ISS chief: No figure on military volunteers heading to Ukraine from Estonia

Estonian and Ukrainian flags (picture is illustrative).
Estonian and Ukrainian flags (picture is illustrative). Source: Scanpix/Postimees/Liis Treimann

Anyone thinking of heading to Ukraine to aid that country's fight against invading Russian Federation forces should have a clear picture of the nature of the conflict, head of the Internal Security Service (ISS) Harrys Puusepp says.

At the same time, Puusepp was unable to put a number on Estonian volunteers who might have headed to the conflict zone.

"However, the fact is that there are people who want to go to Ukraine" Puusepp, speaking to Vikerraadio show "Uudis+" Wednesday, said.

"Joining Ukraine's defense forces is not directly a crime in Estonia. However, in combat, on the Ukrainian side, rules of combat must be followed … and if people are going there and later return, they could then get in touch with Estonian state security authorities. We would have things to talk about," the ISS chief added.

While media reports have put the numbers of volunteers from countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. in the thousands, Puusepp could not put a figure on numbers who might have gone to Ukraine from Estonia.

As to residents of Estonia who might have sought to enter the conflict on the Russian said, Puusepp said simply: "We are carrying out a range of activities to help prevent and combat security threats," adding that: "Should anyone have any knowledge of anyone who is planning to go to war against Ukraine, they should let ISS know, and we can ascertain if it is in fact the case."

Puusepp also noted the seriousness both of what any volunteers were taking on, and the implications of what they would be doing. "Those people who are going to war must take into account the conflict they are heading for. Those who are going to help Ukraine are going to defend their own state, but also Europe as a whole."

This did not mean that people volunteering were being reckless, he added.

"It is my belief that these people have thought through what it means and what kind of dangers it brings with it," Puusepp went on. "You can be killed in a war. You can be taken prisoner," he said.

One thing was clear, volunteers from Estonia were just that, and were not representing the Estonian state nor should any impression be given that they were.

"When giving help, this cannot be done under the association of Estonian state symbols," he said.

Russian propaganda efforts failing

Puusepp also told "Uudis+" that the closing-down of Kremlin-controlled TV channels in Estonia had been the right move, and was part of a successful fight against Russian misinformation in Estonia.

He said: "I think this will make Estonia safer, when hostile Kremlin propaganda does not find it way directly to the public. Those who want to view [the channels] will certainly still be able to find the opportunity. However, if we are talking about justifying a full-scale war, then these falsehoods have crossed the line of tolerance. In taking this step, we made it more difficult for the Putin regime to influence the people of Estonia on a daily basis."

In the case of comments or similar on social media which are either justifying the Putin regime's war crimes or mocking them, Puusepp said that the owner of the social media platform being used should be informed or, in the most serious cases, the ISS should be approached.

While it was encouraging that the public, be they Estonian-, Russian-, Ukrainian- or English-speaking, had so far expressed concern about Kremlin efforts to sow division on linguistic or ethnic bases, it is worth approaching the ISS if the activity runs counter to the Estonian state, or when the war is being justified or calls are being made to fight against Ukraine and not for it.

Part of the Kremlin mythology of the situation involves a supposed fifth-column living inside Estonia who are hostile to the state, Puusepp added, but this required inverting the facts by highlighting the 10 percent who are opposed to NATO or Estonia's membership of the alliance at the expense of the 90 percent who do support it."

It was also the case that even those favorable to pro-Kremlin propaganda would stop short of consenting to what has been happening in Ukraine, to happen in Estonia, he added.

"It was already clear to see in 2014 that Kremlin propaganda believers themselves did not want something similar to happen in Estonia," Puusepp continued, referring to the year in which the Russian Federation annexed Crimea and propagated insurgency warfare in the Donbas region, in the east of the country.

At the same time, it was important not to cast a belief in conspiracy theories along ethnic lines, he said, as there are those who are susceptible to such theories among the Estonian-speaking populace as well.

" I would rather draw that line where there are pro-democracy on the one hand, and those on the other hand, who believe in some sort of science fiction, and do not hold to our values," he went on.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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