Despite the heightened public attention, initial reports from the investigation of recent damage to an undersea gas pipeline and communications cables in the Baltic Sea have tended to reach Estonia via its neighbors Sweden and Finland. Estonian authorities and prosecutors claim they're not keeping info back, but Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) admits that their communication with the public could be better.
Last Tuesday evening, the press was unexpectedly invited to the Office of the Prosecutor General to be briefed on the status of criminal proceedings regarding the damaged Estonian-Finnish communications cable – where State Prosecutor Triinu Olev was, unusually, joined by Kaja Kallas. Can one arbitrarily infer based on this appearance that the prime minister wanted to increase the visibility of the state in this case?
"No, you likely can't draw such a conclusion," Kallas said. "But what's important is that right now, [only] authorities involved in the investigation can answer questions regarding this investigation. Everything that falls outside of that scope – be it critical infrastructure protection (CIP) involving NATO, be it communication with allies or other partners, or diplomatic communication – that falls outside of the scope of the duties of the state."
Security expert Erkki Koort, however, claims that the Estonian state hasn't been visible in the most important case in recent times.
"Estonia's initiative certainly could have been greater in this," Koort commented. "And if Estonia has been proactive in some office, NATO or the EU somewhere, then that much hasn't been apparent to the public, in any case. But the public can't make a decision based on what's been said behind closed doors."
For example, a week after the Balticconnector gas pipeline was damaged, Swedish authorities announced that a communications cable between Sweden and Estonia had been damaged that same night. Estonian authorities were aware of the damages, located off the coast of the western island of Hiiumaa, but the public was not informed about it.
"As it wasn't initially known whether that may be related to this, we proceeded based on the principle that there's no sense in alarming anyone for nothing because the cables are constantly out of order," Kallas said, justifying the decision to keep mum about it.
"The people of Estonia shouldn't be hearing about cable disruptions occurring in Estonia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from Swedish ministers," Koort said. "This should certainly be the duty of Estonian ministers and authorities to inform [the public] about it. There's been a bit of lagging behind here, to put it mildly."
While the damage, presumed to be caused by an anchor dragged by a ship along the seafloor, didn't cause any disruptions to Estonia's gas supply or communications, the public interest in the case is nonetheless understandable, the prime minister acknowledged.
"What we've discussed more broadly, precisely given this public interest, is the question of whether we could also communicate this thing bit by bit, once we have solid evidence," Kallas said.
"We've been trying to do that as soon as we know something for sure," she continued. "For example, the fact that this was damage caused by human activity, right? We said as much for starters. But what caused it is speculation until we know for sure that that was precisely what caused it."
Editor: Aili Vahtla