Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary, warned that there is a real and present danger that Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch a campaign of undercover attacks to destabilize the Baltic states, in an interview given to the Daily Telegraph. Estonian politicians said that there is a reason to be vigilant, but asked to avoid hysteria.
Michael Fallon said the Russian president may try to test NATO’s resolve with the same Kremlin-backed subversion used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. A murky campaign of infiltration, propaganda, undercover forces and cyber attack such as that seen in the early stages of the Ukraine conflict could be used to inflame ethnic tensions in Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia, he told the Telegraph.
Estonian politicians on Thursday seemed to appreciate Fallon's public warnings, yet played down the seriousness of an “imminent danger."
Defense Minister Sven Mikser told online news portal Delfi that on one hand, he appreciates the fact that Estonia's allies evaluate the security concerns in Europe along the similar lines of its defense policies, but on the other hand, panicking should be avoided.
According to Mikser, Fallon wanted to make a point that NATO is aware of Russia's expansionist plans to expand its sphere of influence. “But we know that NATO is united and strong, it is a deterrence to Russia and therefore Putin's plans are destined to fail,” Mikser said.
Mikser said that Estonia has already in the past experienced cyber conflict, propaganda war and economic pressure from Russia, therefore the term “hybrid warfare” is not a new thing for the country as such.
Mikser added that Russia's provocative behavior is not limited to the surrounding countries, mentioning the Russian military flights near British airspace and places even more distant to Russia. Russia is seeking to confuse and disunite the Allies and the only deterrence to this is a united and coordinated action, Mikser said.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas added that if the defense forces are developed further and the presence of allied forces in Estonia is supported, it will be a strong deterrence and will help to avoid unpleasant surprises by a foreign enemy. “Certainly, there is no basis to fear a war. The security situation around us is not stable, but with the help of our allies and our own defense forces, we will manage,” Rõivas said.
Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, was more outspoken and said that Fallon's warning is a sign of the worst security crisis between the West and Russia in last 30 years.
“We have to get used to the notion that there is a substantial conflict between Russia and the West that could be described as 'cold hybrid war,'” Mihkelson said.
According to Mihkeson, Russia has put the united Western resolve to test, mostly in relation to Ukraine, but it cannot be ruled out that NATO's unity could also be tested with regards to its member states.
Mihkelson also emphasized that for Estonia, it is important to have a stronger allied presence in the country and that combined with its own defense forces, it could be the best deterrence against the possible aggression by Russian Federation.
“We have to underline the fact that Baltic states are member states of NATO and any attempt by Russia to test NATO will not affect just Baltics, but the integrity of the entire organization,” Mihkelson said.
Editor: S. Tambur