The recent mass lay-offs in the mostly Russian-speaking Ida-Viru County are a threat to Estonia's national security, says Vladimir Juškin, director of the Academic Center for Baltic and Russian Studies.
State-owned Eesti Energia said last week it will let around 200 miners go by the end of the year while Nitrofert, a fertilizer producer, said it will have to make 426 workers redundant.
Falling oil and energy prices, as well as a tax increase on natural gas, are the reasons behind those decisions.
Juškin said that those who are dissatisfied and feeling left alone by the state will find new people to listen to. “A Russian-led hybrid war in the Baltics has been going on for a long time now. The war's longest and most complicated phase is taking place now. This is the creation of a civilian army, made up of those unhappy with government actions, in the Baltic states,” he said.
If the dissatisfied are organized, a social eruption will be created leading to protests and green men, he said. “People should be explained how this happened, what are the measures the government will take to alleviate the situation. This communication must take place eye-to-eye, without analysts, third persons or agitators,” he said.
However, the Interior Minister Hanno Pevkur disagrees.
“I definitely do not see a great, current threat as looking at the general level of employment in Ida-Viru County, it is slightly above the average compared to the rest of Estonia. The crime level is also slightly above Estonia's average, but we have not seen clear or strong correlations between an increase in crime and the loss of jobs at some companies,” Pevkur said.
Finance Minister Sven Sester will meet with Ida-Viru County municipality heads next week in Jõhvi, with Pevkur and Social Protection Minister Margus Tsahkna traveling to the area the week after.
Reet Arju, head of the county's employment office, said the lay off of 626 workers is very bad news, but not a catastrophe for the region. Viru Keemia Grupp, Eesti Energia's competitor, is hiring, although it will first welcome back those it sacked last year.
The county currently has 5,500 unemployed people and 509 unfilled jobs. Estonia's current unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, it was 7.7 percent a year ago.
Jevgeni Solovjov, Kohtla-Järve's mayor, said the lay-offs will also harm the city's budget, leading to cuts, including in the social program. He said he is hoping the employment office has enough means to aid the new unemployed. Töötukassa, the national employment office has a reserve of over 500 million euros.
Narva, the county's largest city, has seen its logistics and industrial park attract a number of new factories in the past year. Similar projects are underway in Kohtla-Järve and Jõhvi, but they are far less developed.
Editor: J.M. Laats