Foreign Intelligence Service: Russia remains military threat to Estonia ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad.
Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad. Source: Evgeny Biyatov/Sputnik/Scanpix

The only serious threat to the region's security, including the existence and sovereignty of Estonia and other states along the Baltic Sea, comes from Russia, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS) found in its annual report, titled "International Security and Estonia 2019."

In its fourth annual report, the FIS noted that this threat involves not only asymmetrical, covert or political subversion, but also a potential military threat. The agency has monitored all military exercises of the Russian Armed Forces over the past decade and highlighted that the latter is consistently practicing for an extensive military conflict with NATO.

The FIS finds that, from the point of view of the Russian Armed Forces, a military conflict with NATO will be sparked by a so-called "coloured revolution" in one of Russia's neighbouring countries, most likely Belarus.

"Our assessment is that, if anything unexpected should happen to President Alexander Lukashenko personally, or to his regime, there will be a great risk of swift military action by Russia to prevent Belarus from becoming a pro-Western democracy," the report states.

According to the FIS, however, it is precisely the Baltic countries that would be the easiest part of NATO for Russia to attack in a crisis in order to shift the balance of military power on the Baltic Sea in its favour.

"Therefore, Estonia has to be prepared for a military incursion from Russia even if the conflict between Russia and NATO is sparked by events elsewhere in the world," the report says. "By inciting hatred between local ethnic groups in the Baltic states, Russia is simply trying to reserve a pretext for military intervention, should it be needed."

Russian civilian ships conducting recon

The FIS has noted in its annual report that Russian civilian shipping may also pose a security risk. The agency has noticed suspicious behaviour on the part of Russian civilian vessels, including attempts to enter other countries' naval training areas or access areas closed to ship traffic such as testing areas for new military technology or the surroundings of naval bases.

"Attempts to enter foreign territorial waters without permission, under the pretext of needing shelter from storm or technical repairs, are becoming more and more frequent," it is noted in the report. "This kind of behaviour clearly stands out in comparison with other ordinary civilian vessels."

As a holdover of the Soviet era, all vessels belonging to Russian companies and state agencies that sail under the Russian flag are registered as mobilisation reserve vessels, and their conversion into support vessels for the Russian Navy is included in military exercises. The crews of vessels sailing under the Russian flag are also required to this day to undergo combat training.

Influencing of Belarus, Ukraine

"Constant economic conflicts between Russia and Belarus and attempts by Belarus to pursue an independent foreign policy have caused the Russian leadership to worry about its influence in Belarus and increase pressure on the country's leaders," the report reads. According to the FIS, Russian national media is one means of exerting this pressure.

"A number of critical articles were published in 2018 about President Lukashenko, accusing him of favouring Ukraine in his foreign policy and publicising information about his incapacity for work as a result of an alleged stroke," the report states. "Articles have been published regularly about Putin's dissatisfaction with Lukashenko's activities and about the Kremlin exploring opportunities to remove Lukashenko from power in the coming parliamentary and presidential elections."

Regarding Ukraine, the report highlights that Russia's continued aggression is aimed at bringing about changes that would bring Ukraine firmly back within its sphere of influence or at least make it difficult for Ukraine to move closer to the EU and NATO.

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The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service's 2019 annual report can be read in full in English here (link to PDF).

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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