UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is, that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here, because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing...

"However much we may sympathise with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbour, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight, it must be on larger issues than that. I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul; armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me... War is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake."

Estonia - Russian Military Threat

If Vladimir Putin is thinking of how to move from reactive tactics as in Crimea to to a pro-active strategy, Estonia may be at the top of his list. How many hours would it take for Russia to grab Estonia? Much less time would be required for Russian air assault troops to enter Russian the majority area of the city of Narva in Ida-Viru County. Western leaders from Merkel to Cameron to Obmana seemed very reluctant to respond to Crimea. Would Obama really put boots on the ground to get back a small snip of Estonia? What would the NATO Article 5 collective defense provision be worth if the US did not?? If Putin wanted to radically undermine NATO, Estonia would be a good place to start. Lithuania lacks a substantial Russian population, and has no border with Russia. Latvia borders Russia, but the Russian populpation is scattered.

Estonia's consciption-based reservist model has served it well, but would come up short in terms of rapid response, considering how Russian military capability has increased in recent years, a paper published 17 April 2014 by the International Center for Defense Studies concluded. The paper by deputy director Martin Hurt found that "more radical measures" are called for if the country is to have a chance of staving off action similar to the one seen in Crimea, which was accomplished in 20-40 hours. Three measures he mentioned are establishing additional professional units parallel to the existing Scouts Battalion, creating elite units within the volunteer Defense League as well, and extending the duration of conscription so that conscripts who have learned to fight on the platoon and company level are not assigned immediately to reserve but remain on active duty for some time.

The Estonian Defense Forces prepared for two large-scale military exercises in May and June 2014, with a total of 8,000 soldiers from Estonia and other NATO nations set to participate. First up was the annual Kevadtorm (Spring Storm) exercise involving 6,000 conscripts, reserve and professional and Defense League soldiers and units from Latvia, Lithuania, the US and the UK. Military aircraft and anti-air units from Poland and Belgium, and a cyber defense unit from France were also expected. Saber Strike, also an annual event, would draw together participants from a number of NATO states and Finland, with around 2,000 soldiers expected to take part. The exercise is US-led and would take place in all three Baltic nations. Kevadtorm and Saber Strike, which will be held in June, were planned before the current security crises erupted.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said 23 April 2014 a company of about 150 members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy, will be part of a “rotational” U.S. military presence in Estonia. One hundred and fifty soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team arrived 28 April 2014 to the Amari air base near the capital, Tallinn, to take part in a series of military drills throughout the year. The soldiers will be based on the territory of the Estonian Peace Operations Centre in the city of Paldiski, a Baltic Sea port situated on the Pakri peninsula of north-western Estonia, west of Tallin. In the 18th century it became a Russian naval base and in 1962, Paldiski became a Soviet Navy nuclear submarine training center.

Lieutenant Colonel Eero Rebo, the deputy head of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense Forces, said bringing US forces to Estonia is a clear demonstration that this is where the NATO border lies. Increasing NATO's presence in the Blatic states is a signal to the Kremlin and indicates where the border between the West and Russia stands, Gen. Ants Laaneots, former commander in chief of the Estonian Defense Forces said 23 April 2014. “Putin brought sense back to European minds on [military] dangers. I am happy that NATO and foremost EU members have woken up after 20 years of self-deception in the field of security,” Laaneots told ERR radio today, commenting on the decision by the US to station 150 soldiers in each Baltic nation until the end of the year.

Current chief of the Defense Forces, Major General Riho Terras, said the upcoming Kevadtorm military exercise will help drill cooperation. He said the US troops will take part in the month-long exercise and besides training alongside professional Estonian soldiers, the troops could also train with Defense League members and conscripts. Terras said the 150 soldiers would, in case of war, prepare for the speedier arrival of more US troops.

Russian activists planned two demonstrations in Tallinn in April 2014 to express solidarity with the Crimea and southeastern regions in Ukraine and "support the possibility" of holding a separatist referendum in northeastern Estonia. Estonian authorities say the rallies are likely to be marginal, on a background that has thus far been unreceptive to attempts to sow tensions. "Two meetings will be held in Tallinn, organised by the association Russkije v Estonii (Russians in Estonia)," reported the Russian daily Izvestia 09 April 2014. "The first is planned in front of the Russian Embassy on April 12, and the second demonstration will take place on April 20 in front of Parliament," the paper said in an unclearly attributed passage. "At this one, the organizers want to point to the fact that most Estonian cities were founded by Russians or have been part of Russia." The Estonian national security agency said the individuals who organised the demonstrations are known to them as provocateurs.

