Russia will target British troops to be deployed to Estonia in order to discredit the NATO mission to reinforce its eastern flank, Estonian intelligence chief Mikk Marran told British daily The Times in an interview.
Honeytraps, staged pub brawls — designed to make British troops look like thugs — and subversive efforts to penetrate social media accounts to find information for blackmail purposes are expected to be attempted by "the opposite team," Marran, director general of the Estonian Information Board (EIB) said.
The Estonian intelligence chief said that Estonian and British officials have been discussing the threat for months in order to prepare the 800 British personnel bound for Estonia to avoid Cold War-style spy games. The deployment will provide a perfect opportunity for Moscow to create a false impression of Western aggression by spreading fake news stories.
"We are seeing some of it already," Marran said. "Some degree of noise along the lines of 'These troops are not welcome by the local population.'
"There will be 800 young British soldiers," he continued. "People will be traveling from their bases to the cities. Probably they [will] do some pub-hopping. We cannot exclude some fights that might be triggered by the opposite team, as we call it in Estonia — for example, traditional honeytraps and so forth.
Marran said that cyber-espionage, disinformation campaigns and blackmailing on the bases of stolen data may all be used, for example. "They have a huge toolbox," he warned.
Precedent elsewhere in the Baltics
Last year, the British Army investigated claims that two British soldiers in Latvia were involved in a brawl as part of a plot by Russia to smear U.K. soldiers. The brawl with a group of locals was filmed by a crew linked to a media outlet sympathetic to Russia.
Asked about that incident, Marran commented, "Certainly it had some Russian background to it."
In Lithuania, some media outlets picked up a false news story last week alleging that soldiers of the German contingent currently deployed there had raped an underage girl.
The U.K. troops to be deployed to Estonia will be working alongside 300 French soldiers, to be replaced by Danes later in the year, in one of four battalions to be deployed to the Baltic region. The battalions, consisting of a total of 4,000 troops, will be spread across the three Baltic states and Poland beginning next month.
The NATO contingent to be deployed to Estonia will be stationed in Tapa and will act in conjunction with Estonia's 1st Infantry Brigade. The U.K. will have 800 personnel with Warrior infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), Challenger 2 tanks and reconnaissance drones stationed in Estonia as part of the contingent.
Editor: Aili Vahtla