The Nordics share airspace and marine surveillance information with each other. While Estonia would benefit from such information, the country is not involved in Nordic cooperation. Estonia is pursuing corresponding cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania. ERR asked head of the International Center for Defense Studies Sven Sakkov why we don't share in Nordic surveillance.
Why hasn't Estonia joined the Nordic surveillance system? Is it politics, money?
First of all, it would indeed be very useful to more widely share air surveillance. We have been working with Latvia and Lithuania for years when it comes to air surveillance and stitching together an air surveillance picture. It is part of our cooperation in NATO. Nordic countries have only gotten there recently. So far, it has existed between a few countries, like Finland and Sweden, bilaterally as far as I understand it. They have only recently decided to pursue four-way cooperation. As far as I'm aware, the system is not online yet. It will take some time for them to get it going in the format they are accustomed to. That is one side of it.
The other is that since this is Nordic cooperation, the question why Estonia has not been invited to participate should be put to the Nordic countries. Instead of asking Estonia why we haven't crashed the party. It is something you need to be invited to. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been more active than the Nordics in terms of developing Nordic-Baltic cooperation over the years. It is a clear case of it being stuck behind Scandinavian countries, not Estonia or the Baltics.
Is it possible Nordic countries do not want Estonia there?
I don't think it's a matter of principle. They have their familiar Nordic Cooperation format. Expanding it entails quite a few questions. It is a format where most of the conversation happens in some kind of quasi-Swedish and where only Finland differs in terms of their language, while all Finns speak Swedish anyway. It is not easy putting something like that together. The Baltics have shown interest for years. There are a lot of high-level political consultations that have mostly not matured into specific formats of cooperation. I believe we are slowly moving in that direction.
If so, what would be the direct benefit for Estonia?
It would benefit everyone as we constantly have Russian military aircraft flying over the Gulf of Finland between Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg with their transponders switched off, which means they are visible only to military radars. Civilian radars cannot see them. Being aware of where something is coming from and where it is going in good time benefits everyone. That is the first aspect. Secondly, seeing beyond Estonia's borders can provide us with vital information. Another question is what kind of radar images are swapped. Whether it's raw imagery that would likely be more interesting to see, or whether we'll share filtered, identified information where a lot of noise and interesting things have been removed, I cannot say. I don't know what it is we would be talking about. However, it would clearly benefit all sides.
Estonia could also benefit from access to marine surveillance that is on a very high level in Finland, courtesy of big sonars. They can also see our coastline. Again, Estonia is not involved. Why is that?
It's more of the same, the same reasons apply here. We do not have a lot to offer Finland in terms of marine surveillance. Because they can already see it.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not de facto party to Nordic Cooperation. There is something on the political level, ministerial meetings and those between high-ranking officials, and interest in information between Estonia and Sweden, Estonia and Denmark would likely be considerable. Less so with Finland as our marine surveillance wouldn't tell them anything they don't already know.
To put it simply, Finland can see foreign submarines where they shouldn't be. Estonia could greatly benefit from that information.
We don't know how well they see those submarines. The Baltic Sea is very good for submarines. It is soggy and layered – a veritable dream for submarines. It is perfect for hiding. Every now and then, a Russian submarine is pulled out of the sea in Sweden using fishing nets. So, they might not see them all that clearly, and I'm sure it is highly classified just how good their picture is.
Editor: Marcus Turovski