The first of two planned demonstrations in Tallinn held 12 April 2014 to support solidarity for ethnic Russians living in the Crimea and eastern regions in Ukraine, and to “support the possibility” of holding a separatist referendum in northeastern Estonia, passed without major incident and attracted only 40 people. The protesters held signs signaling support for Russians in Ukraine, while one Soviet Union flag was also on display. The rally was held in front of the Russian embassy. The men behind the events, Dmitri Linter and Juri Zhuravlyov, said the second demonstration, to be held on April 20 in front of the Estonian Parliament, will raise the question of holding a referendum for self-determination. The Estonian National Security Agency said the individuals who organized the demonstrations are known to them as provocateurs.

In most frank terms, the government of Estonia considers only one country to pose a threat to its sovereignty: Russia. Fears of an ultra-nationalist or former communist coming to power and liberating Russian nationals abroad or reforming the old union are a legitimate, if low probability, concern of the Estonian government. Elected politicians feel obligated to answer the calls for viable protection of Estonia’s newly gained freedom.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea touched off a new round of worry for Russia's Western-leaning neighbors. When Russia expressed "concern" in the UN Human Rights Commission on March 19 that Estonia was marginalizing its ethnic Russians, many took notice and worried that Moscow would expand its policy of stirring up its neighbors' Russophone populations for geopolitical gain. Analysts are examining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public statements for clues as to whether he planned to build on his successful land grab of Crimea by going after other territories with large Russian-speaking populations.

Estonia's population as of 2010 was 1,340 million, while the population of Crimea is 2,650,000 people. The territory of Crimea is 26,100 sq. km, while the total area of Estonia is 45,215 km2. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Russia's aggression a "wake-up call." The more alarmist headlines said Estonia may be the next target for Russian aggression. Estonians say, only half-jokingly says, when you live in this part of the north, you keep a bag packed and a good pair of running shoes at the ready.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet welcomed the suggestion made at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting to increase the number of planes in the Baltic Air Policing mission, and suggested Ämari near Tallinn as the site for a prospective permanent NATO base in the Baltic states. “The Ämari airbase is ready to permanently participate in the Baltic Air Policing Mission,” he told ETV in Brussels on 01 Apri 2014. “Things are moving in the direction that next to Šiauliai [in Lithuania], Ämari could become a permanent defense center for policing Baltic air space,” said Paet, adding that the commander of NATO forces in Europe said an additional airfield is needed for the enhanced air patrols, and Paet suggested Ämari.

Four Danish F-16 fighters arrived at the Ämari air field in early May 2014 to expand the Baltic air policing mission. The fighters would stay in Ämari until late August. Commander of the Estonian Air Force Colonel Jaak Tarien said 11 April 2014 the number of planes could be increased immediately in case of a crisis. “Many countries have expressed a wish to send reinforcements to support the Baltic states. We also have another country in line to take over from the Danes,” Tarien said.

There are no substantial NATO forces permanently stationed in Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Pentagon chief Hagel: Military will boost joint training of NATO forces in Poland and step up air missions in the Baltic states. Former White House aides Stephen J. Hadley and Damon Wilson advocated “deploying and exercising NATO forces in Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on 03 April 2014 that Russia awaits explanations from NATO on breaching the agreement with Russia with its increased activity in the Eastern European member states. According to Lavrov, the agreement prohibits a permanent NATO presence in Eastern Europe.

On 27 May 1997 the "Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation" was signed in Paris, France. It stated "NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Accordingly, it will have to rely on adequate infrastructure commensurate with the above tasks. In this context, reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression... "

Aleksandr Dusman, member of the board of the non-profit organization Ida-Viru County Integration Board, does not believe that the Russian-speaking population of Ida-Viru County, which borders Russia, would like to join Russia, because the living standards are far better in Estonia. The Russian-speaking population is also diverse, consisting of not just Russians, but also Ukrainians, Belorussians and others. There is a great difference between Estonia and Russia and the people of Ida-Virumaa know it, Dusman said.

In Narva in Ida-Viru County, Russian is the lingua franca, Russian media is the main source of news, and orange-and-black St. George ribbons symbolizing military victory adorn cars. But the Russians of Narva, who make up 88 percent of the city's population, call the European Union and NATO their home. And while they may feel the emotional tug of Moscow and certainly have their grievances with the Estonian government in Tallinn, few say they want to follow the example of Crimea and join Russia.

IRL Tallinn councilman and security expert Eerik-Niiles Kross said that if western powers drew a mental line they were prepared to physically protect only to Poland, Estonia will lose investments, tourists and in the end, its identity. Despite Estonia, the United States, the UK, Germany and even NATO itself saying its famous Article 5 for a member's collective defense will be applied if Russian troops enter Estonian territory, many foreign and Estonian analysts have questioned the pledge, Kross said in an opinion piece published in Äripäev 01 April 2014.

