I recently had an excellent opportunity to listen to the head of the intelligence service of a major Western nation discuss the key challenges in the world today. He spoke about the impact of AI, growing global reach of China, continued importance of agent intelligence, and increasing price of intelligence activities. However, his most hard-hitting message was directed at Western decision makers – why does our mindset seek solutions through acceptance of defeat?


How does this manifest? In the inability of the Western capitals so far to decide once and for all how the war in Ukraine should end and with what results. Instead of taking action to ensure Ukraine’s victory, Western capitals are falling more and more in the grips of defeatism. In fact, it is not impossible that someone somewhere has already come to the conclusion that Russia’s defeat in Ukraine might have such massive and unforeseeable consequences that it could itself lead to a more immense international chaos than the fact of allowing the war fade into an impasse. 


The German newspaper Bild published an analysis based on information received from its own sources, claiming that Washington and Berlin have coordinated a secret plan to freeze the war in Ukraine. According to this, Ukraine is being provided barely enough military aid to keep the country in existence but not in a sufficient quantity or quality to ensure its victory. 


President Biden and Federal Chancellor Scholz have seemed very much of one mind over the last couple of years, whether the topic is exempting Nord Stream 2 from sanctions in spring 2021 or knocking Ukraine back from the threshold of NATO membership in summer 2023 in Vilnius. Surprisingly, USA has enlisted the help of democratic European superpowers to keep OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) alive, although the aggressor state Russia is systematically demolishing the security architecture of the continent, part of which the clinically dead OSCE once was. It has been hinted in diplomatic corridors that OSCE may still be a good platform to talk to Russians. To war criminals. About what?


At the same time, USA and Germany are the two leading countries when it comes to the volume of help provided to Ukraine. Both, but especially the United States, have the economic as well as the military capacity to turn the situation decisively in Ukraine’s favour. What is missing, however, is the political will to achieve victory or make the necessary investments for this. USA has increased investments into its defence industry by a mearly 10 percent; the Zeitenwendeproclaimed by Scholz has been stalled by the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. A tell-tale example of this is the delay in the delivery of Taurus missiles to Ukraine or dragging the feet in signing defence industry contracts. 


Estonia’s one million rounds initiative did find declarative support among our European Union partners, but its realisation has become mired in the unwillingness of the Western capitals to redirect more resources from the upkeep of the welfare society to the field of defence. West of the River Oder, the threat from the East still seems like a distant rumble and the news from the Middle East or elsewhere have banished the news from Ukraine to the back of the newspapers. This is why we are in a situation where Russia is producing exponentially more shells than the West put together, despite the sanctions. 


Recently, I have sensed a resignation to the situation at international forums. There are discussions about everything else, except the growing existential threat that is hanging above us in real life. The discussions are interesting from an academic point of view but often do not touch on the extraordinary nature of security threats. Even if we discuss the enlargement of the European Union, the war falls to the background. Like it did not exist or like we did not know what Russia’s goals are in this war. 91 percent of the viewers of the Russian propaganda channel NTV believe that Russia is already at war with the West. Annihilating Ukraine is one battle in this war.


The US presidential elections which are looming on the horizon are filling the allies with great fear and trepidation. Should the elections be won by Donald Trump who is currently ahead of Joe Biden in the polls, the whole Western allied space might be in for a period of massive upheavals. Optimists might posit that after the elections Trump would soon forget his rhetoric of threatening his allies (like his recent claim that if Russia attacked a NATO country, Trump would not send USA to help) but we would do well to be prepared for some completely upsetting developments. This time round, Trump is out for revenge. This leaves the rest of the world only a few months to make irrevocable decisions in support of Ukraine. 


During my visit to Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, I told President Zelenskyy that the crucial challenge of this new winter is not for the Ukrainians to keep their determination to resist but for the Western leaders to keep the unity in standing against Russia’s aggression. As early as mid-December, we will learn how united the European Union really is in giving a green light to Ukraine’s accession negotiations and allocating them a crucial aid fund. Could Hungary be joined in the camp of sceptics by Slovakia, or the Netherlands after Wilders’s possible rise to the head of the government? 


Estonia and our like-minded close neighbours are hoping to avoid a new big war by any means. That would be a national catastrophe for us. We must do everything in our power to diffuse the defeatist fatigue narrative that is on the rise among the Western allies. Any kind of half-baked peace in Ukraine would only pave the way for Russia’s war machine to gain strength, give them more confidence to continue their crimes and open new fronts. 


I told Zelenskyy, whose appearance simultaneously conveyed a firm determination to win and a very human exhaustion from the insane pressure he is under, that Estonia is doing its all to help Ukraine to victory in order to avoid an international stalemate. We do not need to create the illusion that the appeasement of the war would bring peace to Europe. Only Russia’s clear defeat and Ukraine’s integration into NATO would give any kind of guarantee that we could prevent a big war that would engulf the great Western nations. We need to stop sleepwalking – same as before World War I. 


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Are we ready for World War III?