What Russians think about Estonia

Tiny alien territory very close to our heartland is the best description of Estonia’s place in Russian history.

Estonia, like the rest of the Baltic states, was part of the Russian empire since the XVIII century. Aside from the considerable role played by local Germans in the service of the Russian Empire, it didn’t leave very much mark in our collective mind. It was considered a dull periphery, where people speak their unintelligible language going about their dull business on the shores of a dull shallow sea.


This somehow changed in the XX century. After the reconquest of the Baltics in 1940, Estonia, like the rest of them, became a shard of Europe stuck in the hermetically insulated world of the Soviet Communism. For example, their actors were picked to play “Europeans” in our movies, and their tunes were our surrogates for international pop.


We suspected the Estonians didn’t like it very much being stuck with us, so we tried cheering them up with some privileges. Their infrastructure was better, thanks to all the investment in the build-up of bases and the military-industrial complex on their territory. Their grocery shops were better stocked, their writers and artists were allowed to publish things that were oftentimes borderline anti-Soviet.

Switched sides

They didn’t seem to appreciate much any of that. When all things Soviet went pear-shaped at the start of the 1990s, they declared independence, and never looked back.
Now, they are in NATO and EU. They got a Russian-speaking minority that became a sort of new lower class, and sometimes complains very loudly about inequality and discrimination, but never moves back to Russia.


Our attitude to Estonians, like to the rest of the Balts, is very much like of an ex from a lousy relationship. We were sort of married, but it never felt like marriage. More like roommates with privileges. Now imagine your former ex who you tried hard to impress and act cool, but who is now with some other guy, and tells everyone left and right that you were not cool at all.

It kinda hurts.

Disclaimer: The word “Balts” used here is what Russians use about all the three Baltic nations. Most of us know that Estonian language is not related to the other two, but belongs to the Ugro-Finnish group. “Balts” (or the older “pribálty”) denotes geography, not ethnicity or language.

Why Russians are supposed to think that Ukraine, Georgia and other close neighbors are “theirs”?

The Russian concept of “Near Abroad”, i.e. former Soviet state around our borders, is aking to the Roman concept of Foederati. We provide benefits to them in exchange for a certain degree of protecting our security and military requirements.

Soon after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Kremlin launched the concept of “near abroad“. It included all former Soviet republics that had gained independence. Yet, these continued to be connected to us by thousands of ties. This made everything that happened there of particular relevance for too many in the Kremlin, as well as among the rest of the nation.

In the West, they often talk about the “sphere of influence” to describe our approach. However, this is too broad and imprecise. Closer to truth would be the ancient Roman word foederati that described tribal territories outside the Empire. Their relevance to Rome was mostly in the sphere of security. They were too poor to be interesting markets of objects of colonial exploitation but very useful as a kind of cordon sanitaire against external military threats.

  • The Baltics sit pretty awkwardly between us and the Baltic sea, cutting us off from the Kaliningrad enclave. Estonia is also too close to St. Petersburg for comfort.
  • Ukraine is sort of an ex who left and slammed the door with too much broken china and bad blood left behind. If they build their military to the Turkish level, or just join the NATO, it would mean their tanks can theoretically reach Moscow in a matter of one day or two. We never had to live with a neighbor like that.
  • Georgia is more or less a settled case. Putin won’t let them take back Abkhazia or South Ossetia, so his presidential palace in Sochi is pretty safe for some time ahead. Turkey seems to be friendly right now. Yet, if Turkey decide to move in and take Georgia under their wings, then our union with Armenia, and the base there will hang in a very thin thread. No time to relax about Georgia either.

This way, these are not exactly “our” territories, but we need to watch what’s happening there very carefully. This also includes the NATO members, the Baltics. Their decision not to have foreign bases and keep down the concentration of the NATO military is therefore very wise. This makes us less nervous, and reduces the pressure on them.

As to the other former Soviet states, any sign of alienation there signals to us a dangerous breach in the foederati perimeter of security right outside our borders.

What would a war between NATO and Russia look like after the first nuclear strike?

A war between NATO and Russia.

With the capacity for Mutually Assured Destruction still present on both sides, the likelihood of an all-out nuclear strike from either side is rather small. Whatever propaganda on either side is saying, there are hardly any issues between Russia and the US/NATO that can’t be sorted out in a considerably less costly way, through negotiations or conventional proxy conflicts.

But if, against odds, Black Swans arrive and the nuclear option comes to table, we’ll most likely see a carefully scaled conflict. The first shots would be delivering tactical nuclear munitions, in order to measure public and military response from the other side.

Right now, the most likely area for such an exchange seems to be the Baltic Sea nations and the Ukraine. The rationale for that might be Putin testing NATO’s resolve to invoke Article 5 in the face of the imminent threat of nuclear escalation. “Is President Trump willing to sacrifice Pittsburgh for Pärnu?” Most likely, Trump and the Germans would stand down, NATO would collapse, and the prospect of global nuclear war would blow over.

Missile ready to launch