Baltic Security Discussion with Olevs Nikers

By Sarah Baughn, MALD 2024 Candidate, The Fletcher School

On November 17, 2022, Olevs Nikers visited The Fletcher School to discuss the work done by the Baltic Security Foundation and the Baltic response to the Russia-Ukraine War in an event hosted by the Fletcher Russia & Eurasia Program.

Nikers is the president of the Baltic Security Foundation, which works with the Latvian Ministry of Defense. The foundation was established in 2019 to promote regional security by working with like-minded security organizations and researchers, as well as academic institutions like the Fletcher Russia & Eurasia Program. Their most recent publication “Between Brussels and Beijing: The Transatlantic Response to the Chinese Presence in the Baltic Sea Region,” is a compilation of country-based case studies on China’s presence in the Baltic Sea region, including in the three Baltic countries of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Additional countries under study include Germany and Poland.  

When discussing what European nations should do in response to Russia’s aggression, Nikers said, “Poland is one of the most important parts of European security, so reasonably we should consolidate…We are also very happy about Finland and Sweden becoming a part of NATO.”

The conversation moved onto the missiles fired into Poland in November 2022 and speculation on NATO’s potential response to the situation.

“Unfortunately, NATO is in a position of reacting,” Nikers stated. 

Moving on to an explanation of deterrence and potential ways forward for the Baltics and the rest of Europe, Nikers continued, “What happened in Ukraine was a failure of deterrence. Long-lasting peace for Europe would occur if Russia could be crushed and defeated completely in Ukraine.”

After Nikers concluded his presentation, the floor was open for questions.

An audience member asked, “Why were we as the West so collectively blindsided by the fact that Russia would launch a conventional war against Ukraine? The Baltic countries felt vindicated about how they felt about Russia because they saw Russia as far more of a threat to Europe than other European countries did. What could the West have done to deter Russia?”

Nikers responded that we should go back to the 2008 invasion of Georgia, because that was when “we in the Baltic countries really realized that it would only lead to war in the future.”

As for why the rest of the world’s response wasn’t stronger at the time, Nikers explained, “It’s normal–it’s a human way to think more positively about things and to avoid bad thoughts. But the Russians, Putin and his regime, only respect force. So, Russia looks at the reaction of NATO and Russia as the real test.”

Nikers concluded by stating that Putin is likely to target NATO, Estonia, and perhaps Latvia because he believes that NATO is not united. Therefore, he emphasized the need to strengthen the regional partnerships in the Baltic region and throughout the world to create a stronger and more unified Baltic front for deterrence.

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