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Ühtegi and Tali: Will to defend ourselves breaking the greatest threat

Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali.
Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

August will mark the passing of 30 years from the restoration of Estonian independence. Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi, long-time military intelligence chief, now serves as commander of the Defense League, while Col. Peeter Tali, former journalist, is the deputy head of the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga. Restoring the Estonian Defense Forces has been a part of their lives.

Gentlemen – how did it happen that the Baltic States left the Soviet Union and won their freedom without there being a war 30 years ago?

Tali: There was no war… In truth, Defense League members were stationed near the radio building, where we are now, and the TV building 30 years ago [during the days of the August Putsch], so there was a military confrontation. I know at least one man who had a rifle with him. It was Tartu Defense League member [future Defense League and EDF commander] Johannes Kert. They defended Estonia's thirst for freedom and the will to be free because national independence had not been declared yet.

Estonia is one of very few countries in the world to have restored its independence without bloodshed.

Ühtegi: The concept of war has changed in time. If back then, we said there was no armed conflict, we would say today that one did take place. We are talking about new ways of waging war, whether cyberwarfare or asymmetric conflicts – the latter was very much present in August of 1991.

The fact we regained our freedom without anyone firing a shot or paying in blood was chance. Because, as Peeter said, people were armed and things could easily have culminated in an armed conflict [with the Soviet army].

The defenders of the radio and TV buildings had Molotov cocktails ready on the roof and the rifles, pistols and revolvers of their fathers and grandfathers tucked under their jackets.

Ühtegi: I clearly remember that we asked Defense League members to forget the principle of keeping rifles hidden when we started for Tallinn [from Tartu] during the August Putsch. We counted the weapons people had brought and there were more than a few. They were there, and the fact nothing happened was largely down to chance and luck.

Tali: It was nothing short of a miracle.

Ühtegi: Yes, it was a miracle.

Should we have a memorial with the names of everyone who came to the defense of Toompea and the radio and television buildings?

Ühtegi: Defense League veterans have raised the question of recognizing members who turned out during the days of the putsch. However, it is extremely difficult to do. Firstly, because we must not forget everyone else who was there at the radio and TV buildings and Toompea. Also, those who were in Tartu and many other places at the time, monitoring the movement of Soviet army convoys and doing what needed to be done.

It would be extremely difficult to put together such a list because we have no record of the people who came out.

Tali: It might sound a little hollow, but this act of heroism deserves a visible monument. I very much like the Baltic Way Memorial in Lithuania, it is modern and approachable.

It was the will to be free, defiance and courage of the people of Estonia, because the people who came [to the defense of Tallinn] knew very well what had happened in similar situations in Latvia and Lithuania but also in Baku and Tbilisi for example.

You were both born in 1964 and served in the Soviet army. Gen. Ühtegi was working in the police around the time of restoration of independence, while Col. Tali was a journalist. What pulled you back to the armed forces?

Tali: The Soviet army was ghastly. While I very much liked riding and shooting from a tank – perhaps I'm still a little boy at heart – everything else was psychologically absolutely horrible. I wanted to get as far away from it as possible.

But because of my interest, I wrote military pieces for the Edasi newspaper that later became Postimees. I interviewed [then head of the heavy bomber division in Tartu, later President of Chechnya] Dzhokhar Dudayev and Ants Laaneots for whom it was his first interview. He was serving as the Tartu military commissar and was, if memory serves, 44 years of age at the time.

I got a call from [then journalist] Aavo Kokk, and then several more, who said I must join the reserve officer movement right away. When I finally enrolled for the refresher training course at the academy, I realized that the Estonian army is very different from the one that forced me to temporarily occupy Georgia and Azerbaijan [as a Soviet conscript] for which I am very sorry. (Smiles)

Ühtegi: I started in the Defense League in the early 1990s. I was working with telescopes at the Tõravere Observatory at the time and was of the mind that because I had traveled, seen adventure and done all sorts of things by then, it was enough. But friends convinced me to try different things, which eventually led me to the Defense League. It seemed like a good enough organization to be part of, while I was not considering a military career.

When the independent Estonian police force was being put together, I was recruited as a Tartu County Defense League member, and I believed that is where I would serve. However, it so happened that [Commander of the Defense League] Johannes Kert and a few others recruited me in turn, and I was invited for an interview with Einseln at the EDF General Staff in 1993. Kert had put in a recommendation, while he wanted me to join him at the Defense League Headquarters. Einseln made me an offer and gave me a week to mull it over, but the formalities had already been taken care of and I was a military man by the end of that week.

Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Do you remember the first Defense Forces Independence Day parade on February 24, 1992 when the border defense, Defense League and Home Defense battalions were lined up in the Freedom Square? Russian armed forces were still in Estonia and wouldn't leave for another two and a half years, the Russian ruble was still the currency and the switch to the Estonian kroon four months away. Soldiers did not have weapons as the first major quantity of rather poor Romanian assault rifles arrived the next year… A hopeless situation?

Ühtegi: I took part in that parade. I was proud to wear a uniform that the French had gifted us. It was a proud and solemn feeling, so what that equipment was in short supply, as was everything else. But it was the first time we demonstrated the unity and size of our forces like that.

What would you have said had anyone told you not to worry because Estonia would be a NATO member 12 years later?

Ühtegi: Hard to say as it was not on my mind back then. I knew what NATO was but did not consider Estonia being part of it one day.

Tali: No one could imagine Estonia regaining its independence 12 years on back in 1980. Similarly, no one at first imagined we could become a member of NATO – an exclusive and portrayed as immensely powerful political and military organization. We dared not think it.

Ühtegi: True, such ideas were already circulating when I joined the EDF in 1993. Aleksander Einseln, who was commander of the armed forces at the time, talked about adopting the Western cast of mind and also mentioned NATO because of his American background. But it was not widely discussed on the political level.

Do you remember when the first Western officers came to Estonia and how they saw our budding defense force?

Ühtegi: They were very interested. No one laughed at us, I do not remember there being anything of the sort. But we were studied very thoroughly. When the first advisers came in late 1992, there were quite a few disputes, squabbles even, because we knew little about how things were done in the West and felt that what we knew was right.

Let us be honest, every country and nation must find their own way, you cannot adopt everything one-for-one. Luckily, we have been quite successful.

How did the advisers understand the Defense League?

Ühtegi: No one understood the Defense League. Much as it is today when people do not really understand the Defense League, while they still try to define it. I came here straight from a meeting with U.S. officers who also tried to define the Defense League, but some progress is being made. (Smiles) The Defense League has always been a very complicated organization, both for our partners and the eastern neighbor. And that is a good thing.

U.S. colonel Aleksander Einseln, who had fought in the Korean and Vietnamese wars, became the first commander of the Defense Forces of re-independent Estonia, while his right hand, commander of the General Staff of the Defense Forces, was Soviet army colonel with experience from the Ogaden War Ants Laaneots. A very curious situation.

Tali: It was indeed. That was the reality of the day. Looking at where Estonians had served or gotten their military experience, it was the Soviet army for most of us. Building up the armed forces here saw them want to do better, while they could not escape their mentality and copied a lot of things. Next, we got some people from America, advisers from Finland, someone from Canada and Sweden who tried to go about it together.

And then we had the exile government, War Minister Jüri Toomepuu who bestowed Defense League ranks, making Riho Ühtegi a captain overnight if memory serves.

Ühtegi: It was senior lieutenant first.

Tali: Very good. Because I was a member of the Estonian Congress, I met with Jüri Toomepuu there. We are both members of the Sakala fraternity. That is when I got the boyish idea of organizing a meeting between Toomepuu and Ants Laaneots that took place in Tartu.

I can reveal today that it took place in the apartment of the mother-in-law of my Edasi and later Postimees colleague Ivari Jõesaar. Defense League members, I believe they were Meelis Säre nicknamed the Old Bear and Johannes Kert, brought an American in sunglasses, the lieutenant colonel and the exile government's war minister. I went to the Tartu military commissariat, we got in a UAZ 469, with Ants Laaneots wearing a long greatcoat at the wheel. And then we met, sandwiches had been prepared and they discussed some things. It was in the fall of 1990 [with less than year until the restoration of independence].

Riho Ühtegi. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Aleksander Einseln, Johannes Kert, Tarmo Kõuts, Ants Laaneots, Riho Terras and now Martin Herem. Commanders of the Defense Forces. Leaving aside Gen. Herem, what were his predecessors like as commanders?

Ühtegi: I once wrote a series of articles for the Defense League's Kaitse Kodu! magazine titled "Names not on a marble plaque," where I looked at Defense League commanders through the re-independence period. My summary was that each one was necessary at the time of their contribution as chief. We could say the same for Defense Forces commanders.

