Estonian Experts Shine at Policy Forum

The Center for European Policy and Analysis (CEPA) held its annual transatlantic security forum in Washington on September 28-29.  Policy experts from 13 nations covered topics across the spectrum of national security concerns, including the Russian threat in the region, democracy and Western values, cyber and information warfare, and energy implications.  High-level speakers came from national ministries and parliaments, government and educational institutions, think tanks, and the news media.  The U.S., Hungary and Poland contributed the highest numbers of speakers with the remaining panelists fairly evenly spread, though one moderator quipped that Estonia had the highest representation per capita among participating experts.

The Estonian expertise was concentrated mainly in the disinformation and cyber warfare discussions.  Urve Eslas is a CEPA Adjunct Fellow specializing in Russian information warfare in Estonia, along with her work as an editor at Postimees and with other Estonian media outlets.  She was joined on the disinformation panel by Mikk Marran, Director General of Estonia’s Information Board.  The panel discussed the challenges of presenting objective truth to the public, leveraging news and social media to the fullest extent possible, and trying to play by the rules while the Kremlin is using the same conventions and tools of democracy, including freedom of speech, against the West.


Information warfare experts Urve Eslas and Mikk Marran (second and fourth from left) discuss Russia’s disinformation campaign.

On the cyber warfare panel, Estonia was represented by Sven Sakkov, Director of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in Tallinn.  He noted that in June 2016, NATO made the decision to include cyberspace as a fourth operational domain that actually transcends traditional land, sea and air warfare.  Cyber-attacks will now trigger an Article V response and require defensive mobilization on par with attacks in the other domains.  Different levels of hackers were discussed, citing nation-states, terrorist organizations and criminal enterprises as common culprits.  Each varies in its capabilities and intentions – for example a terrorist organization with hostile intent might not have sufficient capability to carry out its goals, but could use its resources to rent or buy the expertise and services it needs to launch an attack.  The lines can also be blurred, as when a nation offers safe-haven for criminal cyber activities.  Although media coverage of hacking events often depict attempts to investigate incidents as a game of whack-a-mole, NATO and other enforcement agencies aim to establish coordinated, effective defense and response procedures to address the cyber threat.

Estonian Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Riho Terras sat on the panel covering Russia’s threat to its neighbors.  The panel examined a broad range of challenges, perhaps largely rooted in the fading of the generations that experienced, or at least appreciate the aftermath of, World War II.  While Russia might have the capability to occupy the Baltic States, the intention is lacking, at least for now.  The Kremlin’s aim instead may be to establish the Balts as client states, still members of NATO and the EU but following Moscow’s policies, while using disinformation to normalize a message of eventual return to Russia’s fold.  Fortunately, Russia may have miscalculated NATO’s resolve.  Unanimous decisions in Wales and Warsaw, along with the actions NATO is implementing,


Commander-in-Chief of Estonian Defence Forces Lt. Gen. Riho Terras (far right) discusses the threat Russia poses to its neighbors.

demonstrate how seriously they take the threat.  While the U.S. quadrupled its European Reassurance Initiative funding for bilateral support in 2017, other allies are stepping up by increasing their defense budgets and deploying troops and equipment to the region.  Lt. Gen. Terras indicated that these steps are on the right track toward effective deterrence but maintained that the NATO label doesn’t make a strong enough statement without permanent U.S. presence.

What happens next is difficult to predict.  There was criticism that the West’s responses have been reactive to Russia’s actions rather than proactively making aggressive choices more difficult on them.  While our side clearly believes in Article V, we should make sure Putin and Daesh do, as well.  Maintaining unity on the Ukraine sanctions is key to sending the message that the invasion was a strategic blunder and that there is a heavy cost for violating borders.  If the Kremlin sees their aggression as worthwhile with minimal penalty, they are more likely to continue the practice.  Perhaps above all, we need to recognize that Russia does not equal Putin.  The current situation is the fault of bad governments, not the Russian people, who want to live a normal life.  Working on ways to help them out of their country’s political quagmire might be the most important challenge of all.

