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A Message to NATO: Be More Baltic

As some Western nations waver in their commitment to Ukraine, the Baltic states have remained steadfast and generous allies. It’s an example to emulate.

During the early days of Russia’s all-out war, financial aid and weapons poured into Ukraine. Two years on, this is no longer the case, as disputes in Western capitals and between allies slow the flow of support.

But the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have stuck with Kyiv and support is now a centerpiece of their foreign policy.

The trio are consistently among the top five contributors, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. All three have spent more than 1.5% of their GDP supporting Ukraine.

Lithuania and Estonia have committed around 1.8% of GDP to Ukraine, once their contributions to EU aid are included. Latvia has sent aid equivalent to 1.6%. (By comparison, the US has sent far more in cash terms but this amounts to 0.3% of GDP, while the UK has sent 0.4%.)

This is of course in part because Ukraine is close and so too is the Baltic memory of Russian occupation and bloody thuggery. If Ukraine were to lose, many in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania feel they would be next.

The Baltic states are not alone in believing that Ukraine is defending them, but they perhaps sense the threat more powerfully than others.

There are broader reasons too. CEPA Senior Fellow and Lithuanian national Dalia Bankauskaitė says the Baltics may speak different languages, but they convey the same message: European security and the security of the international order remain unresolved without Ukraine.

Their position is that “Europe and the West have no right to grow fatigued by Russia’s war on Ukraine,” she said. “The grey zone situation, in which the West does not want Russia to lose, and where they lack a vision for victory, undermines Europe’s security, Western values, and the international order.”

Marija Golubeva, a CEPA Distinguished Fellow and former Latvian MP, echoed Bankauskaitė’s sentiments, adding that there is an urgent need for countries across the West to step up.

“The Baltics’ contribution to arming Ukraine has been resolute and above their relative weight in the world economy, “ she said. “This is not the time to be complacent, Not just for the Baltics, but for all NATO members, this is the time to redouble efforts to protect Ukraine from the aggressor, given the pressure to freeze the conflict.”

Cutting back on support would have ramifications far beyond the borders of Ukraine, she said.

“If Russia succeeds in keeping the occupied territories for the foreseeable future, the consequences for NATO’s Eastern Flank will be catastrophic,” Golubeva said. “We see from the recent statements of Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime minister, and from the new defense agreement of the three Baltic states that Baltic politicians are aware of what is at stake.”

The Baltics and Ukraine share similar turbulent histories of Cold War occupation by the former Soviet Union, and the value of Baltic support has been recognized by the Ukrainian government. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the region in January to thank them and ask for further aid.

With a combined population of just over six million people, the three nations know they are stronger together. They will celebrate 20 years of NATO and European Union membership this year, but know it could all be lost if Russia is allowed to win the war.

The Baltics have a great deal to lose if they do not seize the moment and take the lead. One way they can do this, Bankauskaitė suggests, is by finding and rallying more advocates for Ukraine and calling for additional military aid, economic assistance, and political backing.

EU member states and NATO allies should all share and feel the same existential threat as the Baltic states, Bankauskaitė says. If leaders from all three rally together to work with their European friends, neighbors, and other allies, they will be able to call out those national governments doing the least to support Kyiv (see the Kiel tracker.)

With the US’s focus on domestic politics and the 2024 presidential election, Europe and the Baltics cannot wait for Washington’s leadership when it comes to Ukraine.

So the continent must ensure it offers a clear and united voice. Russia as the aggressor must understand that the West is not fatigued by the war, despite ongoing distractions like elections. The issue is just too important for the continent to fail.


By Krista Viksnins / CEPA. Krista Viksnins is a Senior Program Officer with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).


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