Einseln delivered a breakthrough as the first EDF commander. We would not have been put on the Westward path so quickly without him. We would have tried, of course, but we would have followed the same path as many other post-Soviet states in creating a smaller version of the Russian model despite attempts to the contrary. Therefore, Einseln definitely laid the foundation [of that particular course] and all his successors have moved it forward in different ways.

Tali: Looking at EDF commanders, we first had Laaneots as the acting chief who created a semblance of military force and combat ready units. Next came Aleksander Einseln. Our southern neighbors were envious of Estonia because we had an armor piercing warhead in the combination of [President] Lennart Meri and Einseln who were both fluent in the West. Einseln made sure Estonia had its back to the West. In the sense of having the West behind us. He sent all young men to school, which was great in terms of bringing Western thinking and know-how [to the Defense Forces].

Talking about Johannes Kert, he changed the Defense Forces' reputation. Plenty of bullying was going on in the barracks, not Soviet dedovshchina [violence visited upon junior soldiers by their senior counterparts] but bullying. But Kert introduced human-centered leadership, with the so-called Finnish lads, those who went to Finnish military academies, playing an important role. They brought over the Finnish citizens' army mentality and [units] became learning centers.

The most important service by Tarmo Kõuts is that we still have a reserve army and Defense League, as well as what was a very smooth NATO transition.

And Riho Terras sported an extensive strategic and international view. The decision to deploy an Estonian infantry platoon in the Central African Republic as part of the French presence there has brought French tanks to Estonia, with the French emphasizing the importance of Estonians as allies. That is one example of Terras' international and strategic grasp.

Ühtegi: For me, Johannes' greatest achievement is merging the educated elite, academic circles with the Defense Forces. The situation was very clear in Soviet days – there was the peasants' and workers' army, with the intelligentsia completely separate. It was Johannes' dream for Estonian army officers to be part of the educated elite. I would suggest most of relevant progress was made during his day. It was when we got reserve officer associations, reserve officer training, and it was his idea to create academic subdistricts in the Defense League.

Peeter did not linger on Laaneots [as EDF commander]. Laaneots becoming EDF commander [in December of 2006] was perfect timing. He had learned a lot and developed by then. He brought back the broad-based defense dimension that had started to dissipate, he started talking about total defense again, saw a symbiosis between the Defense Forces and the Defense League.

Perhaps it was his Soviet army background that yielded a lot of… We were already in NATO at the time and the organization was trying to have us concentrate on creating clear and visible EDF units, while the dimension was widened again under Laaneots and the phrase "total defense" came back. We call it broad-based national defense today.

Tali: Laaneots' role must not be underestimated. It was he who showed us that the eastern adversary can be beaten. He said, as EDF commander, that we can beat them and destroy them, which evolved in the words of a future Defense League commander when they said that while they might reach Tallinn, they will pay a terrible price.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

They said they will die in Tallinn.

Tali: Well, dying in Tallinn is a terrible price. The price is too high and the trip not worth it. (Smiles)

It was Commander of the Defense League Gen. Ühtegi who said that.

Ühtegi: I was actually still head of Special Operations Command at the time.

Was the Pullapää crisis that saw the Lääne County Jaeger Company announce in 1993 that it is no longer following orders from the General Staff of the Defense Forces and that nearly led to Estonian troops firing on one another the worst crisis in EDF history?

Ühtegi: I'm not sure it was the worst crisis. It was made out to be the worst. I'm very sorry that I stalled jumping on board, I had been asked to take over the company [that declared its insubordination] before but I refused. While one person makes no difference, perhaps things could have been solved in some other way.


The confrontation existed when I went there in 1993. But neither side wanted a conflict. I do not believe it would have culminated in an armed conflict barring foolish decisions. Luckily, the latter were not made. And things went the way they went.

Having been present for these events… The men [who made up the company] were there for Estonia and went there to be good soldiers. It was a political whirlwind during difficult times. And let's be honest, the Pullapää crisis was not the only one. There were others. It was simply the most visible at the time.

We could spend hours and longer talking about all that went down back then. The government had changed in 1992 and the question of whether it was a legitimate, legitimately elected government was in the air… All these things culminated, everyone tried to achieve something, which is why the Pullapää crisis developed.

Tali: I would add another dimension. Similar things also happened in Latvia and Lithuania the same year, which is not something we can regard as a coincidence.

