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Estonia

Estonia

  • Estonia has shown a particular interest in defending against hybrid threats, not least due to its high Russian-speaking population.
  • Estonian government is actively engaged with volunteers and the country’s civil society in combatting hybrid threats and disinformation by Russia.
  • Highly digitized Estonian government infrastructure has been a victim of Russian cyber-attacks, with some believing it to be the first target of a hybrid warfare tactic utilized by Russia, making cyber-defence and media fact-checking important aspects of Estonian national security.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Principled defender. Held concerned views of Russian foreign policy and now is at the forefront of the European response to its aggression.[1]

Estonia has suffered from cyber-attacks by Russia in the past and it is often seen as one of the first victims of the “hybrid war” tactics. Its sizeable Russian minority and the Estonian government’s naturalization policies are often brought up by Russian diplomats in order to paint Estonia as a human rights violator. Russia plays a significant role in shaping Estonian national security policy, and the events of 2014 in Ukraine only assured Estonia that its fears were justified.

Estonia and Russia still share “bad blood” due to the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries, which ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tension grew even thicker when Estonia allied with NATO in 2004.[2]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Former President Toomas Ilves expressed concern that Russia may use hybrid tactics against Estonia.[3] His concerns are shared by the current President Kersti Kaljulaid.[4] The Centre Party, its former leader Edgar Savisaar, and the current Prime Minister Ratas, however, have become subjects of scrutiny over their alleged ties to Putin’s United Russia Party.[5] Still, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have alarmed Estonian policymakers, and the dominant consensus is that Estonia must be prepared to defend against potential repetitions of the Ukrainian scenario in the Baltic.[6]

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Estonian Prime Minister Rõivas has proposed establishing a permanent financing scheme for the EU Strategic Communication Task Force (EU Stratcom) in 2016.[7]

“Välisluureamet” – the official foreign news service of the Estonian government – publishes yearly analyses of threats and challenges Estonia faces. This work is compiled into a report called “International Security and Estonia”. In the report, both Russian domestic and foreign policies are analysed, proving Russia’s goal is to expand its influence on the former Soviet states.[8]

Estonian politicians and public administration officers refuse to be a part of the Russian media. Major Uku Arold – Stratcom Officer in the General Staff of the Estonian Defence Forces – told The Christian Monitoring Service that: “[They] never give interviews to Russian state-controlled broadcasting channels because it’s not media. It’s not journalism… there is no point to giving interviews because the story is already made before the interview is given.”[9]

The Estonian government also launched a Russian-language public broadcasting channel in 2015.[10] This was created in an attempt to lessen tensions between Russian-speaking minorities and the rest of the population of Estonia; one of its primary goals is to discredit much of the pro-Kremlin broadcast stations which reach the country.[11]

Estonia sent its seconded expert to the EEAS East Stratcom team and it is one of the sponsoring nations of the NATO Stratcom COE in Riga.[12]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


KAPO (Kaitsepolitsei) or the Estonian Secret Police is actively involved in combatting foreign influence by Russia, particularly focusing on Estonia’s Russian minority population since Russian espionage tactics involve recruiting local Russian-speaking citizens.[13]

Identifying and apprehending Russian spies is an important part of Estonian counter-intelligence work. One of the most recent espionage-related arrests occurred in January 2017, whereas in 2016 two dual citizens of Russia and Estonia were apprehended and sentenced to jail for spying in Russia’s favour.[14]  The case of Uno Puusepp, a retired double-agent who eventually moved to Moscow, shows that Russian intelligence activities in Estonia date as far back as 1990s.[15] 

Eston Kohver, an Estonian security official kidnapped by Russian security in 2015, has brought attention to Russian intelligence activity in Estonia. Though Kohver was sentenced to 15 years in jail by Russian court for espionage, he was released by Russia in exchange for releasing Aleksei and Victoria Dressen.[16] A Russian citizen was also taken into custody in 2017 for being a suspect of computer-related espionage crimes against the country.[17]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


The Baltic Defence College, founded in 1998, organizes conferences about Russia, such as the Annual Baltic Defence College Conference on Russia. The February 2017 conference looked at non-linear warfare perpetrated by Russia, namely its cyber- and memetic dimensions among others.[18]

The International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS; RKK in Estonian) is a Tallinn-based think-tank working in cooperation with the Estonian government, tasked with analysing a wider range of issues relating to Estonian security and national defence planning.[19] Among events organized by the ICDS is the annual Lennart Meri Conference, which is to be held in June 2018; it will present major issues facing the EU and NATO this year.[20] ICDS is also responsible for organising courses in national defence which are held twice per year in Estonian and Russian for politicians, senior state officials, military officers, local government officials, top economic and opinion leaders, cultural and educational practitioners, journalists, and NGOs.

