Estonian Defence League commander: We live in a danger zone

Col. Riho Ühtegi interview with Toomas Sildam. August 2019.
Col. Riho Ühtegi interview with Toomas Sildam. August 2019. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The commander of the Estonian Defence League said the Estonian people have no reason to worry about a Russian military attack at the moment, but they have to accept that the country exists in a danger zone.

"There is no military threat," Riho Ühtegi said on Tuesday in an interview on ETV's "Esimene stuudio". "If we look at the armed forces behind our eastern border, there is no point in conducting a major military operation against Estonia with this contingent."

Ühtegi said there should be a very good reason for an attack. "But on the other hand, we don't know what's going on in the heads of Russia's head of state. There is still talk that Russia is unpredictable and that is why we have to be ready to defend ourselves," he said, adding the old saying that if you want peace, you have to prepare for war.

Ühtegi said there is an overwhelming desire in Estonia for national defense to be perfect and for defense experts to read the reports and see what is behind the eastern border. "There are no big changes, but we live in a danger zone," he said.

Russia's military is said to be in a better shape than it was 20 years ago, but they still have a lot of problems. He said: "They are experienced, well-trained, responsive and bold and aggressive."

Ühtegi said Estonia is now better protected than ever. He added the Estonian Defense Forces are professional and defense readiness is very high.

However, Ühtegi said, Estonia has to combine its protection as it is not capable of fighting on the whole front alone. "We have to use a non-linear approach, or territorial defense. We have local units that stay in areas and do not leave even after the enemy's first units have passed."

Ühtegi: The allies are becoming more confident

Ühtegi noted the defense allies were becoming more confident. He said it is very good they can practice with the allies (NATO members) and armored units, which is similar to a real war situation. Ühtegi said in a battle situation, one must behave differently.

Ühtegi, who became Commander of the Defense League last year, said he has not had any major problems in his new position. "Rather, it has been a period of learning for me. /.../ However, I have been a member of the Defense League from the beginning and have seen and known the organization well; rather, it has been a challenge for my daily work; I have learned about the rhythm of work and the areas to work on  /.../ I believe that is what we wanted for the Defense League," Ühtegi said.

The Defense League currently has approximately 26,000 members, and Ühtegi says it is gratifying to see an increase in the number of young members. There is also an increasing number of women joining the organization. 

Having 30,000 members would be optimal, he said. "Before the Second World War, the Defense League had 100,000 members, this level will not be reached," said Ühtegi, adding the Estonian people are prepared to contribute to national defense in other ways as well.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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