Ühtegi: Yes. There were a lot of things in the Defense League, and other things besides Pullapää took place in the Defense Forces, so it was not just Pullapää.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Colonel Tali, did you just mean to say events such as what happened in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were orchestrated? Or were such differences, fissures and manifestations of insubordination the natural course of things in three closely associated countries? Perhaps it was something we needed to go through?

Tali: I do not think it was natural or something we needed to go through. But looking at what happened in other countries, such as Georgia, for example, that had far more armed groups and who ended up firing on one another, fuel was often added to those flames from the outside.

However, I completely agree with Riho Ühtegi: the men who served at Pullapää were patriots and did what they thought was right, which also goes for a lot of their commanders. But definitely not all.

Ühtegi: The people who went to Pullapää [near Haapsalu] were very different. A lot of foreigners, including so-called journalists went there – people who I came into contact with a few years later when I was already working intelligence and who turned out to be intelligence operatives. And if there were intelligence operatives from the West there, you can bet there were some from the east. Foreign influence was there, while whether it was direct or indirect is hard to say from a distance…

It is a part of evolution. Looking at the first half of the 1990s, 1992-1993, the entire country was ripe with confrontation, either in the criminal world or the political level – it was one big skirmish. And a lot of things were generated using a Defense Forces company that found itself in the spotlight. The heads of the company found themselves on stage, there were those who manipulated them and we all know the result.

I'm glad it did not turn our worse. I'm glad several members of the company have proved themselves capable soldiers since then. And I am glad the Republic of Estonia has managed to defused these situations without bloodshed.

Tali: I am glad that attempts to use that crisis on the geopolitical chessboard and members of the company as pawns failed. It did not work.

What happened on September 11, 1997 when 14 members of the reconnaissance unit of the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion drowned or died of hypothermia when attempting to cross the Strait of Kurkse?

Ühtegi: I thought of Kurkse when we were talking about the Pullapää crisis. Which was the greater crisis?

I believe that the Kurkse incident is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Estonian Defense Forces where good med died trying to do the impossible in good faith.

I have, on a couple of occasions, quoted Jaak Joala who allegedly said when visiting the Baikonur spaceport and being shown the alley of heroes that heroes are needed where specialists are in short supply. The Kurkse incident is an example of trying to be heroes without being specialists. It is likely a part of development. I believe Kurkse taught us a lot and a lot of preventive measures were adopted in the EDF to make sure nothing of the sort happens again.

Tali: It was a very tragic accident. But people, and this includes members of the Defense Forces, learn from everything, and a very painful and tragic experience is still an experience.

Kurkse, of course, came as a shock. Several circumstances coincided and we cannot analyze them all in a short time. I will give just one example. Is it possible to run a company that is smaller than a battalion and is located simultaneously in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania?

Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

How often did we obviously overestimate our ability and take risks no one would take today 20-30 years ago?

Ühtegi: There was that. We were all trying to be heroes because we were not specialists and because we were prepared to perform heroics.

I gather that the idea of this interview is also to compare what was to what is today. I would say that we have perhaps become too specialist by today and are forgetting to be heroes. You need both.

Of course, a member of the armed forces needs to be a specialist first, while they must never lose sight of their chance to become a hero. Taking risks is necessary under certain circumstances. We took a lot of risks back then, and I'm glad that the consequences were no worse than they were – whether due to characteristically Estonian common sense or something else.

Estonian Defense Forces members have been serving in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. True, the Afghanistan mission ended last month. Looking at the situation in Iraq and especially Afghanistan, we might ask what it was they died and were wounded for? Do you have the answer? You have both been in these areas.

Tali: The answer is very simple. For the freedom of Estonia. Absolutely, as that is what has given us the brothers in arms we need in today's geopolitical situation.

An Estonian diplomat has said that blood is the strongest guarantee you can give. And Estonia has done just that in Iraq and the NATO mission in Afghanistan where our units and soldiers have fought bravely, given it their all. That is one of the reasons why Estonia hosts the UK-led NATO battle group and Challenger 2 tanks.

Ühtegi: Exactly. I have been asked on numerous occasions why we are serving in Afghanistan or Iraq and recently Mali. Because it pays for our freedom here at home, through allied presence in Estonia. Peeter mentioned French tanks – they are here largely because we are in Mali.

Afghanistan… We need to adopt a more pragmatic view. We have no major political and business interests in Afghanistan, which is why the country is a training polygon for our soldiers.

We have suffered losses there, but that is what has brought the allies to Estonia. And they are our brothers in arms, they're not just allied soldiers but Americans and Brits who know we have been through hell together if you will permit the expression. We have shed blood together on the battlefield, been wounded and died together. That is what has given us [allied] planes in the sky and tanks manned by allied troops.

