Minister of the Interior Mart Helme said the Defense League (Kaitseliit) is a "nice and necessary organization" but its purpose is defense and not internal security, which he said Minister of Defense Jüri Luik should consider when criticizing the so-called crisis reserve bill.
The Ministry of the Interior has drawn up amendments to the Police and Border Guard Act, the Assistant Police Officer Act and the Income Tax Act, which would create a so-called crisis reserve, for which the ministry intends to train 1,200 people.
On July 10, the Ministry of Defense did not approve the bill, claiming that their positions have not been taken into account when drawing up the amendments.
Luik (Isamaa) told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday: "I do not think this is a small structural step. The reserve would be a unit, most likely a relatively large unit and we need to know precisely what their tasks are."
Luik questioned the creation of the crisis reserve force, saying the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and Defense League managed well during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Helme (EKRE) said on Vikerraadio's news show "Uudis+" that the Defense League does not have the necessary skills and equipment to manage during a crisis.
Helme said: "If we imagine assigning the police and Defense League to protect of our most vital objects, then the police will manage fine but the Defense League will not because they do not have the necessary know-how, equipment, training, and even contracts."
Helme named three main objectives for the potential crisis reserve: protecting borders, objects and riot control. "Those are the things that someone from the Defense League, who would take a day off from work, just could not manage. I know the Ministry of Defense is saying that the Defense League could perform those tasks but the fact is that they are volunteers and we did pay them a hefty sum for assistance [during the pandemic]. The mystification of the Defense League - it is just inappropriate."
He added a crisis reserve would also be "much more economical" for the state.
Helme said the Defense League is a "nice and necessary organization" but its purpose is defense and not internal security and defense minister Jüri Luik should remember that.
Luik made a remark on leaving administrative rights of the crisis reserve to the head of PPA, saying the right to convene the crisis reserve should instead be left to the interior minister or the government.
Helme did not consider this valid criticism: "This kind of talk is completely inadequate. I needed the defense minister's and president's consent and signature to use the Defense League during the pandemic. Instead of getting things done in a few hours, we needed a couple of days."
Defense minister Luik also criticized the Ministry of the Interior's draft law, which would excuse all members of the crisis reserve from all Defense Forces (Kaitsevägi) activities, including training and mobilization.
Helme said that would be necessary for rapid response: "Let's imagine that our troops are taken to the woods and swamps to romp and squat for a week but at the same time our potential enemy awakens their 'fifth column' or their 'little green men' and our troops have to be chased down in the woods since there is a much more urgent situation at hand than firing blanks in the woods."
Helme admitted the convener of the potential crisis reserve is still being discussed and that right should not necessarily be in the hands of the PPA.
He said: "We can certainly discuss it but we can't make the process too difficult and bureaucratic. It smells suspicious like someone would organize a coup. In the same way, I could say that the defense minister, whoever he is - I certainly don't agree that a defense minister can give an order to use the Defense Forces because if he gives an order that sets our constitutional order in question, then what would we do? Let's not be so paranoid."
Helme said he is sure that a compromise can be found with Luik in government meetings.
Helme concluded: "I see a silly and shortsighted jealousy from the Ministry of Defense and plain political jealousy from Isamaa - again EKRE came and did something that actually belongs to us."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste