To the casual observer, the protesters demands seemed reasonable. Estonian law requires passing a language exam to become a naturalized citizen, which is ostensibly a difficult task for Narva’s Russian speakers who represent more than 80% of the city’s population. The protesters were making an emotional plea through RT’s cameras that their civil rights were being trampled.
The government of Estonia tried to calm the protests by offering to meet with its leaders and proposing an economic package to help the economically depressed city. As the days passed, protesters grew more intransigent. They now wanted Russian to be recognized as the second official language of the country. For most Estonians, who view the Soviet Union as an occupier, this would be unacceptable. Things were about to get worse, and they appeared to be following an eerily familiar script.
As the police threatened to remove protesters by force, armed men brandishing Kalashnikovs began to appear in the crowds. The leader of the protest movement, a local underworld figure with murky connections to Russia, warned Estonian authorities that people were ready to die for their cause. By now, the flags of the Narva People’s Republic were flying above the city hall, and western journalists were flocking to the city. News coverage, even by the more objective media outlets, gave the fledgling republic de facto recognition in the public discourse, and centered on the plight of Russians in Estonia. The sovereignty of this small democratic republic was now simply “one side of the story.”
Up until this point, the government tried to avoid a repeat of the fatal 2007 riots when more than 1000 ethnic Russians in the capital city, Tallinn, took to the streets over the relocation of a WWII memorial. Now, after an emergency meeting, Estonian security officials drew up a plan to storm Narva’s city hall and restore order. It was too late.
“Little green men” armed with machine guns and portable anti-tank missiles had arrived in Narva. The leader of the protest movement said these were local gun owners who would protect unarmed Russians from Estonian Nazis who were coming after them. As the number of Russian special forces masquerading as local rebels rapidly grew, there was little the tiny Estonian military could do. After all, Narva is, geographically speaking, practically in Russia — it lies on the Narva River on the Russian border and is closer to St. Petersburg than to Tallinn.
As the crisis escalated, and the media coverage grew more hysterical, the EU urged restraint from all sides. RT showed millions of viewers worldwide footage of elderly Russian women crying and begging Russia to help them. Western journalists who dutifully passed on the statements of both sides — but who also noted that some of the rebels seemed new to Narva — were attacked by well-coordinated mobs forcing most of them to leave.
That a silent majority of the residents of Narva were against separatism was now irrelevant. RT interviewed only the most vocal pro-Russia activists and when that was not enough, actors were brought in from Moscow to artfully portray a disenfranchised minority standing up for its rights. Dissenting voices were silenced, sometimes violently.
Finally, the US, against the wishes of many European leaders, came out and declared that Russia had launched an “incursion” into, although not an invasion of, Estonia. The Russian government denied this and vetoed the UN Security Council resolution that named it a party to the conflict. Estonia invoked Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty, hoping that member states would be compelled to come to its defense. And then the international order completely collapsed.
As western political leaders debated what steps to take, experts offered their opinions. Stephen F. Cohen, a prominent Russian studies scholar, opined on the pages of The Nation that the situation was much more nuanced than the foreign policy hawks would have you believe. Did the average American who had never heard of Estonia realize that the Baltics had once been part of Russia, or that Estonia once had a Nazi connection? Were Americans — or for that matter Europeans — ready to die for a tiny country far away on the eastern edge of Europe so that it could prevent a single city with an ethnic Russian majority from exercising its political will?
The military experts painted a similarly complicated picture. Retaking Narva would be close to impossible without causing severe collateral damage and killing a large number of civilians. Moreover, Russia’s quiet and bloodless invasion would make any western military operation look terrible by comparison. Public opinion polls indicated that boots on the ground would be political suicide for any western leader.
Continued at http://ukrainereporter.com/how-nato-could-end/