CEPA is a non-profit policy institute dedicated to promoting political freedom, security and a strong economy in a Central and Eastern Europe with close ties to the U.S.  Their annual forum provides a unique platform for government leaders and community experts to engage on strategy and economic issues.  More information is available at


Q&A with Estonian Ministry of Defense

The EANC board recently coordinated with the Estonian Embassy on sending security-related questions to the Estonian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for official response.  We were interested in knowing more about NATO, Estonia’s defense spending and the threats Estonia faces.  After collectively drafting our list of questions, the Embassy’s Defense Counselor, Mr. Indrek Sirp, submitted the questions and forwarded the responses back to us.  Our thanks go out to him and to his colleagues at the MoD who provided this interesting and insightful information.  Here are the responses:

  1. What is your assessment of the NATO summit (held July 8-9, 2016)?  What were your expectations and were they met?  What are Estonia’s post-summit security priorities? 

The Warsaw Summit was truly historic. While the Wales Summit two years ago focused on reassuring NATO members in the East, the Warsaw Summit was about deterrence. The Heads of State and Government decided at the Summit to deploy, for the first time in NATO’s history, battalion-sized battle groups to the three Baltic states and Poland.  These battle groups form an enhanced forward presence to unambiguously demonstrate Allies’ solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate Allied response to any aggression.

Also, the Summit pushed forward the NATO cyber agenda. Cyberspace is now identified by NATO as the fifth war fighting domain in addition to traditional air, land, sea and space domains. Particularly important from the Estonia’s perspective was the decision to strengthen NATO Cyber Range’s capabilities. The Range is located in Estonia. NATO will provide significant common funding for further development of the Range.

The main priority now is to make sure that all the Summit decisions will be swiftly implemented. We expect to see NATO battle groups deployed during the first half of 2017.


Lt.Gen. Riho Terras, Chief of Defence of Estonia, Estonia’s Minister of Defence Hannes Hanso, and Minister of Defence of Finland Jussi Niinisto at the Warsaw Summit.  Photo courtesy of NATO Flickr page.

  1.   What support/cooperation are you pursuing beyond what the summit decided?  How are you cooperating with your Baltic and Nordic (NATO and non-NATO) neighbors?

Besides cooperation within NATO, Estonia highly values defense and military cooperation with individual NATO allies and other partner countries, either on a bilateral or multilateral basis. One of the key relationships Estonia has is the one with the United States. We continue working with the US government to pursue rotational persistent US military presence in Estonia. US forces in Estonia, whether air, sea or land units, will provide great added value in terms of deterrence as well as practical military co-operation. Regional cooperation among the Baltic states historically spans for decades and is both vital and intense. Baltic Defense College, joint Baltic Battalions in NATO Response Force and cooperation in providing common air surveillance for NATO’s Air Policing mission are some of the significant examples of this cooperation. Also wider cooperation formats like Nordic-Baltic, will remain a priority for Estonia.

  1. Was there any clarification of the definition of the types of attack that would prompt an Article V response?  If so, please provide a brief explanation.

Invoking Article V will always remain a political decision of the North Atlantic Council (NAC). NAC will make a decision to use Article V based on the request of a member country and the circumstances at hand regarding a particular situation. There are no prescriptions as to when and how to use Article V. This ambiguity is actually good. For example, the only time when Article V has been invoked was in response to 9/11. This kind of attack was totally unforeseen at the time, so whatever detailed prescriptions had been there in place would have most probably been redundant.

  1. How are you balancing resources and priorities between cyber security and more traditional security?

In today’s world traditional or conventional security and cyber security are often interlinked. We need both. Great majority of Estonia’s defense budget goes toward conventional capabilities like infantry, armor, fire support, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), command and control (C2) and alike. However, many of these capabilities are directly dependent on cyber security. Thus Estonia has increasingly invested also in cyber security (Defense League’s Cyber Unit, Cyber Range, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, cyber exercises, etc.).

  1. What is your actual threat assessment of a conventional attack by Russia?  Do you and NATO think it’s a real possibility or are there indications that the Kremlin has a boundary where NATO territory is concerned?

A military attack against Estonia is unlikely in the present and near future. Nevertheless one cannot exclude this possibility in the longer perspective. In recent years, the Russian leadership has used military force to change international borders in Georgia as well as Ukraine. Clearly, this is a threat that cannot be neglected. NATO would respond forcefully to any attempts by Russia to take military action against any of its member states. The Russian leadership knows that. However, our biggest concern is a possible miscalculation of the Russian leadership by underestimating NATO’s determination and unity. We need to show Moscow that our defense is credible and this is exactly what NATO is doing by putting up enhanced forward presence in the East.

