Defense minister: Documents should not be classified for over 10 years

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Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform) admitted that there are too many documents labeled "information intended for internal use" (AK) in the Estonian public sector and he would be opposed to extending the classification of documents indefinitely.

Currently, the access restriction limit for classified documents is five years. This limit can be extended by another five years to a total maximum of 10 years.

Tarmo Vahter, a journalist for weekly Eesti Ekspress, recently unveiled a plan to amend the Public Information Act that would allow for the classification of documents to last indefinitely. The plan has received support from Minister of the Interior, Minister of the Environment Tõnis Mölder (Center) and previously, Laanet himself. On the other side of the frontline stood Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform).

Laanet told ERR's online show "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday that there have been many steps taken back from the initial plan and he now supports keeping the classification time limit at no longer than 10 years. He noted that a critical look should be taken into what are the contents of AK documents and whether they correspond to the idea of state secrecy or not. The defense minister said that far too many documents have received the designation.

Laanet said he has called together a work group who will analyze how many AK documents are circulating in the Ministry of Defense. "My stance is that as long as there is some kind of ongoing discussion process, then in that phase up to the decision being made, there is secrecy. But once the decision has been made, the limitation should be withdrawn," the defense minister commented.

Economic growth to expand defense budget

Show host Toomas Sildam asked Laanet about national defense spending and the defense minister noted that spending will not drop, but rather grow increasingly. He pointed out that the budget for national defense in 2021 is 2.29 percent of the GDP, 2.31 percent the next year. In financial terms, the budget this year is €645 million and €714 million in 2022.

"When the previous government wrote up to €1 billion in uncovered promises to the state budget, then the government of today looked at the state's finances and it became clear that we cannot go on this way. Each sector was looked at, but the defense budget will grow regardless. And if we look at economic forecasts, economic growth should be 3 percent by fall and according to the Bank of Estonia's forecast, growth is 5 percent next year, which means that state budget numbers will grow accordingly," Laanet said.

At the same time, the defense minister admitted that the security situation in the region is turbulent as a result of Russia's recent activity.

"Russia is acting aggressively. Today, NATO says unequivocally that NATO's main enemy is Russia. We, as part of Nato, share that position. Luckily, we hold enough competence to know our neighbor to the East and that leads to us being considered in NATO," the minister noted.

Should not have issued May 9 uniform order

Laanet also commented on a recent order given to conscripts in the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) to come to a Tallinn barracks in civilian attire on May 9 - Soviet victory day - and said that he is of the same mind as EDF commander Martin Herem, who said that the ban was "overdoing things".

"Martin Herem has clearly stated his position that it was overdone and I share that position completely. Everything changes in time and space. And even if a previous decision has been made, should we do the same today? My position is that [the ban] was overdone," Laanet said.

The defense minister added, however, that he understands the decision made by the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Priit Averkin, as he had his reasons, but things look different from the ministry's side.

Laanet also said that he has initiated discussions to find a replacement for the phrase "'Ajateenistus" (conscription). "'Ajateenistus' does not exactly reflect what conscripts are doing. If we look at semantics, 'to serve time' is something different. They are actually learning how to defend the Estonian state in case of danger. 'Riigiteenistus' (civil service), 'kaitseteenistus' (defense service), anything else," the minister noted.

Navy base to move from Tallinn's Miinisadam to Saaremaa?

"Otse uudistemajast" also touched on a possible naval base move from the Mine Harbor (Miinisadam) in Tallinn to the island of Saaremaa.

"The navy and Lt. Gen. Johannes Kert, who recently left us, held the position that the naval base cannot be right under Tallinn's Old Town. Why? This would immediately become a target for opposing forces and we would endanger the lives of many civilians. Secondly, the region has become one of the most expensive residential areas, but people's access to the sea is closed. Therefore we are discussing where to take the naval base," Laanet said.

The minister said the idea is currently in an analysis phase and decisions should come in fall. Responding to Sildam's question about moving the naval base to Saaremaa, Laanet smiled and said he would love it as someone from Saaremaa. He also noted that one of the potential options is to conjoin the naval base with that of the Police and Border Guard Board's.

Kalle Laanet and Toomas Sildam. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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