The Estonian Defence Model: “Shoot to kill, on the spot!”

Javelin being used by Estonian Defense Forces Photo:
Javelin being used by Estonian Defense Forces Photo:

Kaliningrad, autumn of 2006. I had just finished up a term as a visiting professor at the old 
Königsberg, Immanuel Kant University. The last evening in Kenix, as the students called it, two colleagues drove me out to a spa on the Baltic Sea coast. This small pearl was seized by the Red Army in the autumn of 1944 and was fortunately never handed over to the civilian Soviet administration. The food was delicious, the drink may have been commonplace, but was in plentiful supply …

Late that evening I ventured to ask: “gentlemen, what will become of you here in Kaliningrad? Now that you finally have your first civilian governor to replace these admirals in sunglasses and giant military caps? Will you again move closer to Germany and Central Europe, to become the new East Prussia? Or might you transform into an independent Baltic state, such as Estonia? Or – will you gravitate even closer to Moscow?” My colleagues smiled and the oldest replied: “Dear friend, you should know that 15 percent of our students study English, 20 percent are fluent in German, and the rest goes for – Kalashnikov”. Clearly, that ratio has not improved. Nowadays, “Kalashnikov” dominates Kaliningrad.

Satellite Image of the Russian Baltysk Naval Base in Kaliningrad

President Putin’s foreign policy, including the expansion of Russia’s military-industrial complex and the modernization of the Russian armed forces, has had far-reaching consequences. In the spring of 2012, I met Estonian General Laaneots in passing, in Tartu. He had been Commander-in Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces, and before that a young Soviet tank commander and a colleague of Putin’s top military brass, Generals Nikolay Makarov and Valery Gerasimov. In 2012 he was the Estonian military attaché in Moscow. Laaneots’ message was clear: “Putin is rearming more rapidly and extensively than Hitler in the late 1930s.”

This is not the place to speak of attacks in the Crimea and Ukraine. In imitation of Hitler’s method, Putin is using church rulers and massive state media to prepare his nation for the inevitability of a future war. The terrifying war propaganda projected in Russian state media make both Dr. Goebbels’ radio speeches and Mrs Riefenstahl’s parade films from the 1930’s, pale in comparison. Meanwhile, traditional liberal Russian intelligentsia conform to Putin’s ways, and distance themselves from their old Estonian friends.

Tactical training with reconnaissance units of the Russian 76th Guard Airborne division (Pskov). Photo: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

Obviously readmission of Estonia into Russia’s “near abroad” is part of Russia’s pre-war planning. Already in 1998, the Russian 76th Guard Airborne division in Pskov, just southeast of Estonia and northeast of Latvia, conducted large-scale maneuvers. The well-equipped, well-trained and reinforced elite division rolled forward on a broad front from east to west and stopped just in front of the Baltic borders. Since then, the provocations from the East have been innumerable. Those conducted in Estonia are well known to the West, including the Kremlin sponsored “Bronze Soldier” riots, the cyber attacks of 2007 and the kidnapping of Estonian Security Service officer Eston Kohver in 2014.

Bronze Soldier Riots aftermath. Photo: ERR

How has the rest of the world reacted? The concept of Swedish “Russian-fear” (ryss-skräck) is still very much alive in Swedish security debates. This concept emerged almost three hundred years ago when Russian navies ravaged the Swedish eastern archipelagos from Roslagen to Tjust. Nowadays anyone who raises alarm about Russia’s aggressions is labeled as a russophobe by the politically correct who seek to stigmatize Kremlin critics as being fundamentally hostile towards all Russians.

Interestingly, “Russian-fear” is an exclusively Swedish phenomenon. It does not for example occur in Finland, which surprises many good Swedes. The closest a Finn gets in this context is “ryssänviha”, which means almost the opposite, namely Russian-anger.

However in the Estonian language, both “Russian-fear” and “Russian-anger” are missing. The likely explanation is that Estonians have had intensive and exhaustive dealings with Russia since the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. For Estonians, Russia is all too familiar; they know very well with what, and with whom they are dealing. This was also the case during the painful period of Soviet occupation between 1941-1991, and the same applies today. Virtually every Estonian has “his or her Russian” friend, family member or acquaintance in his or her immediate community. For me,Valery Kalabugin (†) and Yevgeny Kristafovitch are most closely aligned with my thinking, with respect to Estonian domestic politics.

While in Tallinn in early August 2008, I was able to watch the Russian war in Georgia on the Estonian Air Force chief Valeri Saar’s large television screens. Three days later, I met senior politicians in Stockholm and told them what I had experienced. Their reaction came spontaneously: “But you must have been scared?!?” Scared? On the contrary! General Saar, pale faced, with his fists clenched, wandered to and fro in the room saying: “See, what those bastards are doing!” Estonian reserve officers immediately enrolled as volunteers and flew to Tblisi. President Saakashvili also had several Estonians among his closest advisers.

NATO Member Defence Spending as % of GDP (2% is required by NATO)

Estonia is part of NATO, and Estonia’s eastern border equals NATO’s eastern border. Since 2004 Estonia has allocated the prescribed 2 percent of GDP on defense, has contributed troops to multiple NATO and UN missions and has absorbed losses, including the lives of soldiers. Estonia’s participation and collaboration with NATO is intense and natural. In the summer of 2013, in connection with Russia’s invasion of Crimea, former Estonian Supreme Commander, General Einseln, proclaimed that: “our problem is not Putin: with him we know what we’re dealing with and we know what we can expect from there. Our problem is Obama.”

The General was referring to the largely indecisive West, including Sweden, which Estonian President Ilves has rightly characterized as a Northern European security hole. Since then, however, the positions of the United States and NATO have improved, both diplomatically and defensively: Estonia’s defense capabilities have been significantly reinforced on the ground and in the air, and NATO has expressed and demonstrated strong political solidarity. 

In response to a direct question last summer about what Estonia would do if as in Ukraine, silent, masked and armed green men appeared inside Estonia’s border in Narva, the young Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, General Terras replied: “Shoot to kill, on the spot “. This was a shocking answer for the Swedish public, but the only correct one. Because this is what you do with terrorists, who refuse to lay down their weapons; without fear or favor. This is what the Armed Forces are trained for.

Estonia would then get immediate feedback from NATO’s article 5, the so-called d’Artagnan-paragraph “one for all, all for one”, which is to say that the whole of NATO would be galvanized immediately. As a Rand Corp. study recently stated, that Russian armed forces in a conflict situation, would be able roll to over the Baltics in about 60 hours. In response, the United States decided to immediately quadruple its military support for Eastern Europe. Whereupon Russia, in turn, reinforced their Pskov Airborne units with brand new battle tanks…

Whatever NATO’s combined political, economic and military resources are, they remain many times superior to the Russian Federation’s. And being first of all a political defense union, NATO/USA can pinch Putin’s aggressive buttocks wherever, and also in his most vulnerable personal economic area to stop him from letting loose and going va banque. Putin knows that – and will hopefully refrain from any physical aggression against NATO / Estonia.

Translated by Alide Forstmanis


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