The state intends to grant the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) additional powers that would allow the EDF to prepare for a scenario in which, similar to Donbas, parts of Estonia may be occupied by foreign troops. Among other measures, the EDF could, in organizing armed resistance, employ undercover agents to engage people in collaboration.
Should foreign troops occupy part of Estonian territory, that would mean that Estonian forces should put up armed resistance either there or elsewhere behind enemy lines. This could mean guerilla or underground activity in which locals are involved.
The Ministry of Defense is drawing up amendments to the Estonian Defense Forces Organization Act which would grant the EDF additional powers aimed precisely at preparing for such a scenario.
Ministry of Defense Undersecretary for Legal and Administrative Affairs Margit Gross told ERR that in order to fight back effectively against foreign powers on occupied territory, preparations to do so need to begin in peacetime already.
"In order for the EDF to be able to make these preparations, they need additional powers, as preparations for certain activities will require the use of people who will remain undercover," Gross said. "Such powers have not been granted to the EDF under current law."
As noted in the letter of explanation accompanying the bill, current legislation already allows for the training of persons liable to national defense obligation for armed resistance in the EDF or the volunteer Estonian Defense League (KL). Unlike typical preparations for warfare, however — including e.g. military intelligence, responding to military threats — current law does not allow for the establishment of infrastructure and an environment supportive of armed resistance.
Gross explained that the state intends to employ undercover agents both in preparing for and putting up armed resistance.
"The EDF will use an undercover agent to carry out activities without knowing that a task or activity is being ordered or conducted by the Estonian state or the EDF more specifically," she said.
The undersecretary said that to date, the EDF has been permitted to employ undercover agents and other covert measures in order to conduct espionage. The planned changes, however, will grant the EDF powers to organize armed resistance the same way.
According to the bill, undercover agents can be used, for example, to determine individuals to engage in covert collaboration. Covert collaboration is necessary in order to prepare the infrastructure necessary to support armed resistance, such as secret storage of equipment.
The letter of explanation notes that the trustworthiness of covertly involved people will be assessed prior to establishing contact with them, ensuring that the number of people thus impacted should not exceed 0.1 percent of the Estonian population.
The Ministry of Defense declined to specify more precisely what the secret infrastructure to be prepared might involve, citing state secrets.
Covert apartments among other historical measures
International Center for Defense Studies (ICDS) researcher Ivo Juurvee, who has not yet seen the Defense Ministry's plans, told ERR that historically, preparations for armed resistance have meant that there are people who handle communications in occupied territory or gather intelligence on the foreign power.
That could, for example, mean someone in a house on the side of the road tracking how many enemy military columns drive past.
"We know roughly what NATO did in some areas that they believed could end up under Soviet occupation in the event of the outbreak of World War III, so to speak," Juurvee said. "Preparing for armed resistance means that there are, for example, people who have been trained for this and have played through some things. But most importantly — they know and recognize each other already. This means that they wouldn't have to start seeking out like-minded people somewhere off the street, so to speak, during the occupation."
According to Juurvee, preparations for armed resistance have historically also involved secret hiding places for arms or equipment, as well as secret hideouts and lodging.
"Lodging could be an apartment with a bed — just that whose apartment it is and where it's located are unknown," he explained. "If we look around in a city, we can see thousands of buildings, all full of rooms and beds. The preparation consists of not knowing which building or which room is being used for underground activity."
He added that one example of armed resistance was that of the Forest Brothers (metsavennad) — who were active in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during World War II and beyond — but their activity had not been prepared for in advance.
"In that case, the initiative came from the bottom up," the ICDS researcher noted. "There were people in occupied territories who wanted and had the will to resist. They had weapons to some extent too, but no prior activities had been conducted, meaning that they had to start doing everything under occupation conditions. It was somewhat more complicated as a result, due to which Soviet special services also had an easier time infiltrating."
Gross said that the Ministry of Defense intends to submit their draft amendments to the Estonian Defense Forces Organization Act to the Estonian government sometime this month and hopes that the Riigikogu may pass them sometime this year.
Editor: Aili Vahtla