The Estonians evidently take “illegal border crossing” much more seriously than Barack Obama does. The Estonians have summoned the Russian ambassador to demand an explanation. Russian border guards reportedly visited the scene with their Estonian counterparts, and confirmed that “there were signs of a violent struggle,” but claim they have “had no reports of the incident.”
“This is a very galling incident,” said the Estonian foreign minister, Umas Paet. “We expect full assistance and cooperation from Russia in resolving the incident and bringing the Estonian citizen back to Estonia.”
As the BBC observes, Estonians are nervously watching events in Ukraine because they, too, have a sizable ethnic Russian population living near the border, which could provide Putin with an excuse for mischief. Fortunately, although there was a referendum for reunification with Russian in the early Nineties (passed, but blocked by Estonian courts) those ethnic Russians seem much more comfortable identifying themselves as Estonians than the separatists of Ukraine did.
It really would be a game-changer if Putin directly challenged NATO. He certainly wouldn’t be able to play the kind of hide-and-seek slow-motion invasion game he’s been running in Ukraine. There’s nothing comparable to Crimea for him to grab, and few other opportunities in the Baltics to foment the kind of separatist movement he’s been using as a proxy against Kiev. Nevertheless, nervous Eastern European governments have been hoping for a more visible American and NATO military presence – cards laid more plainly on the table, a more obvious signal that Russia’s first step across the border means a world war.
The news of the Estonian kidnapping is still developing, although it sure does look like something happened on the border. Perhaps it will turn out to be a terrorist action of some kind, or the actions of a criminal gang, rather than Russian military. It sounds like a well-coordinated attack, but terrorists and gangsters are capable of pulling those off. The Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs didn’t mince any words in expressing his support for Estonia and demanding the swift return of the missing official:
Abduction of Estonian policeman at EE-RU border is very serious issue, Latvia stands united with Estonia, he must be released immediately
??? Edgars Rink??vičs (@edgarsrinkevics) September 5, 2014
Speaking of Ukraine, by the way, they’ve hammered out a cease-fire agreement with the rebels, after the Russian troops who aren’t in Ukraine assisted the rebels in a strong but failed push to capture one more Ukrainian city. The cease-fire is supposed to go into effect tonight. One of Kiev’s conditions is that the Russian troops who aren’t in Ukraine need to leave Ukraine. Who knows where they won’t be next?
Update: Er, about that Ukraine cease-fire…
Ukraine ceasefire has started: explosions heard north of city of Donetsk, @Reuters reports
??? Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) September 5, 2014
Update: So much for the gangster/terrorist speculation; the Russians have admitted to seizing the Estonian officer, but now they insist he’s the one who crossed the border illegally, and was captured “on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
This is hideously wrong-headed, because under American immigration policies, the Estonian officer would have become Russia’s child the minute he crossed the border, and should be able to exercise a variety of “immigration rights.” Why is the rest of the world so hung up on borders?