The Baltic Centre for Russian Studies (BCRS), founded in 1999 and directed by former Estonian Prime Minister’s advisor Vladimir Yushkin[21], raised concerns over potential hybrid warfare risks posed to Estonia by Russia.[22] However, the BCRS’ activities remain elusive, and are visible only via the figure of Yushkin and his media appearances.

Propastop.org is an anti-propaganda blog operated by volunteers who are members of the Estonian voluntary Defence League (Kaitselit)[23] which works under the Ministry of Defence.[24] The blog is tasked with countering disinformation targeting Estonia. It is currently publishing counter-propaganda material in Estonian, but it also contains an English-language page.

The National Centre for Defence & Security Awareness (NCDSA) established an Estonian non-governmental expert platform for strengthening national resilience by means of applied research, strategic communication and social interactions. NCDSA’s long-term vision is a secure society that is psychologically resilient, socially cohesive and resistant to hostile influence. The NCDSA runs various programmes to inform Russian-speaking communities on Estonian national defence and security by initiating and organizing public events. It also strives to induce discussions to promote awareness of the Estonian, NATO and EU security and defence policies among Russian-speakers in Estonia. Additionally, the NCDSA monitors and analyses security and defence-related perceptions of Russian-speakers in Estonia.



[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/2017/0324/Estonia-s-lessons-for-fighting-Russian-disinformation  
[3] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/30/russian-cyberattacks-fake-news-worry-former-estonia-president.html  
[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/russia-is-a-threat-estonia-frets-about-its-neighbor/2017/03/24/011ad320-0f2b-11e7-9b0d-d27c98455440_story.html?utm_term=.6b875cfe3af4  
[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/world/europe/estonia-juri-ratas-center-party.html?_r=0; http://www.politico.eu/article/russia-casts-shadow-over-estonias-presidential-vote/    
[6] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/estonia-russia-nato-us-troops-volunteer-civilian-estonian-defense-league/  
[7] http://news.err.ee/119464/estonia-calls-for-permanent-funding-for-task-force-countering-kremlin-propaganda 
[8] https://www.teabeamet.ee/pdf/EIB_public_report_Feb_2017.pdf
[9] https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/2017/0324/Estonia-s-lessons-for-fighting-Russian-disinformation 
[10] https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/2017/0324/Estonia-s-lessons-for-fighting-Russian-disinformation ; https://news.err.ee/649815/kaljulaid-condemns-informing-of-estonian-people-via-russian-channel-pbk 
[11] For more information on minorities in Estonia, see Silviu Kondan and Mridvika Sahajpal, 2017. “Integration Policy and Outcomes for the Russian-Speaking Minority in Estonia.” http://scholarship.claremont.edu/urceu/vol2017/iss1/10/ 
[12] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[13] https://www.kapo.ee/sites/default/files/public/content_page/Annual%20Review%202016.pdf  
[14] https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-12/estonia-snags-first-spy-linked-to-russian-military-intelligence 
[15] http://www.newsweek.com/estonian-intelligence-charges-double-agent-treason-after-spying-russia-15-291960 
[16] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34369853 
[17] https://news.err.ee/641144/estonia-s-internal-security-service-arrests-suspected-fsb-agent-in-narva 
[18] https://www.baltdefcol.org/?id=1178 
[19] https://www.icds.ee/about/ 
[20] https://lmc.icds.ee/2017/introduction/ 
[21] http://www.nato-pa.int/default.asp?SHORTCUT=2756 
[22] http://news.err.ee/119554/russian-embassy-displeased-with-etv-newscast 
[23] http://www.kaitseliit.ee/en/edl 
[24] https://www.propastop.org/eng/;https://www.propastop.org/eng/2017/03/06/what-is-propastop

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