Estonian defense chief: Russia will attack if it knows we cannot fight back

Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem.
Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Due to its aggressive neighbor, Estonia is a frontline country. As a result, it cannot wait passively in the hope that Russia will not attack, said Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem.

Herem was speaking on Vikeraadio show "Uudis+," in response to views that by purchasing weapons with long-range capabilities and inviting allied soldiers to the country, Estonia is inviting trouble.

"We are a frontline country. We have no alternative but to play a (strong) defensive game. We have our nose up against an aggressive Russia, and our back is only 300 kilometers away. All of it is within the reach of a single aggressor country," Herem said.

According to Herem, hoping that Estonia's eastern neighbor will simply leave it alone if it does not invest in defense capabilities, is not an approach worth pursuing.

"There are different opinions. According to this view, to prevent a Russian attack, we could save all the money spent on defense, refrain from any military alliances and (that would allow us to) live in a more modest way."

According to Herem however, this approach is similar to attempting to avoid a school bully by hiding from them all year until graduation. "Personally, I think Russia will attack us if it knows we can't fight back," Herem said.

According to Herem, there is also no reason to think that if Estonia acquires long-range air defense systems, Russia will consider this an additional reason to attack.

"Long-range (weapons) systems mean that we can, for example, attack airfields, from which planes come to destroy the homes of our peaceful citizens. Long-range systems also mean that our (troops) don't need to be under the enemy's nose. We can be in the middle of Estonia and hit any target within Estonia's borders. These systems are very difficult to locate, no matter how good your air intelligence is," he said.

Ahead of the Riigikogu elections in March, Estonia's political parties have also presented their own national defense programs. However, according to Herem, the component related to improving the country's air defense in particular sometimes appears to have been formulated based on emotional, rather than actual strategic factors.

"The question is, about the kind of air defense we need. People forget, that air defense starts with surveillance. After that, you need command and different air defense assets, right up to 762 (NATO) machine guns, which are perhaps the most effective way to shoot down any kind of drone," he explained.

"Then (you need) heavy machine guns or shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems to shoot down drones or cruise missiles, and only after that, medium- or long-range air defense (systems). All of this is based on air surveillance and communication systems, which we have a good standard of and have been developing for years," Herem said.

On Wednesday, Herem wrote on social media, that even if the Russia is defeated in its war in Ukraine, it will still remain a threat to Estonia, and this has to be taken into account when planning Estonia's national defense strategy.

NATO division up and running

Asked when the divisional structure under the framework of NATO would be up and running in Estonia, as agreed in alliance's Madrid summit, Herem said, that it is already operational.

"The structure is ready, around 60 people have been assigned to it, the government has approved the statute for the division's headquarters. /.../ Yes, people are working. A large proportion of these people come from different headquarters, including the Defense Forces' General Staff, with their own duties. Today, the division headquarters is indeed already operational," Herem said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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