Estonian General Martin Herem, credit:Wikimedia Commons

Estonia’s Top Military Commander: What a “War of Attrition” in Ukraine Means For Europe

I caught up with Estonia’s top military commander General Martin Herem at the Halifax International Security Forum in November. Estonia is a NATO member that borders Russia and I was interested in drawing out General Herem’s perspective on the conflict in Ukraine.

We kick off with General Herem’s military and strategic analysis of the current state of play of the war in Ukraine. We then have an extended conversation about the implications of a long and drawn out war for frontline countries like Estonia, and for Europe more broadly. He explains what he believes Ukraine needs to break the current military impasse, and why a long war in Ukraine undermines Estonian security.

Full episode freely available here.

Excerpts below

Excerpt edited for clarity

The Commander of Estonia’s Defense Forces General Martin Herem Explains the Battlefield Implications of Declining Western Support for Ukraine

Mark Leon Goldberg So one thing that could change the game in Ukraine is the failure of the United States Congress to pass a supplemental aid package for Ukraine. I’m not going to have you comment on US politics. I know you won’t. But there is a possibility that there will be no further aid forthcoming any time soon. What impact would that have on the conflict in Ukraine, in your assessment, if there is no more US aid or if this current supplemental is delayed indefinitely? 

Martin Herem I don’t think Russians can advance further or can take much territory more than what they have got already. So if Ukraine is missing the support from the West, then I will say we will get the frozen conflict on the battlelines somewhere where they are today. But that also means, from our perspective, a lot of dead Ukrainians. At the moment  the Russians do not care how many soldiers they lose — that’s what we see. I think even if Russians lose two times more soldiers than Ukraine, it’s still not enough because they can stand it. They may even show their losses as strength, as in “we can lose [many soldiers]. Ukraine cannot. So we will continue.”  Over two years, they have sent 400,000 replacement soldiers. Which country in Europe or in America can do something like this? We had in Afghanistan, I think it more than 100,000 troops. The Russians have sent three times or four times more just during two years, and they have lost  300,000. Their ability to suffer is not understandable to us at all. 

On the psychological impact in Europe of a long and drawn out war in Ukraine

Mark Leon Goldberg Lastly, is there any other point about Estonian security or European security, that you’d want to make that you want to emphasize?

Martin Herem I think we all have to do more, including Estonia. It doesn’t matter how small we are and how much we have done so far. We actually have to do more. We should train more people than we have done so far.

I think we should raise the support Estonia provides to Ukraine, because if Ukraine is losing this conflict, that will have and impact on Estonia too —  and probably more psychologically than militarily or physically. Psychologically, there are people who are starting to see that, okay, Russia can do this [to Ukraine] and the west will not provide support —  and they will transfer it to our situation [in Estonia]. They will say maybe we should not trust NATO’s at all?  Because for simple people, there is no difference maybe between us and Ukraine — that we belong to non-NATO and Ukraine does not. They see just how much bigger western countries are supporting Ukraine.