Estonia as reflected by foreign media
- NATO’s Baltic defence plan – from a new perspective
- Amphibious landing exercise as a demonstration of US support
- Potential crisis scenario for the Baltic States
- The controversial Mistral deal between France and Russia
- Cyber attacks – a fast growing concern
- The work of NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre in Estonia
- Conference on cyber conflicts held in Tallinn
- Informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers
- Estonia in Afghanistan
The corner stone of Baltic security is about to change as the allies are drafting NATO’s new strategic concept. The new members view such a course of events with great interest as well as concern. Since the cold war ended, the world and NATO’s position in it has changed significantly. The previous concept drafted in 1999 obviously needs revising under the new circumstances. The previous concept has been criticised from the very beginning – it focuses on describing the current situation instead of looking into the future. The state of security has changed dramatically since 1999. The composition of NATO has changed, too. The alliance now has 28 members. There is a growing discord among the alliance. The Baltic States wish to give more weight to Article 5, hoping for a clearer interpretation and a better implementation of the article. (Nouvelle Europe, 11.01)
In January 2010 The Economist raises the issue whether NATO would stand by its smallest members, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the hour of crisis. The answer now seems to be yes, with a decision in principle to develop formal contingency plans to defend them. The shift comes after hard-fought negotiations, in which, at American insistence, Germany and other countries dropped their opposition. (The Economist, 15.01)
The New York Times writes that during the Bush administration, NATO had accepted the former Soviet republics as members but avoided including them in defence planning, which might have provoked Russia. In January 2010 Germany proposed expanding the Polish defence plan to include the Baltic States and the alliance’s Military Committee in Belgium approved.
NATO leaders accepted the plan quietly at the Lisbon Summit in November, the Guardian wrote. In the event of armed aggression against Poland or the three Baltic States, nine NATO divisions – US, British, German, and Polish – have been identified for combat operations. Polish and German ports have been listed for the receipt of naval assault forces and British and US warships, according to informed sources. The first exercises under the extended plan are to take place in the Baltic next year. American officials urged their Baltic colleagues to keep the extension of the defence plan a secret. (The New York Times, 06.12)
Over the past few years Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have voiced concern that NATO initially failed to draft a defence plan for the trio. Poland had one – at least on paper. Now it’s time for change. The US marines started their first amphibious landing exercise in the Baltic States. The landing, which was Estonia’s initiative, is being conducted jointly with the Estonian forces along the coastline of Hara bay, North-Estonia.
A foreign diplomat, observing the exercise from the shore, states that without favourable Estonian-Russian and US-Russian relations, such an exercise could not take place. At least the US wants to show Estonia that they would provide real support. The US Ambassador to Estonia, Michael Polt, explained that the US is conducting this joint exercise with three important allies – Poland, Latvia and Estonia. Estonian Defence Minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, interprets the amphibious landing exercise mostly as a message to Estonia. “I’m convinced that NATO has a defence plan. Not just on paper – they are actually prepared,” Aaviksoo said. (Helsingin Sanomat, 16.06)
In October 2009, the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania exerted strong pressure for a Baltic contingency plan to be drafted concerning the use of the “all for one and one for all” Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, US diplomatic cable leak to WikiLeaks reveal. President Obama backs this wish, while a memo from the US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daadler, also draws attention to complications. (The Guardian, 06.12)
The WikiLeaks publications reveal that NATO’s undisclosed defence plan for the Baltic States and Poland, called “Eagle Guardian”, was kept a secret to avoid antagonism with Russia. Estonian Defence Minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, said the leak poses a security threat to Estonia. Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, however, shows no concern: “Some people had doubts whether NATO really has a plan for defending us. So such a course of events should provide Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians with a higher sense of security." (Helsingin Sanomat, 08.12)
The Daily Telegraph’s defence correspondent comments on the Ministry of Defence’s seminal document “The Future Character of Conflict”. The document predicts that by 2029, control over resources will “increase the incidence of conflict”, as world population rises to 8.3 billion. The article looks at four possible future scenarios – Pakistan, Iran, Uganda and the Baltic States. The documents states the likelihood of crisis as highly possible, while readiness non-existent.
