Law Enforcement, Military Call for Reprioritization of Border Security
The sudden realization that the Estonian-Russian land border may not be that well guarded - a newspaper daily estimated that slipping across unnoticed is impossible only along 11 kilometers of the 136 in the southeast - has prompted a variety of interpretations and concerns from past and present police, border guard and military officials. Here's a roundup of views expressed on ETV over the past days.
Henn Karits, deputy director of the Border Guard before it was merged with the national police:
The border was in good shape for admission to Schengen. "The border was inspected seriously, with spot checks, review process, and it was in order in the sense that the Russian side had started as soon as the Republic of Estonia and Russian Federation were recognized. The border was marked on the Russian side, the Estonian side is like it is now. The brush grows each year, the second year it was the height of a man. It's daily work but there's no more resources for it, apparently no border guards for it, no equipment. The equipment gets old but there's been no replacement for years. Thus the border has been let go in 10 years."
Elmar Vaher, current Police and Border Guard director general:
"The Schengen assessment said the situation was to their satisfaction. The Schengen assessment, like during accession to Schengen, mentions the same facts, one of them being that the national border was not built up. The other thing is the shortage of personnel, even in 2006, when the separate Border Guard still existed." The state has not prioritized border maintenance. Border guarding no longer takes place like it did in 1991 or 2013. Estonia has probably counted too much on the possibility of reaching an agreement with Russia.
Rene Toomse, former intelligence officer:
A private security company staffing former professional military men could be used to guard the border. Setting up a military-style border guard agency though is impossible, because Estonia lacks enough people. "I don't know of any examples in the US or Europe, but it's very common in crisis areas, like Afghanistan or Pakistan, for private security firms to have border guard trainers and coordinators in cooperation with the state."
Igor Taro, ERR correspondent in SE Estonia:
"I wouldn't say the border is not guarded at all, as the reports each week that illegals have been apprehended means that it is guarded. The question is that the risk assessment has changed compared to 10 years ago, new threats have arisen." International cooperation - so important for the border security - has deteriorated between Estonia and Russia, and this is even pointed up by Russian Federation denials on occasion that illegals have crossed.
Tarmo Kõuts, Rear Admiral (Ret.), former head of the pre-merger Border Guard:
"As soon as we saw the physical basis for the annexation of Crimea were LGM (Little Green Men) permeating the border, that should have been a wake-up call for our politicians," who should have understood that this was not the final act. "I think that the Russians know very well what shape the Estonian border guard is in now and what happened to Kohver is a sign or even a warning."
Ants Laaneots, General (Ret.), former Chief of Defense:
Although the Police and Border Guard are guarding the border, they lack capacity. "We need to think about restoring that capability. I remind you that the 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade is close by in Pskov and the 76th Airborne is there too." That unit's training exercises has been covertly devoted to a solitary goal over the past years: crossing the Estonian border and returning, undetected. "The other aspect that must be dealt with immediately is fortifying and building infrastructure along the border."