Foreign missions have given our soldiers and officers experience they would not have gotten elsewhere?

Tali: They have found moral confidence. Being in battle constitutes a moment of truth for every soldier, every non-commissioned officer, every squad leader, every officer. Not everyone is cut out for the job. I do not mean to attack or demean anyone, but that moment of truth is about whether I can do what I have been trained to do under fire or whether I will break down. A person can break down morally, it is nothing to be ashamed of. It simply means they are unsuitable for the job and need to do something else.

Realizing that moment of truth and the certainty of knowing I have done what had to be done makes it much easier [for soldiers] to do it again for Estonia, for their country.

Ühtegi: Precisely. Real conflict experience is very important for a soldier because no one knows how they will react until they are in it.

I have spoken to soldiers who have experienced problems, we have talked about why they collapse so to speak when coming into hostile contact with the enemy, down to sending soldiers home [from a foreign mission] because they are simply not suited for the job. But there is no way of knowing beforehand – the person can be a weapons enthusiast, properly trained and absolutely convinced they are a super soldier. However, it requires actual experience to realize whether a person is someone who could or should be involved in conflict. There is no other way to determine it.

General Ühtegi, you are one of the people who restored Estonian military intelligence. You served for 15 years after which you served for seven years as commander of the EDF Special Operations Command. Do we know enough about the enemy not to allow ourselves to be taken by surprise?

Ühtegi: We know a lot about the adversary. Enough? I dare say we know enough about our adversary.

There are things that cannot be hidden, and there is little room for innovation when it comes to warfare, strategy and tactics. The most important aspect is perhaps not being able to gauge the adversary's ability to hide and prepare certain things. What we cannot see at all is how they think. We see that as far as they're willing to show it.

The most difficult aspect of warfare is always being ready when you need to be. Things are simpler when it comes to tactics and use of arms. We know what needs to be done in those terms, what the adversary will do, as it is largely also what we'll be doing… But we need to find new ways for counteraction. They know it and are making similar preparations, which is how it goes, with one side developing something and the other catching up. But what we cannot see is what is going on in our adversary's head.

How surprised were you to learn that what was going on in that head saw Russia invade Georgian cities from South Ossetia in 2008 and take Crimea from Ukraine in February-March 2014?

Ühtegi: Both were longer-term activities. Of course, people continue to hope it won't happen, even though there are signs to suggest it is happening.

Days in August [of 2008] are talked about in the Georgian conflict context, while preparations for the operation started in 2004. There were a lot of factors at play, from the recognition of Kosovan independence, that led to this process. The only real question was where it would happen – Abkhazia or South Ossetia. My guess is that the Ossetia card was played roughly six months before the war began. Everyone though it could go down in Abkhazia for a long time, but that was cover – preparations were made in Abkhazia, the operation executed in Ossetia.

As concerns Ukraine, it was clear Crimea would eventually become a hot spot. Such questionable or problematic regions remained in almost all former Soviet republics, which made it possible to generate conflicts when economic, political and other aspects aligned. It was very likely sparked by the Maidan revolution in Ukraine that merited a Russian reaction – first Crimea, then Donetsk and Lugansk.

Tali: Strategically speaking, reading the foundations of Russian security policy or doctrine gives one an idea of how they think. The question mark Gen. Ühtegi was referring to is the trigger in the Kremlin corridors of power or Putin's head. How the decision takes shape. That is not clear.

Toomas Sildam's interview with Riho Ühtegi and Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

It has been suggested that the annexation of Crimea and Russia's support of Donbas separatists marked the beginning of a new cold war. Is that so?

Ühtegi: Looking at how many European countries are restoring their Cold War era territorial defense systems… Even Switzerland is doing that, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Poland have seriously ramped up territorial defense, as well as Hungary, Slovakia and others… One might ask why. That is what tells us that the cold war has returned.

Strong polarization has taken place in the world. The East versus West confrontation is back. And a new cold war with it.

Tali: For example, NATO finally decided it needs a new strategic concept because the current one from 10 or 11 years ago is no longer valid.

Looking at the big picture, things might have been clearer during the Cold War because there was an agreement then what to do and which lines are not to be crossed. There seem to be no such boundaries today. There is also a new major player – China – that has both the will and the means to participate.

How is the borderless world affecting our national defense?