A potential scenario is that a president, keen on creating a “Russia Plus”, makes bellicose noises towards integrating the three Baltic States into a federation, forcing them to opt out of the NATO alliance. Suspicious cyber attacks occur on Baltic government institutions and energy resources are withheld as Russia tries to probe where Nato’s red lines lie. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia invoke Article Five of the NATO constitution. NATO decides to send a division to the conflict area. Britain’s Royal Air Force deploys Typhoons in Baltic airbases. British submarines sneak into the Baltic Sea, listening into Russian military communications while tracking Russian submarines. The fast and overwhelming response demonstrates that NATO is serious about defending its members. A valedictory cyber-attack on Latvia results in Britain’s Joint Cyber Warfare Force penetrating and disabling the Kremlin’s command centre. (The Daily Telegraph, 14.09)
France announced it will sell at least one Mistral-class warship to Russia. It would be the first such sale by a NATO member to Russia. The French warship will help Moscow to begin modernizing its aging armed forces, diplomats and defence analysts said. NATO has tried various forms of cooperation with Moscow since 1991, but the 2008 Russian-Georgian war marked the lowest point in their relations. It was the 2008 conflict that exposed Russia’s outdated military equipment and sent it shopping for advanced technology. Russian military leaders have said that having the Mistral-class helicopter carrier would have made a significant difference in Georgia.
The sale of military equipment prompted Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to raise serious concerns. Robert E. Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said the Obama administration warned France against the deal but was ignored. The French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Russia has requested three additional ships but a decision on a larger deal has not been made. (The Washington Times, 09.02)
The possible sale by France to Russia of Mistral-class assault ships is stoking fear and mistrust. The deal highlights Russia’s increasing military ambitions and the decay of its own arms industry. One region affected by the deal, is the Baltic – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are NATO’s most vulnerable members. The other is the Black Sea. Georgia has complained publicly, as have some Baltic officials. Some critics worry more about the political balance than the military one. Some compare the Mistral deal to Nord Stream, a controversial planned Russian-German gas pipeline. But its real importance is that it provides Russia with a tool to peddle influence in European countries. (The Economist, 11.02)
The Russian secret service shows heightened interest in France and the propaganda from Gplus – a company lobbying for the Kremlin and Gazprom – is in full swing. A French official notes that the deal in question would insult the country’s allies in NATO, the Baltic States and Romania in particular, as they (in addition to Georgia and Ukraine) have delivered demarches concerning the transaction. He stresses that no other country has sold such technology to Russia before and closing the deal would be an unpleasant precedent. (Nouvel Observateur, 25.02)
France’s plan to sell four warships to Russia has caused upset and despair in the Baltic States. While confirming a willingness to improve relations with Russia, they claim Paris has chosen the wrong path. France reaffirms that Russia has to be treated as a partner, not a threat. President Sarkozy announced at a press conference on Monday that the West needs Russia in solving international issues such as a nuclear Iran, and that the naval vessels will be supplied to Russia stripped of Western equipment. “We do not know how they will use the vessels,” Major General Ants Laaneots said. Will they be deployed as part of the fleet in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or the North Sea? (AFP / Le Parisien, 02.03)
Russia’s neighbours – including Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia – are raising alarms that France may have pioneered the way for other Western countries to sell Russia military equipment or whatever they have to offer. Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, says Estonia does not see the sale of these two or possibly four ships as a major security challenge, but their potential impact is still something to take into account in long-term plans. (The New York Times, 29.12)
The heated debate on the potential Mistral deal emerges from an interview with Estonian Ambassador to Ukraine, Jaan Hein. Obviously the sale is set to take place but if it were more transparent, there would be less speculation and unnecessary fuss. The Mistral deal is not illegal by any means; Russia is a strategic partner for NATO. Yet it matters what is sold, under which conditions, and where these naval vessels will be deployed. Such vessels would change the security situation in any region, although not on the Baltic Sea – they are not able to navigate through ice and could not be based in the region. Estonia has not made any strong statements, as being a NATO member they trust France not to take decisions that would pose a threat to its allies. (Flot, 02.03)
Given attacks on computer networks in Estonia, Georgia, Latvia and Lithuania in the past several years, the definition of protections for NATO members should be expanded, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe said February 2. The likelihood that the next conflict will start with a cyber attack rather than a physical attack highlights the importance of changing the definitions and the need to work together to deflect and combat cyber attacks. Those relationships will be complex and difficult since every nation has its own law enforcement, its own approach to privacy, its own networks, its own technologies. NATO has taken the first step toward making cyber warfare combat an international effort by standing up the Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in 2008 in Estonia. (Defensenews, 02.02)
Cyber-warfare attacks on military infrastructure, government and communications systems, and financial markets pose a rapidly growing but little understood threat to international security. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies warned that cyber attacks could become a decisive weapon of choice in future conflicts between states. One of the most notorious cyber-warfare offensives to date took place in Estonia in 2007 when more than 1 million computers were used to jam government, business and media websites. The attacks, widely believed to have originated in Russia, coincided with a period of heightened bilateral political tension. They inflicted damage estimated in the tens of millions of euros of damage. (The Guardian, 03.02)
“The next significant attack on the alliance may well come down a fibre optic cable”, according to a draft new NATO “strategic concept”. There are unacceptable “serious gaps” in NATO’s cyber defences, it warns. The warnings are contained in a report by a group of high-level experts chaired by Madeleine Albright. Senior NATO military officials and diplomats say they are concerned about the lack of co-ordinated planning against cyber attacks. They are wrestling with the prospect of member states asking for help under article five of the NATO treaty, originally designed to provide mutual assistance to an ally faced with a military attack. Three years ago, Estonia appealed to its NATO and EU partners for help against cyber attacks it linked to Russia. (The Guardian, 17.05)
Since 2008, Estonia has been home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, whose mission is essentially to formulate new strategies for preventing online attacks. Representatives from across NATO countries and beyond use the center to share information and to carry out research. It’s also thinking about how to update national laws and the laws of war.
We all might be able to learn from the way the Estonians dealt with the cyber-attacks in 2007, and how they continue to deal with both online threats, and the attention they bring. Estonia’s Defense Minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, says we can’t monopolize technology into the good guys’ hands. The only way is to move forward and going through a painful process of suffering from, and dealing with, online attacks. (Discovery News, 20.06)
NATO’s secret IT centre in Tallinn is home to top IT specialists. Its key aim is to provide protection against cyber attacks. In NATO jargon it’s officially called Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE). According to the director of the Centre, Lieutenant-Colonel Ilmar Tamm, cyber crime is a complex and diverse problem to tackle. This very complexity makes it a fertile environment for criminal minds. “I’m not so naïve that I believe that conventional warfare would disappear, but I do think we will witness it in combination with cyber weapons”, Tamm added. (La Libre, 27.04)
Eight countries participate in the work of NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre – the Baltic three, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain and the United States. Two more, Hungary and Turkey will join this year, and in ten years all NATO members should be involved. Estonia is not a random location for the NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre; the northernmost Baltic state is leading the way in IT and in a way, an experimental internet society. In 2007, as Estonian-Russian relations were at a low, the country fell victim to extensive cyber attacks. Russian hackers in particular were implicated, but Russia refused to cooperate in tracing the culprits. The incident served as a warning sign of the real threat of cyberspace. (La Croix,10.08)
