FM: Estonia must be prepared for Russia to organize border provocations
Estonia needs to be prepared in case Russia organizes provocations or mass border crossings, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said on Tuesday.
On Russia's side of the southern border crossing in Luhamaa, Ukrainians are being forced to wait several days in the open air to cross into Estonia. Checks carried out by Russian officials are causing the delay.
Up to 300 people fleeing war are arriving every day in order to move on to other EU countries having traveled through occupied Ukrainian territory and then Russia.
Reinsalu told Tuesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that, given Russia's actions so far, "hybrid attacks" carried out under the cover of a humanitarian crisis cannot be excluded.
"We cannot rule out that this entire crisis, which is piling up behind our borders, is undoubtedly in some form, so to speak, an intensifying series of provocative actions. We must be ready for this," he said.
The minister said Estonia has not closed its border to Ukrainian refugees, but highlighted the "hybrid attacks" organized by Belarus, with Russian backing, on the Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish borders in 2021.
Even today migrants are still pushed back over the countries' borders, although they have reduced in scope and receive less media attention.
Reinsalu called these events a "hybrid attack" and not a humanitarian crisis as they were organized by the Belarusian regime.
"We have to be vigilant in the sense that in the case of a possible military attack, if units are assembled [at the border], then we will have an advanced warning. But in the case of people in jackets and jeans starting to attack the border point at the same time, in this case, we have to consider that our advance warning time will be much shorter, almost non-existent," he said.
Erki Savisaar (Center), a member of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee, said thorough checks need to be carried out on the people Russia allows to cross the border.
"How many different Russian agents are sent here among these refugees? In order to check more effectively, better cooperation with Ukraine is needed, they should send records of their people who are Ukrainians and not Russians with Ukrainian passports. And secondly, we need to put more force [law enforcement] there," he said.
Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform), a member of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee, said, currently, there is no indication the events on the Belarusian-Polish or Belarusian-Lithuanian border will be repeated in Estonia.
He said the people waiting to enter the country are not hostile towards Estonia.
"I would look at this situation, at least for now, as a social crisis, as a humanitarian crisis, and not as a security crisis. Potentially there could be inconveniences for Estonia in terms of security, but right now there is no point in worrying about it too much," Kross said.
Refugees are currently waiting three to four days to exit Russia, AK reported on Monday. They are waiting in the open without shelter and little food or water.
The Social Insurance Board is waiting to provide food, hot drinks and mental health support when they arrive in Estonia. The queues started forming on Friday.
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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright