Estonians have more confidence in NATO than they did in early 2014, according to an opinion survey commissioned by the Ministry of Defense. The survey, conducted in November and published on Monday, turned up fairly modest differences in attitude between Estonians and Russian-speakers on some national defense topics, but Russian-speakers do remain strongly skeptical regarding NATO's role and effectiveness.
Sixty-three percent of Estonians believe that NATO will provide military assistance in the case of a threat, according to the survey. That's up 8 percentage points from last March. Only 13 percent said the alliance would limit itself to diplomacy and political support, or do nothing. But among non-Estonians, only 26 percent indicated they believed that NATO would come to Estonia's aid.
Ninety-three percent of Estonians support NATO membership, and 88 percent support NATO's presence in Estonia.
Those figures were only 37 percent and 29 percent among non-Estonians.
Estonians and Russians in Estonia see the likelihood of many potential threats in much the same way, except for organized cyber attacks, where 34 percent of Estonians say an cyber attack is highly likely, compared to only 15 percent of Russians.
When it came to listing the top three perceived pillars of security, there was a dramatic split on "cooperation and ties with the US" (listed by only 8 percent of Russians compared to 29 percent of Estonians) and "NATO membership" (30 vs. 78). Even for Russians, NATO was the third-most cited security guarantee, though it should be noted that "cooperation and good relations with Russia" did come first by a wide margin (61 percent).
Other guarantees such as "Baltic cooperation" and "EU security" were checked by more or less equal percentages of Estonians and Russians. Russians did consider the role of the OSCE (22 percent) and the UN (19 percent) more important than did Estonians (11, 8).
What one can do for one's country
Besides having more faith in NATO, the Estonian population appears more committed to defense than they were in March 2014, with 40 percent saying they would "definitely not" leave Estonia if there was an invasion threat. That's up a whole 10 percentage points since the March survey. And 51 percent say the country is able to be defended, higher than in any of the previous six surveys. (On a new question on how well the border is defended, though, 53 percent said it was poorly defended.)
Sixty percent of Estonians and 45 percent of Russian-speaking males said they would participate in defense in case of an invasion.
Estonian inhabitants support the current national defense system - a professional force coupled with reserves drawn from those who have completed compulsory military service, with 84 percent backing such a model. A majority of both Estonians (80 percent) and Russians (57 percent) say the expanded "comprehensive" model of national defense, where responisbility is shouldered by other institutions besides Defence Forces and home guard, is the right one.
The sentiment regarding conscription was extremely positive on both sides of the language divide, 94 percent of all respondents deeming it necessary, including 70 percent checking the option of "definitely necessary." Eighty-seven percent of respondents said it was important that all secondary education institutions teach national defense courses.
Two-thirds of respondents said that instability and likelihood of military conflicts in the world would increase in the decade ahead.
Eighty-three percent of Estonians and 70 percent of Russian-speaking respondents considered armed resistance necessary in the event of an invasion, though it should be noted that it isn't clear what potential enemy the respondents had in mind.
The study was conducted by Turu-uuriongute AS in November, sampling 1,219 people.
Editor: K. Rikken