Estonia has put in a lot of effort into making sure the NATO Cyber Defence Centre is established here and the country’s know-how utilized. To have the privilege of hosting the Centre, former Czarist army barracks in Tallinn were transformed into ultra-modern offices. Developing a cyber defence system for NATO members is the main task of the Centre financed by Germany, Italy, Spain, the Baltic States, Slovakia and the United States. (Le Monde, 01.10)
Süddeutsche Zeitung has paid a visit to the NATO Cyber Defence Centre. The newspaper found 30 IT masterminds at their computers, contemplating the nature of war in the 21st century. According to Ilmar Tamm, the director of the Centre established in 2009, their job is not to see to the countries’ IT problems, but to scrutinize how the digital era has changed military operations. The experts are analysing the attacks that have already occurred in Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia, and preparing procedures for potential future attacks. The Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, has stressed that a cyber attack targeting an ally should be interpreted as falling under Article 5. Lawyer Ene Tikk comments that the term “cyber attack” could only be used if it had the same consequences as a conventional attack. President Ilves is pleased with the fact that the NATO Secretary-General, A. F. Rasmussen, has recognized the importance of cyber defence. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19.11)
Information Technology experts gather in Tallinn June 15 -18 for the International Conference on Cyber Conflict. The meeting is organized by the Cyber Defence Centre and government, military and academic professionals from all over the world will take the floor. The conference comes on the heels of two major 2009 conferences focusing on cyber war. (Allvoices, 14.06)
It is a well kept secret that NATO strategists are mulling over future warfare in Tallinn. About 30 officers, researchers and lawyers are engaged in analysis to find protective measures against a growing threat to all nations – attacks by cyber warriors. Hackers are making more and more frequent attempts at obtaining important economic and military information and also breaking into national energy and communications networks globally – presumably with support from their governments. Estonia expedited the creation of the Cyber Defence Centre, as the country fell victim to a nation wide cyber attack three years ago. The attack displayed the vulnerability of the nation largely relying on IT for everyday function in the economy. A cyber defence plan is an integral part of any national defence strategy. “Unless international cooperation improves, IT security will become a severe global challenge,” says IT expert Suleyman Anil. Estonia would not like to wait to see this happen. (Focus, 11/2010)
Estonia and Tallinn enjoyed unusually high international attention in the second half of the week when after three years of preparations an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers took place in Tallinn. Despite the volcanic ash cloud, the meeting in Tallinn, the largest ever international event in its history, was carried out at near full scale. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton admitted that a lot has happened since her previous visit to Tallinn in 1994. Estonia is a sovereign state, a member of the EU and NATO. This message from Clinton is something the Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Estonia’s heads of state would like to send out to the world. Although the NATO partner countries were invited to the meeting, Russia was represented at a lower level. Some analysts suggest Russia was not happy with the location of the get-together. (Turun Sanomat, 24.04)
The debate at the informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn was mainly focused on the new “strategic concept”. The organisation, created 61 years ago, is facing the biggest ever post-Cold War crisis. Several issues seem to provoke discord in the alliance: Afghanistan, nuclear weapons in Europe, relations with Moscow and the expansion of NATO. The USSR is gone and so is a genuine military threat to the allies. Yet, the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia is a reminder to the former Soviet Republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, now NATO members, that their region is still potentially vulnerable. (Le Nouvel Observateur, 21.04)