“If Estonia reacts in similar fashion to the Ukraine in Crimea, without a shot fired and Tallinn abandoned, then negotiations will begin (instead of NATO forces engaging Russia in battle),” Kross said, adding that the million dollar question is whether defending Estonia is mentioned alongside Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, in the risk group, or in the same category as Sweden, Denmark and Ireland – nations that must be defended at all costs. "If an attitude emerges in the western societies that seeing the Baltic nations invaded would be sad, but the mental line where nations must step-up lies in Poland, then sooner or later this mindset will have an affect on western governments,” he said.

The United States of America plans to deploy rotating land and sea units in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states in cooperation with NATO to increase its presence in member states where currently only temporary air forces are based, ETV reported on 28 March 2014. The possibility was mentioned by Vice President Joe Biden last week on a trip to the region and now appears to be becoming more concrete.

According to comments to media by Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication for US President Barack Obama, it is one of the countermoves to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said the aim is to increase US presence in NATO member states that feel threatened by Russia’s provocations, especially Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Speaking to media on Air Force One en route to Rome after meetings between Obama and NATO officials on March 26, Rhodes said: "[G]oing forward we will be increasing our rotations of ground and naval forces to NATO allies to complement [...] aviation deployments. The United States is prepared to join those commitments so that we have a continuous presence to reassure our allies in terms of ground, naval and air assets going forward."

Europe was too slow and cautious in its reactions to Russian aggression in Ukraine, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said 25 March 2014. "The Ukrainian crisis demonstrates that plutocracy is the dominant value in Europe - at a time when our principles of security have collapsed and state borders are violated right before out eyes, people are worried about their bank accounts and profits," the president’s office said in a press release. Europe’s response to violation of state borders and overruling international treaties so far has been to tell 21 people that they are no longer welcome in our countries, Ilves said. “That is not an adequate response.”

He reminded that the Russian invasion to Georgia in 2008 should have been a wake-up call but “we have been hitting the snooze button ever since.... We can no longer think that there are unthinkables of a certain type - countries do get invaded,” Ilves said, adding that the era of “Sudetenland argument” is not gone, as was previously thought.

Estonian Defense Forces Commander in Chief Major General Riho Terras said 25 March 2014 he saw no real immediate military threat to Estonia at the moment and the focus should be on NATO’s Article 5 and rapid response units. Estonian Defense Forces Commander in Chief Major General Riho Terras said the Ukrainian crisis raised the question about immediate response when it comes to NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members. Commenting on the battle-readiness of the Russian army, Terras said “Whereas in previous years, a lot has been made of the Russian army not being capable of doing various things, today they have a very credible capability of doing them”.

The Estonian army is focusing on ensuring a fast response, as Russia has demonstrated its ability to move large units around in a short space of time. “First, it is impossible to believe that when a conflict erupts, we will have contracts that will bring us ammunition, weapons and equipment - we must have it here already. Second, when it comes to NATO, it is important to understand that if we’ve spoken about contingency plans so far, we must now seriously think about defense plans based on Article 5,” Terras said when asked about the lessons of Crimea.

Terras says he does not see a real military threat to Estonia today, but the situation could escalate. “What is important today is to determine which things work and which things don’t work: how fast will they get here, to which bases, how will they operate. It is noteworthy that when we asked for planes, it took three days and 20 hours for 18 US fighter aircraft to reach the Polish-Baltic region. And that’s a considerable amount of time,” he said, adding that dominance in the air was a vital part of military defense.

The presence of Russian Federation military forces in close proximity to the Estonian border has increased in recent years. A direct military attack against Estonia may be unlikely; however, such a threat cannot be ruled out altogether. The Estonian security environment is influenced by the internal and foreign policies of the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation has demonstrated an increased interest in re-establishing its spheres of influence and strengthening its influence over Europe’s security environment.

The annual Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS, also known as KaPo) report was published 14 April 2014, with a blue-yellow design as a nod toward Ukraine. Arnold Sinisalu, Director General of the Internal Security Service, wrote in the forward that "Today the dangers of the regime of Vladimir Putin and its nationalist nature are much more apparent to the public in Estonia and all over the world than they were several years ago. The events in Ukraine have opened the eyes of many to the true goals and nature of the Russian compatriot policy. Russia wants to expand the Russian empire using Russian-speaking residents as one of its tools. The need to protect Russian people is used as an excuse for aggression... there is no known evidence of any systematic violence against Russians in European countries. In democratic states where Russians reside they feel safer and freer than in Russia itself."

The ISS report states "Before the recent events in Ukraine, Russia refrained from taking openly aggressive steps in order to avoid international isolation. Today, this is no longer a priority for Russia. Any future aggression from Russia towards its neighbours can only be prevented through military deterrence in the form of NATO’s collective security or a sufficiently strong independent defence capability."

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 05-07-2014 19:52:18 ZULU