Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland warned about Russia. Nobody listened.

RIGA, Latvia — Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv’s strongest allies against President Vladimir Putin have been the nations that know his Soviet playbook best: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all invaded and brutalized by the Soviet Union and historically wary of for Russia.

Their warnings of Russian aggression and calls for stronger Western action to deter Putin were long dismissed by many in Europe, even after Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and the Kremlin’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea.

“One lesson from this war is that we should have listened to those who know Putin,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the Union address last month. “They’ve been telling us for years that Putin wasn’t going to stop.”

Since February, the Baltics and Poland have repeatedly called for the delivery of more and faster military aid, including more powerful offensive weapons, only to be rebuffed by the United States and Western European allies, who wanted to make clear they were not in direct conflict with Russia.

Slowly, that is beginning to change, as Putin has proven his wary neighbors right—repeatedly.

The Russian president’s shocking escalation on Monday, firing dozens of missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, including power plants, was strongly condemned around the world. Western leaders are beginning to recognize that they may need to take more decisive action to ensure Ukraine’s victory.

Ahead of key NATO meetings in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, the leaders of the Baltic states have called on the West to scale up the supply of weapons to Kiev, especially air defense systems. NATO’s contact group on Ukraine will meet in Brussels on Wednesday, and NATO defense ministers will meet on Thursday.

But in a sign that the easternmost allies are already making progress, the leaders of the Group of Seven issued a forceful statement on Tuesday backing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for a “just peace” that leaves no room for capitulation to Putin’s requirements. The G-7 insisted on the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, ensuring Ukraine’s future security and reconstruction financed by Russia.

Still, Baltic leaders insist that more must be done.

On Tuesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, stood about 100 meters from Estonia’s border with Russia in the city of Narva, sending a strong signal to the Kremlin that its escalation had not undermined Western support for Ukraine.

Kallas called for more military aid to Ukraine, especially modern anti-missile systems and air defense, as soon as possible.

“Ukraine’s success on the battlefield means that we have been on the right track and that we must capitalize on this momentum,” Kallas wrote in an email to The Washington Post after appearing with von der Leyen. “It must be translated into ever-increasing and stronger support for Ukrainian soldiers, economy and its people. Especially now that Russia is escalating in the most serious way since February 24.”

“Estonia knows the face of the Russian occupation firsthand,” Kallas added. “We know that peace under occupation does not mean the end of atrocities, but more of them.”

Baltic leaders have long argued that Western sanctions enacted in 2014 after Putin illegally annexed Crimea showed the West’s lack of resolve in confronting the Russian president over his land grab. European leaders seemed to believe that the Baltic countries were so traumatized by the Soviet occupation that they could not be objective.

“Like funny, you know, we call this ‘vest-splaining,'” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. The West’s message, he said, was that “after 50 years of occupation, it’s understandable that you would have trust issues with a country that occupied you.”

“For us in the Baltics, it all boils down to this notion of appeasement: that we can basically appease Russia,” continued Landsbergis. “For us it was always very clear, black and white. If a country is eager to cross another country’s border, they are an aggressor and will do it again if not stopped. And they have not been stopped.”

“That notion is quite pervasive, this notion of peaceful resolution with an aggressor,” he added. “I really hope that it is now subsiding.”

Amid Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons, his alleged annexation of four more regions of Ukraine and military escalation, the leaders of Poland and the Baltic states are once again urging Western leaders not to blink.

“This is also a war of nerves,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. “The Russians are trying to figure out if they’re going to be allowed to take over Ukraine and if we’re going to give in to nuclear blackmail or if we’re going to try to negotiate a deal, land for peace.”

Rinkevics said Ukraine clearly needed air defense systems to protect the country from Russian missile attacks on civilian targets and critical infrastructure such as power plants.

“That’s one thing I think they’ve been calling for weeks and months as well — more of all kinds of weapons,” he said. “Actually, my bottom line is that we should give Ukraine everything they ask for.”

Landsbergis said Ukraine urgently needed tanks and aviation as well as air defense systems.

“We need to stop debating whether to supply more weapons to Ukraine and give everything we have that they would be able to use, and they are able to use a lot,” he said .

Estonia and Latvia have provided more military aid to Ukraine per capita than any other country. The Baltic states and Poland have also been the strongest proponents of economic sanctions against Russia, although their own economies as neighbors have been hardest hit by the measures, which cut off business with a large market right next door.

Kristi Raik, director of the International Center for Defense and Security’s Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, said that Western policy toward Russia since 2007 ignored clear signs of Russia’s revanchist imperialism and autocratic path.

“The Western failure was that they didn’t take it seriously or think Russia was serious,” Raik said. “And then when Russia became more aggressive and tried to impose its agenda, the Western response was not to set limits on Russian aggression and to make it clear that if Russia violates the core principles of international security, there will be costs and consequences.”

The West’s soft response, especially after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, only encouraged Moscow, Raik said: “If the response had been stronger, it might have been possible to avoid the situation we are in now, with a full-scale war in Europe.”

She said Western restrictions on the types of weapons sent to Ukraine did not prevent Russian escalation. “Russia was determined to win and destroy the independent state of Ukraine, and Russia is using all means it can to achieve this goal,” she said. “Western restrictions on aid to Ukraine are not really helping the situation.”

Rinkevics said the West would have to greatly scale up military production in the coming years.

“It is quite clear that the next five to 10 years will be very difficult. We need equipment to replenish our stocks. We need more equipment for NATO members. We need equipment for Ukraine. I think we have to recognize that this is going to be a protracted war.”

Unless the West stands firm, the easternmost allies argue, Putin would defeat Ukraine before potentially attacking northern Kazakhstan in the coming years, expanding his grip on the Caucasus or trying to push further west into Moldova or beyond.

“If he sees that there is only talk and no action at this point, then of course he will try to challenge NATO himself,” Rinkevics said.

For Landsbergis, only a Ukrainian victory will ensure the safety of his own country and others. “They have to win for all of our sakes,” he said.

Kallas said that only a show of force would stop Russia’s aggression and end the war. “The way to peace,” she said, “is to push Russia out of Ukraine.”

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Emily Rauhala in Brussels contributed to this report.

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