You are a reservist. Should Estonia be involved in a war, would you be ready to take up arms?
Yes, in a worst-case scenario I could be deployed at the front as a reservist.
During your weapons training, did you shoot with an AK-47? Is that what is used in the Estonian military?
That, too. But I was trained on a Galil automatic rifle.
In Estonia, there is compulsory military service, but women are not drafted. Did you join on a voluntary basis?
Yes, there is conscription for men, while women can apply as volunteers. All conscripts receive eight months of basic training, after which a decision is made about where they will be posted. I was assigned to communications, so should a war break out, I would most likely be posted with the communications unit of military command. Considering that I currently work at the ministry of defence, I supposed I would continue to serve in my current position, dealing with communication tasks.
Would you be psychologically and physically prepared even for an armed conflict situation? Are most Estonian young people ready to defend their homeland?
I can only speak for myself, but I definitely am. It is no accident that I have chosen to work in the defence sector. As for my generation, I can tell you that Russia’s attack on Ukraine was a wake-up call for young people. There is a widespread sentiment now that if worse comes to worst, we must be able to take up arms to defend ourselves.
The Estonian youth can feel the seriousness of the matter; for them, the independence of our state is enormously valuable.
In fact, specific measurements and public opinion polls have been made about this, and they indeed show that Estonians are ready to fight with arms. The same attitude prevails among my friends, so I feel this personally.
Does the Ministry of Defence evaluate the possibility of an attack on Estonia as a realistic option if the situation in Ukraine escalates?
We are evaluating all options; this scenario is on the table. For now, Estonia is not directly threatened by Russia, but the Russian aggression on Ukraine is a warning sign. If the Russian military can succeed there, it cannot be ruled out that the Baltic states will be next. That is why we support Ukraine wholeheartedly, and that is why we also deliver weapons and military equipment to them, so that they can restore their territorial integrity, and Russia retreats behind its original state borders. Ukraine belongs to the Ukrainians. They are now fighting on the front lines of the democratic world, and their fight has stakes for us as well.
The Baltic states could be next, you just said. But these states are EU and NATO members. Based on the principle of collective defence, Russia would go to war with all NATO member states, including the United States, if it attacked you. That is not very reasonable.
It would be nice to interpret the situation so optimistically, but I’m afraid it’s not that simple. We cannot afford the luxury of not preparing for this eventuality. Before the war, Russia clearly indicated that it wanted to regain real influence over the ex-member states of the former Soviet Union, and also formulated a clear ultimatum among its demands, namely that NATO should retreat to its pre-1997 expansion borders. Estonia was not a NATO member state at that time.
So you take this threat literally and still consider it valid?
Of course. That’s what Moscow said.
Does that mean that Hungary may also be in danger? After all, we also joined NATO after 1997.
We cannot know that, and we cannot rule it out. If the Russians emerge victorious from the war in Ukraine, they will conclude that they were able to accomplish it with impunity, and thus they may even be emboldened to carry out further aggressions. That is why it is of the utmost importance for Estonia that NATO’s capabilities for deterrence are maintained. The decisions made at the Madrid summit must be put into practice; Estonia wants to see more NATO soldiers and more Western weapons on its territory to send a clear message to Russia: any attempt to attack a NATO member state will lead Russia to a dead end, and will be doomed to complete failure.
There are experts who say that the war in Ukraine will escalate once the Russians are weakened because then they will be forced to resort to the most dangerous weapons. If, however, there was a compromise, even at the cost of Ukrainian territorial losses, peace could come sooner, they say.
We Estonians see this differently. We know from our own historical experience what happens when we make concessions to Russia. Twenty percent of the territory of Ukraine is currently under Russian occupation. If this situation were to be cemented by a peace agreement, we know what the human rights and other conditions would be like in these areas. Therefore, taking territory by force is not a subject to be agreed upon—it is illegal.
Back to defence of the homeland: do you think the time may come when, due to the security threats of today, European states might slowly start thinking about restoring the draft?
I can’t speak for other countries, but from our own point of view, I have to say that compulsory military service has proved to be very useful. It is the most cost-effective institution that generates the greatest security. Since the Estonian population is small, the only economically viable solution is to maintain a small professional military, but that isn’t very efficient. Compulsory military service means an 8 to 11-month period during which everyone receives useful training, and then, as reservists, from time to time receiving follow-up training. This basically also improves public health data. But this system is also good for the military from the point of view of innovation, as a lot of talented young people bring their skills to the armed forces, and the armed forces make use of them. In the field of cyber defence, for example, huge developments have been made recently by the Estonian military. So, this is the Estonian experience, but of course each country decides on this issue for itself. A calculation must be made as to which system can provide a more efficient defence. Latvia, for example, is preparing to return to the draft.
I guess Estonian citizens belonging to the Russian minority are also conscripted.
In an extreme case, in a war against Russia, they would have to fight against their own brothers.
We also see from reliable surveys that among the Russian minority in Estonia, loyalty to the Kremlin and support for Russian aggression in Ukraine is very low. Support for Russian intervention can be seen among those who already consider themselves only Russian in terms of their national identity, and those whose political views are close to the Kremlin. The majority, 58% of Russians in Estonia who only speak Russian, a minority of all Estonian Russians, do not sympathise with the aggression.
But according to that, 42% of that minority does.
Those who say this openly are only 22%—and 20% refuse to answer. This 22% are those who do not consider themselves Estonian Russians in the first place. They are only willing to speak Russian, they only get information from Russian news sources, and they are the ones directly affected by Russian propaganda. This is the group where further integration can play an important role. At the same time, from the point of view of national security, we had to stand in the way of disinformation and state propaganda, so Russian TV cannot be received in Estonia.
They can easily perceive that as a violation of their minority rights.
Yes, but this is unavoidable in a war situation. They need to be made aware that supporting a brutal war has consequences. However, the majority of Russians in Estonia stand with the majority of society and do not support Putin’s war.
Does Estonia guarantee collective rights for the Russian minority? Everything that EU standards require?
Yes, Estonia provides them with all national rights. By the way, returning to the question of the military, solidarity, and equality of rights prevail in the Estonian army, where Estonians and Russians work together for a common goal.
Let’s talk more about the energy crisis, this is the most serious issue in Europe right now. Estonia is also dependent on Russia in this area. How is the Tallinn government solving the problem of diversification?
This topic is not in my area of expertise, but what I can say is that the government supports families and businesses, and constantly analyses which alternative sources it can use to obtain the necessary energy supplies. Our vulnerability to Russian gas is constantly decreasing, this is a strategic plan.
Finally, who do you think will win the war in Ukraine?
There must be no compromise with Russia in this war. We know that mobilisation increases the striking power of the Russian military, which is why we must do everything we can to help Ukraine win this war.
But who will win?
Look, Russians should never be underestimated, even if we see that their abilities are not as strong as we presumed, and if the war further weakens those abilities. Underestimating them would be a huge strategic mistake, so we must do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine emerges victorious from this war. The goal is for Russia to retreat to its pre-war borders. The fighting points in that direction, and that’s what needs to happen. There is no other option.