Martin Hurt: Will Estonia leave Russian citizens holding weapons?
A person who has applied for Russian citizenship and has not decided to give it up even in light of recent wars has made at least one conscious choice in favor of Russia as an aggressor state, Martin Hurt writes.
On March 9, ERR covered the Estonian Union of Weapons Owners' proposals to the interior minister. The union proposed amending the Weapons Act so that firearms and ammunition could only be owned and held by Estonian, EU and NATO member states' citizens. Secondly, the organization found that the weapons permits of citizens of Russia and its allied states living in Estonia should be suspended immediately.
The union puts the number of Russian citizens with a valid weapons permit and firearms living in Estonia at 1,300. This figure, if accurate, is mindboggling on its own, considering that Estonia's official position has for years been that the Russian Federation poses a major threat to Estonia's existence and the security of NATO and the European Union in general.
It makes no sense to actively work toward NATO allies ramping up their military presence in the region, while allowing local Russian citizens to continue owning weapons and ammunition.
There is no doubt that a military conflict would see Estonia's eastern neighbor send over recon and subversive tactics units, just as we have seen in Ukraine. It is also an open secret that the Estonian authorities count on a considerable number of local residents who own guns joining Russian units in case of a crisis or war.
Issuing weapons permits to citizens of another democratic state based on the rule of law that respects its neighbors' sovereignty and territorial integrity would have been entirely understandable. But Russia deployed military power against Georgia back in 2008 and is still occupying roughly 20 percent of its territory.
In 2014, Russia started a war against Ukraine in which 14,000 people died. It has now openly and shamelessly launched a massive offensive in Ukraine, using heavy weapons on civilians and become a pariah state on par with North Korea in the eyes of the West.
A person who has applied for Russian citizenship and has not decided to give it up even in light of recent wars has made at least one conscious choice in favor of Russia as an aggressor state.
Having their weapons permits suspended would not take away the right of Russian, Belarusian and other pariah states' citizens to engage in shooting sports. If a permanent resident of Estonia who is also a citizen of one of these pariah states wants to shoot, they can do so without a valid weapons permit as most air guns in civilian use are not regulated by the Weapons Act.
I have to agree with what was said by a spokesperson for the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) in a recent interview in terms of citizens being expected to be loyal to their country. A Russian citizen has to be assumed to be loyal to their country and not the Republic of Estonia. At the same time, Estonian citizens of Russian or some other nationality are expected to be loyal to Estonia.
It is noteworthy that the proposal to suspend the weapons permits of citizens of Russia and its allies came from a lobby group and not the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Nevertheless, it is high time to take steps to reinforce national security until Russia and Belarus become peaceful states that respect their neighbors, much like the rest of Europe.
But Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani (Center Party) said on the ETV "Esimene studio" talk show on March 10 that there is no need to change the law and that matters will be handled on a case-by-case basis. This likely needs to be interpreted as everything being fundamentally in order and there being nothing wrong with Estonia giving Russian citizens the right to own weapons on the same basis as Estonian citizens if there are no problems with the individual's lifestyle and behavior.
How much longer can the state keep cementing security in society while not taking this opportunity, relying instead on the collective benevolence of Russian citizens?
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Editor: Marcus Turovski