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In crisis, Estonia wouldn't issue arms to civilians as Ukraine did

Reservists' firearms. Photo is illustrative.
Reservists' firearms. Photo is illustrative. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, one step the latter took amid a critical situation was to distribute arms to its civilians. Estonia, meanwhile, doesn't anticipate doing the same under similar circumstances; it considers the volunteer Estonian Defense League the conduit of volunteer resistance.

After Russia's full-scale invasion began, Ukraine tapped volunteers, who were given firearms and a certain amount of ammunition, said Col. Eero Rebo, commander of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit). Only later were territorial defense units officially formed.

Among other tasks, volunteers staffed checkpoints where they would check vehicles as well as look for diversionists and raiders.

"This is necessary at a critical juncture, and certainly a signal to Ukraine that, 'Peacetime order no longer applies; people, come take up arms and let's go,'" Rebo noted.

Around Kharkiv, for example, volunteers accounted for half of all losses.

"Volunteers, especially at the critical start of the war, played a very important role in keeping the enemy at bay," he acknowledged. "Of course, the number of lives lost due to lack of training or proper cooperation, was likewise unfortunately high."

In reference to what he'd heard from the Ukrainian minister of internal affairs, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) noted that there are unintended consequences as well to arming an untrained people.

"But the consequence of this was also the fact that all these volunteers with few skills set up checkpoints where military personnel and police officers were shot," Läänemets said. "They lacked training. They weren't capable of identifying or correctly handling a weapon. Ukraine later worked very hard to get those firearms back, because that's where other problems started to arise."

Rebo said that Estonia must avoid the confusion that occurs with people handling weapons for the first time. Defense League members have firearms at home, and currently being discussed is how to increase the amount of ammunition they keep stored.

"The Defense League has asked legislators to reconsider and increase our ammo stocks," he explained. "Because nowadays, even after training, one often has weapons-related hobbies too, either in the form of hunting or shooting sports. So it would be possible to store these firearms together with state-issued firearms and ammo at home."

The Estonian government has already greenlit the update, and the topic is now being discussed at the Riigikogu committee level, Rebo added.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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