At the meeting with NATO foreign ministers President Ilves stressed that it would be enough to improve relations with Russia if Russia would stop justifying the occupation. The President sees Russia as a future NATO member, but in order for this to happen Russia must want it and must meet the democratic criteria. This also applies to other countries like Ukraine and Georgia. How will they benefit from NATO membership? If we look at where the dangers loom, like Iran, it ought to be clear what the benefit could be. “Perhaps they give me the wrong media briefings to read, but I get the feeling that the Iranian problem is only a Western concern,” Ilves notes. “If terrorists get access to a nuclear weapon, why do you think they would use it only against Western countries?” For Ilves a joint anti-missile shield with Russia is not a problem. Unfortunately mutual distrust is still so high that at the moment this idea will not be realised. “Look at relations between Estonia and Russia. There are joint problems, like the ecological status of Lake Peipus, but nothing is done even though the problem is clearly acknowledged.” It seems that in Russia the USA is seen as an enemy by many and they want to increase their own importance to balance this. This is the same as if we were to claim, say, that China and Estonia together make up the world’s largest economy. Ilves has a positive view of the EU Eastern Partnership programme, although sometimes it seems that everyone is being measured with the same yardstick even though the wishes and needs of, for example, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are different. The President believes that it is only expected of Russia that it stop digging in the past for political reasons. It should not be expected of Estonians that they take a reasonable view of slashed throats and deportations. (Русский Newsweek, 25.04)
In an interview to Deutsche Welle, President Ilves talked about Estonia’s integration into Europe, modernisation efforts and NATO mission in Afghanistan. Talking about Estonian troops in Afghanistan, Ilves reaffirmed that Estonia remains committed and that they recognise the threats to accomplishing their goals in the form of the use of weapons of mass destruction that emanate from Afghanistan. If we want to maintain a collective defence, then we have to do this collectively. Ilves regrets that not all countries in Europe understand this and are pulling out despite being NATO members. (Deutsche Welle, 19.06)
The Estonian infantry company EstCoy fights Taliban in one of the harshest regions of Afghanistan, the Helmand province. “Life’s okay,” says Lieutenant Mario Lementa in a Pasi armoured personnel carrier. “I’ve come under fire three times while on patrol, it’s not unusual here.” The Taliban fighters shoot from afar and not too straight. The improvised explosive devices pose a greater threat.
There is good reason why Lt. Mario Lementa and Rando Kalda, sweat in the hellish desert. Estonians were in Afghanistan in 1979-89, forcibly conscripted to serve in the Soviet army before. Estonia regained independence in 1991. The Soviet Union collapsed, but Russia did not disappear. Russia is the greatest security threat to Estonia and so Estonia became a NATO member in 2004. As Estonia counts on NATO’s security guarantee, involvement in the alliance’s operations is self-explanatory.
During the three year operation in Helmand, Estonia has lost 7 soldiers. If Finland had lost as many troops as Estonia has, proportional to the country’s population, it would have had received 28 coffins. Estonia has chosen a path different from that of Finland’s. This makes EstCoy even more intriguing. Can this war be won? Lieutenant Mario Lementa takes a few seconds to think before saying: “The answer must be yes. But there are many questions."(Helsingin Sanomat, 06.04)
To be, or not to be in Afghanistan? Is success in Afghanistan worth the effort? Can this war be won? “Yes, it can. Over time,” Major Guselnikov answers. “We must not forget that we are in the most dangerous and the most complex of Afghan provinces – the Helmand.” According to Guselnikov, the influence of the Taliban fighters should be broken first. Then, life for the Afghans must be stabilized – by means of money, projects, construction works and trust. The commander of the company says the Estonians have done a lot to eradicate the Taliban in Wahid. Now it’s time to convince the people that ISAF provided security is sustainable and better than the Taliban regime. (Helsingin Sanomat, 10.04)
Over the year, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has repeatedly covered the activities of EstCoy, the Estonian Company in Afghanistan. For example, one journalist reported from Afghanistan, where the Estonian troops secured a meeting between men from a village near Wahid and the ISAF representative, Sergeant Mark Hill. All across the country, thousands of meetings are held with the local people in order to build mutual trust. However, they seem to be trapped in a triangle of mistrust: the villagers don’t trust Estonians or the Afghan troops; the Estonians don’t trust the villagers or the Afghan troops; and the Afghan troops find it difficult to even trust themselves. EstCoy’s 1st platoon commander, warrant officer Vyacheslav Nescheplenko has his own views. He says that the villagers try to make it more difficult for the Estonian soldiers to move around. “They dig up the road so we’d assume it’s been mined.” Stopping by a bridge, Nescheplenko explains that the Estonians repaired it and were “rewarded” with a bomb nearby. So is this village friendly to the Estonian troops? (Helsingin Sanomat, 07.04)