Opinion digest: Mikk Salu on the open secret of Estonia’s emergency underpreparedness (4)

Journalist Mikk Salu works for Estonian daily Eesti Ekspress. (Postimees/Scanpix)
9/1/2016 10:33 AM
Category: Opinion

Journalist Mikk Salu recently addressed an issue about which it seems like many in the country are whispering but no one will come out and say — that despite appearances to the contrary, Estonia's military, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and other such critical support agencies are woefully understaffed, underequipped and underprepared for the event of a true emergency.

In an opinion piece published by Estonian daily Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian), Salu opened by pointing out how currently, 25 years after the reestablishment of Estonia's independence, the Estonian Defense Forces' homepage promises that the Defense Forces' 1st Infantry Brigade would be fully equipped and armed within the next few years. From another perspective, he continued, "...this of course means that 25 years have gone by but we have not managed to equip and arm our defense forces' only brigade (the second brigade is only just being formed on paper at the moment)."

Salu went on to say that he continues to hear different stories here and there that hint at Estonia's military being underequipped, for example that the entire country combined had just enough 120 mm mortar ammunition to fill the trunk of one car, i.e. enough for just a couple dozen rounds, despite being the biggest mortar in use by the Estonian Defense Forces, for whom a supply of 30,000 rounds would be more appropriate. Another example was that the war in Ukraine has supposedly disrupted the entire supply chain for spare parts for the D-30 howitzer, one of the two biggest heavy artillery weapons employed by the defense forces, casting doubts about whether the forces' own D-30s remained in good working order.

He was quick to add the disclaimer that none of the stories he had heard ever had any official confirmation, with his sources citing state secrets or urban legends. He continued, however, "Recently, in an entirely different context, another state official whom I told the stories about the ammunition shortage said only, 'Oh, so you know this too' in response." Salu noted that such a response made it sound like the issue was an open secret, just one that couldn't be publicly discussed.

The Eesti Ekspress journalist further cited rumors that the country's K-Commando (K-Komando), the special unit of the Estonian Criminal Police comparable to US SWAT teams, should be twice as big as it is — although its exact size is yet another state secret — as well as concerns that police continue to be laid off, volunteer rescue workers are lacking needed equipment, and exercises testing the endurance of hospitals, water supply and communications in the event of an attack have shown that it would take less than 48 hours for these systems to collapse.

Salu claimed that he knew that many state officials are worried, as they could see the shortcomings but did not know what to do going forward. "The Ministry of the Interior shows how terrorists are successfully overcome, but if something were to actually happen, would hospitals function, would rescue workers have equipment, would potable water be available anywhere?" he asked, admitting that he feared the answers to these questions.

The journalist criticized the attitude that these things shouldn't be talked about lest it cause panic among the people or feed Russian propaganda as infantile. "Why do we think that 'the people' are like a flock of juveniles with whom it is impossible to talk turkey?" Salu asked. "That we soothe children by giving them teddy bears and adults by showing them NATO planes."

He noted out that as far as security-related issues were concerned, it seemed like it always took some kind of disaster to drive any real change, noting that it took the Georgian War for Estonia to ramp up its defense spending to two percent of its GDP and Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea for NATO to come to Estonia.

Sarcastically, Salu expressed that if another war was necessary in order for the country's military to get its needed supplies of spare parts and ammunition, its police to get its additional resources and its hospitals to get [backup] power supplies, he hoped that the war would at least be somewhere else, such as in Latvia.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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