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Estonian Chronicles in the Context of the War

Aleksandrs Genis, a writer and columnist, who has been living in New York for half of the century but originally from Riga, in his report on his visit to his homeland in Svoboda (27 May), also “grabs” Latvia’s neighbour Estonia, which he visited during his stay in Riga.

He notes that the war felt in Latvia seems even more palpable in Estonia. As the Mayor of Tartu proudly testified to him, Estonians rank first in the world in terms of per capita support for Ukraine.

Estonia has a large number of Ukrainian refugees, according to Alaksandrs Genis, mostly silent women with their equally silent children. There are hardly any men, and Tartu has barely managed to assemble a Ukrainian volleyball team for a match with local sports enthusiasts.

The Estonians leave entire ‘garages’ of trolleys at the refugee residences for the convenience of the Ukrainian children, and there are many notices with relevant information for Ukrainians (addresses, advice, etc.). Ukrainians are trying to learn the particularly difficult Estonian language.

Turning to the statistics on support to Ukraine, we must say that Moscow is not happy with them – military aid from the democracies is likely to exceed Russia’s annual defence budget for the foreseeable future.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IFW Kiel), support to Ukraine until 10 May amounted to EUR 33.6 billion; military budget of Russia for the year was EUR 42.5 billion.

The US has provided the most military aid to Ukraine (around 70% of the total), followed by the United Kingdom (UK), Poland, Germany, Canada, Norway and Estonia. The tiny Estonia has supported Kiev one and a half times more than France or Italy.

On 18 May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Eva-Maria Liimets, accompanied by Ukrainian parliamentarians, visited Zhytomyr, an area that Estonia plans to help rebuild after the war.

There she reiterated her country’s unwavering support for Ukraine and the goal of seeing the Ukrainians win the war and rebuild their country.

In Estonia itself, from 16 May to 3 June, the largest military exercise in the country, Siil 2022, took place in Estonia (almost the entire country), with the participation of around 15,000 Estonian and allied and partner troops.

As it was announced on the website of the Estonian Defence Forces, the exercise was aimed at testing combat readiness and the ability to respond to international threats. Particular emphasis was placed on testing the cyber command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade and the Strategic Communications Centre.

According to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Kalle Laanet, the country is facing an intense period of military training this year in general, with an additional EUR 380 million allocated for political-defence purposes.

On 4 May, the Estonian Security Police Department (Kaitsepolitseiamet in Estonian, abbreviated as “KaPo”) announced that it had decided to expel, for security reasons, the organiser of the Bessmertnyj polk (Immortal Regiment, the country of origin of the action is Russia) campaign, which is being organised in many countries around the world, Alexey Isakov, as a long-standing instigator of national discord, a propagandist for the Kremlin and an apologist for Russian aggression against Ukraine.

On 28 April, it was also announced in the international press that the Estonian shipyard Baltic Workboats is building a rescue ship for Ukraine, which Kiev plans to use in the Black Sea, although Russia has so far blockaded ports of Ukraine “deadly”.

Ukraine’s sea rescue service has seven ships at its disposal, more than half of which were built by the Estonians a decade ago. The latest vessel, the eighth, 28 metres long, is due to be delivered to the port of Odessa at a cost of more than EUR 5 million.

The Estonian state TV and radio broadcaster ERR reported on 14 April that part of the NATO Response Group SNMG1 ships had arrived in the Baltic Sea and docked at the Old Cruise Ship Terminal in Tallinn harbour (the rest of the ships were due to arrive the next day).

The main objective of the exercise was to demonstrate the NATO presence in the Baltic Sea region and to take part in joint military exercises with the Estonian Navy. In this context, the Commander of the Estonian Navy, Jüri Sask, has announced a joint training exercise with the Estonian Marines in a week’s time for the incoming group.

Even before the war began on 5 February, the UK ambassador to Tallinn, Ross Allen, informed London of the decision to send an additional 850 troops to Estonia, doubling the number of troops and officers in the NATO Battle Group there.

Also on 8 February, just a couple of weeks before the war, the Speaker of the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) Jüri Ratas, in a joint press conference with the head of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk, urged Russia to end the war in eastern Ukraine and warned that any attempt to expand the aggression would have grave consequences for the Kremlin.

As if they were looking at water…

Three days later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia announced its decision to provide EUR 351,000 humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

As the head of the ministry Eva-Maria Liimets argued, the conflict in the east of Ukraine had affected the lives of nearly five million people, more than three million of whom were in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

190,000 of the total amount of aid went to households and the elderly in the eastern part of Ukraine, and were used to buy firewood and basic household items (blankets, warm clothes, etc.).

Given the fact that, in the current context, the number of Ukrainian refugees abroad alone has exceeded five million a long time ago (not to mention internal refugees – according to the United Nations (UN), more than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes), it is once again a case of looking at the water as if …

On 8 February, the Estonian Centre for Defence Investment and the Ministry of Defence of Latvia unveiled plans for a coordinated EUR 693 million purchase of military equipment.

According to Toomas Kalda, manager of the transport division of the Estonian Centre for Defence Investment, the plan is to find a partner to supply 16 different types of military equipment in large quantities over the next decade to the Estonian army, the paramilitary organisation Defence League (Kaitseliit), the police and the border service.

The Ministry of Defence of Latvia follows a similar algorithm and motivation. For Estonians, the planned defence deal will be the largest in the country’s history.

The Estonian government, also before the war, was already discussing the readiness of the country in case of a Russian military aggression against Ukraine on 4 February and drew up a map of the national defence readiness.

As the Prime Minister of the country Kaja Kallas pointed out in this context, aggressive behaviour of Moscow, which threatens the whole Europe, makes it necessary to prepare thoroughly for the crisis and to strengthen comprehensive defence capabilities of Estonia.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia also added (it should be noted) far-sightedly at the time that the ministry under her leadership was primarily focused on efforts to de-escalate the geopolitical situation, but was also ready to assist Ukraine in the event of a real military aggression.

From the perspective of the current drastic affairs, also on 23 September, on a particularly ‘distant’ day, President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid, speaking from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly session, urged the international community not to forget aggression of Moscow in the eastern part of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The President stressed the importance of credibly strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Before that, at the end of August Kersti Kaljulaid pointed out that the European Union (EU) should act more decisively in support of the post-Soviet republics participating in the Eastern Partnership programme (of six once, there are now three left – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova), even if the Eastern Partnership trio needs another 20 years of work in order to reach the EU’s full-fledged membership.

In an article published in The Telegraph on 21 April, the former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2006-2016) summarised that “Europe’s continued inability to respond adequately to the long-term deterioration in security only serves to convince Russia that it can continue its attacks without fear of retaliation”.

What the real-life narrative confirmed then, and continues to confirm, with plenty of evidence.

A little bit more. Speaking at the Lennart Meri Conference at the beginning of September last year, Bulgarian investigative journalist and manager of the portal Bellingcat Christos Grozev, said that the publication had received information about a plan drafted in Moscow to slow down the global internet to a “desperate” pace within a couple of years, and to use this and other means to eventually kill it in Russia.

The facts are being confirmed.

It is symbolic and not coincidental that a warning about the threat of the internet in an authoritarian country was announced in Estonia, which is technologically advanced. In this context, it should be recalled that, for example, digital voting in elections (one of trademarks of Estonia) was pioneered by Estonians in 2005.

The small country of Estonia is surprisingly well hit the point even in the drastic circumstances of a historical cataclysm.

Arūnas Spraunius

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