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Poll: 83 percent of Estonians would support armed resistance to attack

EDF conscrpts during the snap exercise Okas.
EDF conscrpts during the snap exercise Okas. Source: Estonian Defense Forces

The number of Estonians, who would consider it necessary to offer armed resistance in the event of an attack by a foreign state has increased to even higher levels, over a year since Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine began, according to a poll commissioned by the Ministry of Defense and conducted by OÜ Eesti Uuringukeskus.

According to the survey, in 2023, 83 percent of the Estonian population would either definitely or rather consider it necessary to put up armed resistance in the event of an attack by a foreign state. In 2022, this figure was 81 percent.

While the number of people who considered armed resistance to an attack by a foreign state necessary steadily decreased between 2018 and 2021, the proportion, who considered it definitely necessary increased sharply in 2022, following Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

In 2022, as Russia's war in Ukraine escalated further, support for armed resistance in the event of an attack by a foreign power increased sharply among ethnic Estonians (+14 percent), while there was no change when it came to Estonian residents of other ethnicities. In 2023, support among Estonians for armed resistance has remained broadly unchanged (89 percent), while among non-ethnic Estonians there has been a ten percentage point increase to 70 percent.

Overall, almost two thirds of the population (64 percent) would be willing to participate in defense activities, relative to their personal capabilities and skills. Thirty four percent of the Estonian population said they would definitely be prepared to do so and 30 percent would be rather prepared. Meanwhile, 14 percent said they would be rather unprepared and 13 percent would be entirely unprepared.

In 2022, 66 percent of the population said that they were ready to participate in defense activities.

In 2023, the proportion of Estonians ready to take part in defensive actions in the event of an attack has fallen by four percent. The readiness of Estonian citizens of other nationalities has remained stable, while the readiness of non-citizens of other nationalities has increased by 14 percent.

In 2023, the proportion of male Estonian citizens willing to participate in defense actions is six percent lower than the previous year, while the proportion of male citizens of other nationalities to participate in defence activities has remained the same.

If Estonia were invaded, 11 percent of the population said they would be most likely to participate in military defense. 24 percent would participate in military defense in an auxiliary capacity, while 30 percent would participate in non-military defense activities.

Nine percent said they would not participate in defense but would remain in Estonia and 17 percent would try to leave the country. One in ten Estonians surveyed said that they could not say how they might respond if such a situation occurred.

Between 2018 and 2020, the population's belief in Estonia's defensive capabilities remained relatively stable, with no major increases or decreases. After the drastic events in Ukraine in 2022, the belief that Estonia would be able to defend itself until the arrival of allied help rose to its highest level for the last five years – 60 percent.

In 2023, the proportion of Estonians who believe Estonia can definitely defend itself in the event of an armed invasion by a foreign country until the arrival of its allies, has decreased by four percent from a year before.

Regarding the activities related to the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), Estonian residents have the most positive attitude towards inviting reserve soldiers to training exercises (80 percent). This was followed by attitudes toward Allied air exercises and overflights in Estonian airspace (75 percent).

73 percent of those surveyed supported the movement of EDF equipment and 71 percent had positive attitudes toward wearing EDF uniforms in public places or at events.

73 percent of respondents also supported the idea of a close relative or life partner participating in EDF training exercises.

According to the survey, 69 percent of the population is satisfied with the development of Estonia's national defense.

In 2022, the proportion of those surveyed in favor of increasing defense spending rose to its highest level since 2004 – 51 percent, in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

After 2022 saw an increase in defense spending, an additional eight percent of Estonians are now in favor of maintaining current levels going forward than were a year before. The 2023 survey also revealed a nine percent decrease in the share of those, who support a significant increase in Estonia's defense spending.

According to the 2023 survey, 82 percent of Estonians are in favor of Estonia's membership in NATO. 63 percent indicated that they were strongly in favor and 19 percent said they were rather in favor. On the other hand, 11 percent of the population said they were against NATO membership, with a further seven percent responding that they did not know where they stand on the issue. Last year, 80 percent of Estonians supported the country's NATO membership.

NATO's role in ensuring Estonia's security is consistently seen as important - 48 percent believe that NATO would provide direct military assistance in the event of a conflict, and 29 percent believe NATO membership would prevent a military conflict in the first place.

In the spring of 2023, OÜ Eesti Uuringukeskus conducted a survey among members of the Estonian population aged 15-74,. The survey was commissioned by the Ministry of Defense, with the main aim to examine the attitudes of the population towards national defense issues. The sample size was 1,200 respondents, and the survey method involved a combination of an online panel (70 percent) and telephone interviews (30 percent).

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Editor: Michael Cole

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