Former, high-ranking EDF officers planning to run in general election

The Riigikogu's main debating hall.
The Riigikogu's main debating hall. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Several former serving officers from the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) has pledged to join political parties ahead of the March general election.

ERR reports that there are enough high-ranking ex-officers, meaning colonels and upwards, to go round all the five Riigikogu parties, while the potential candidates will share a common experience in the setting up and development of the modern-day EDF following the restoration of independence over 30 years ago, during the current, changed security situation.

One such candidate, Aivar Jaeski, served in the EDF for 25 years, rising from commanding a mechanized company to being a rear-echelon battalion commander and, most recently, serving as the deputy head of NATO's strategic communication competence center.

Jaeski is set to run for the Social Democrats, currently in office with Reform and Isamaa, which he said relates to another facet of his work life, namely having chaired the union of parents of visually impaired children (Nägemispuuetega Laste Vanemate Liit).

As to defense and security, Jaeski argues the focus should be away from concentrating mainly on brigade-level structures, and towards using available crisis reserves and on civil defense.

As to current calls to extend conscription terms, Jaeski in fact says the reverse could be put in place.

He said: "Perhaps it should be shortened to six months instead. Albeit at the expense of available barrack places, we could let far more young men and women pass through military service, selecting the best of these and then organizing service in the reserves much more effectively."

Currently, conscription terms are for eight or 11 months depending on the unit served with, while former conscripts remain on reservist lists thereafter and are liable to attend large-scale reservist exercises such as the recent snap Okas exercise

Meanwhile, Hannes Toomsalu, who helped re-establish the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), which works closely with the EDF, and who commanded the Kalev battalion and later the General Staff planning department, joined Isamaa after being encouraged to do so by a friend.

As to whether former officers from different political parties could cooperate at the Riigikogu, he replied that the military is united by a similar attitude towards mere slogans.

Toomsalu said: "The majority of them are practical people, and perhaps more normal plans will follow the political slogans. Political [defense] procurements and changes in defense policy, while there will also be more of a sliver of rationality."

Igor Schvede, ex-commander of the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) and EDF Chief of General Staff, later Estonia's military representative to the EU and to NATO is running for Reform.

He noted that former EDF officers who are now joining political parties were with the organization from its inception.

"The fact that we developed national defense together helps us find a common language, while it is my belief that where possible, all of us from the different political parties will convene at the Riigikogu, find a common language and grasp that the approach to national defense must be cross-party," he said.

Another figure in the reestablishment of the EDF, Neeme Väli, also a former Chief of the General Staff of the Defense Forces, has joined the Center Party, arguing that security policy has been lacking among talking points in Estonia's largest political party (Reform – ed.). 

Väli says that the officers' cooperation in the Riigikogu worked when the late Johannes Kert (1959-2021) and the late Madis Milling (1970-2022) were still MPs.  Kert was a former EDF commander and Milling was a long-serving Defense League officer. Both were members of the Reform Party.

Meanwhile former Defense League commander Meelis Kiili, who attained the rank of general, has expressed a desire to run for Reform.

Other established ex-military commanders currently sitting in the Riigikogu include Ants Laaneots (Reform) and Leo Kunnas (EKRE).

The election takes place on March 5 2023, preceded by several days' advance voting period. Five parties are currently represented at the Riigikogu: Reform, Center, SDE, EKRE and Isamaa, while Eesti 200 and the newly-formed Parempoolsed, along with the Estonian Greens and TULE, will be looking to pick up seats too.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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