Ühtegi: I like to say that a country's ability to defend itself depends on three aspects. The physical aspect, our weapons, power and all of that. Then there is the conceptual aspect or the ability to understand the nature of the conflict, how to fight it and to what extent we have made it possible to wage war on the legislative level. And thirdly, the aspect of moral or the preparedness to defend the country, national togetherness, personal ties to the land you're meant to defend.

The latter has come a little undone lately. That said, I remain an optimist and believe that people [who have moved to live and work abroad] will return to defend this land. Because the land of your fathers is the land of your fathers and the only one we've got.

Tali: The world is changing… Talking about how warfare has come along, we used to have land, sea and air warfare, while we have now gained three new dimensions – cyberwarfare, war in space and the cognitive dimension that goes beyond information and also concerns human psychology. That is what Gen. Ühtegi was referring to in terms of the adversary looking for targets and trying to erode our unity. It is our task to safeguard it.

Ühtegi: I would add that talking about warfare, we should give more heed to regional conflict. The political level where decisions to attack our neighbors cause us to go to war too.

It is always a very difficult decision to make, especially if the enemy clearly signals it plans to leave you alone. We need to remember that an attack against Latvia or Lithuania will eventually hit here. Therefore, we should act regionally…

Tali: Or an attack on Finland or Sweden for example…

Meaning that the region should be seen as a whole and an attack on someone might as well be an attack on you and needs to merit a response.

Ühtegi: That is collective defense, the main idea of NATO: one for all and all for one.

We saw a new kind of war in 2020 – the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict that culminated in Baku seizing control of a lot of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and neighboring territories. Is this the face of future war where you have missile drones deliver accurate and merciless strikes at night against which at least the Armenians were powerless?

Ühtegi: It did not go quite like that. Yes, the game of drones was widely publicized and they were portrayed as a major victory and progress. However, I have always been of the mind that no war is won until soldiers have boots on the ground.

Wars in Kosovo and thereabouts also relied on airstrikes at first, while control was achieved only upon introducing land forces to the area. It can be no other way – you need physical presence to solve matters.

We know very little of what happened in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both sides making some effort to hide it. But I know that both countries' hospitals are full of wounded soldiers.

Tali: At the same time, what one side showed and the other didn't… Appearances can become reality.

They were completely paralyzing images of drones wiping the Armenians off the face of the mountain.

Tali: Turning appearances into reality is the name of the game to make sure your enemy is afraid of you and for everyone else to think your advanced technology leaves them no chance.

Ühtegi: One area we have not yet discussed but that played a major role in the conflict is information. Information warfare that is an inseparable part of modern campaigns. Azerbaijan made a massive effort here and one Armenia could not deflect. Of course, there are other dimensions involved, we do not know what took place on the diplomatic and political fronts. That Russia did not get involved or got involved too late, what was the reason? There have been guesses but…

Tali: Furthermore, in terms of geopolitics, Azerbaijan's major sponsor Turkey has now gained a very strong… I would not go as far as to say key position but definitely a position in the region.

Peeter Tali. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Turkey has surely become a very important player there now. Will the future of war be hackers, like the ones who closed all Coop stores in Sweden and demanded payment of €70 million for releasing the hijacked data, attacking sensitive infrastructure, without needing a single missile or little green men to cause a lot of damage?

Tali: The little green man is yesterday's news. Technology continues to pose the greatest risk.

And the sixth dimension next to land, air, sea, space and cyber is mental and moral environment. Leaving ourselves open to division, what use are weapons if you have no one to operate them or soldiers to fill boots. However, it cannot be seen separately from modern warfare and administration, it is one whole. That is to answer the rhetorical question of what we are fighting for. We are fighting for our country and people.

Ühtegi: The cyber domain is a growing and developing dimension of war. We should definitely pay attention to information as it ties into cyberwarfare. The propaganda war has been going on for decades, been very effective and is rapidly developing.

The worst scenario for me would be the adversary achieving victory without destruction, hitting the other country's moral so hard they lose the will to defend themselves. This can be achieved through information operations and relevant attempts are being made.

Breaking our will to defend ourselves is the greatest threat I perceive.

Tali: Because weapons do not fight wars, people do. At the same time, you also need the physical component because an ax and bow are useless where missiles and drones fly.

However, those who oppose us, and I am not just talking about the Kremlin landlord, have realized that the most cost-effective measure is dismantling the other side's will, unity and core values included in the preamble of the Estonian Constitution. That is what we must protect, that is what is keeping us together.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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