The partial mobilization announced by Russia Wednesday is a situation that Estonia has not found itself in since regaining independence over 30 years ago, interior minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) says. Its ramifications for national defense will ultimately mean far-reaching changes to Estonia's taxation system, he added.
Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday evening, Läänemets said that while there is no clear and present military threat to Estonia, heightened vigilance is needed, while in the long term, the country's tax system will need an overhaul, with national defense in mind.
As to Russian citizens resident in Estonia at percent, not many of these will be liable for Russian military reservist service, he said, following Wednesday's call-up.
Läänemets told host Johannes Tralla that: "There are around 40,000 male Russian citizens [residing] in Estonia. Most likely, logic would dictate that the majority of these, if they are not reservists, will not see the obligation extended. That said, we never know what the Russian Federation will decide upon, and this means that any of them might easily receive a mobilization call-up."
The interior ministry announced this week that any Russian citizen who was permanently resident in Estonia and who left the country in order to fight for Russian forces in Ukraine would be barred re-entry into Estonia.
As to what concerned individuals should do if they did receive such a call-up, Läänemets said: "The messages from the Estonian state are as follows: First, if someone receives such an invitation, they must immediately report it by calling [state information line] 1247.
"Get it on record, so there are no legal problems later. Anyone who now really wants to go to war in Ukraine in case of [Russian] mobilization, then according to Estonian laws this is punishable under criminal law and we have no reason to let such an individual back into Estonia. It is possible to terminate their residence permit, and we would most likely do that. I do not recommend anyone even think about it," Läänemets went on.
As to Russian citizens fleeing the country following the mobilization and earlier sanctions, Läänemets added that although helping such people may on the surface seem the humane thing to do, unfortunately it is not possible to accept them into Estonia.
He said: "Sanctions are not directed against planes, buildings or cars. Sanctions are put on people, and the entire logic of a sanction is built on the fact that a citizen of the Russian Federation, no matter who they are, must be placed in sufficient discomfort that they start putting pressure on state leaders.
"This would mean that even those who don't want to be there [in Russia] must be inconvenienced enough to influence Putin. As soon as we start seeing this happen, we will loosen the sanctions," he said.
The mobilization is also vindication of the decision by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all EU countries which border the Russian Federation, in banning entry from any Russian citizens holding Schengen Area tourist visas.
While Finland remains as an EU country with a border with Russia, that country, too, is looking at potentially installing such a ban also, Läänemets said.
On the other hand, with the critical infrastructure damage in many regions of Ukraine, the numbers of people reaching Estonia with refugee status may reach 45,000 by February, he said, while the state is preparing for 50,000.
Recent battlefield successes on the Ukrainian side mean it is difficult to forecast exactly what the figures will be or how further refugees will be accommodated, he added.
PPA and Rescue Board workers' wages to get boost
National defense costs will be covered by a loan, Läänemets told "Esimene stuudio", while Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) frontline officers will see a wage increase of 17 percent; Rescue Board (Päästeamet) personnel a 36-percent pay increase.
The latter sum is higher since Rescue Board employees' salaries had lagged behind, Läänemets added, and said that PPA frontline officers would be getting €1,849 gross on average per month, Rescue Board workers €1,620 per month.
The national defense loan will exceed one billion euros after four years, Läänemets noted – mid-range air defense systems alone will cost several hundred million euros in a year.
Ultimately, this will require a shakeup in the taxation system, he added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja
Source: 'Esimene stuudio'