  1. What kind of work is being done at your military bases to accommodate incoming deployed units and equipment?

Work is ongoing to expand facilities both in Ämari Air Base as well as Tapa Army Base. Ämari is a rotational home for a number of US and Allied aircraft, including NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission fighter jets. Operational tempo in Ämari has significantly increased since 2014. It needs more space for aircraft and crews. Tapa Army Base hosts Allied ground troops, including US Army companies. The NATO battalion will be located in Tapa, too. The Estonian government has provided additional funds on top of the 2% of GDP to build necessary barracks for Allied troops. The US government has provided generous support through European Reassurance Initiative to construct additional facilities in Ämari, Tapa as well as in EDF Central Training Area.

  1. What is the status of the deployment of F-35 fighters to the Baltics once they come online?

We would defer this question to US authorities.

  1. How can Estonian-Americans help advocate for support from the US?  What specific cooperation are you looking for from our government that we can contact our legislators about?

Estonian-American community was very helpful throughout Cold War to promote Estonian independence and fight against Estonia’s occupation by the Soviet Union. Likewise, this community was paramount in supporting Estonian quest for NATO membership. Today Estonian-Americans can work with their representatives in US Congress first of all to ensure that US remains committed to the transatlantic alliance and provides necessary funding for US military presence in Europe and specifically in the Baltic states.

  1. It would be helpful as we advocate for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to know what Estonia has done with the funding they’ve received so far and what the plans are for any future allocations. 

Estonia received about $68M from ERI 2015. Half of it ($34M) is being invested in the infrastructure projects in Ämari ($24M), Tapa Army Base and Central Training Area ($10M).

Projects in Ämari include for instance a dormitory, operations room, maintenance hangar etc. FY2017 may introduce another $6,5M for bulk fuel storage. In and around Tapa the ERI has provided funding for armored vehicles’ roads, shooting ranges, support facilities etc.

The other half ($33M) was used to fund acquisition of Javelin anti-tank systems through Foreign Military sales. Together with the US military assistance Estonia was able to more than double the amount of Javelin launchers and missiles being bought with its national funds.


CEEC Hosts Successful Policy Forum on Russia’s Information War

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC; hosted a timely and substantive event on Thursday, September 15, to discuss the topic “Russia’s Info War:  What is the Impact?”  A panel of four distinguished experts shared their views of and experiences with the issue.  Panel members were David Ensor, former Voice of America Director; Jeffrey Gedmin, former director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Liz Wahl, former correspondent for RT America; and Marius Laurinavicius, Hudson Institute Baltic-American Freedom Foundation Fellow. The panel was moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli of the Georgian Association in the U.S.A. and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.


Panelists from left: Marius Laurinavicius, Jeffrey Gedmin, Mamuka Tsereteli, David Ensor, Liz Wahl.

Discussion of the problem revolved around several themes, including declining journalistic standards, our flawed understanding of Russia’s strategic goals, and lack of clarity on U.S. goals.  The speakers noted that we are living in a post-factual world where we’re becoming numb to shock value.  The rules of journalism and regard for truth that guided the news media in the past are losing significance while public trust of the media and discrimination regarding reliable sources are also fading.

On the Kremlin’s goals, it was noted that propaganda has always been a part of Russian and Soviet military doctrine.  Russia calls its latest arsenal new generation warfare, fighting a total war on numerous fronts, to include political, economic, energy, cyber and information, in addition to more conventional military operations.  The speakers saw a gap in U.S. policy that doesn’t fully recognize the broad extent of Putin’s aggression or his efforts to divide and weaken Europe and minimize or eliminate U.S. influence in the region.

Another U.S. shortcoming was identified as our loss of what we stand for.  Putin may be playing a weak hand, but he’s finding his way because we’ve lost ours.  One aspect of this is our still treating as valid agreements that Russia broke long ago.  We need to clarify our foreign policy goals and employ the right tools, rooted in accurate, reliable info.  The recent trend in rising relativism is diluting our values and objectivity.

The event concluded with proposed steps for moving forward.  Renewed confidence in the media and making facts matter again, among the producers of the news and consumers, was a top concern.  One speaker observed that Putin must know Russia’s population is interested in the truth; otherwise he wouldn’t expend so much effort on containing and oppressing it.  There’s a large audience for RFE/RL and local media outlets to use the internet to present objective truth in an effort to counteract the Kremlin’s control over state media.   While there was consensus that recovering objectivity and values could be a long-term battle, on a more positive note, Western governments are growing more aware of the problems and working on effective ways to address them.

The CEEC was established to coordinate the efforts of ethnic organizations whose members continue to maintain strong cultural, economic, political, and religious ties to the countries of Central and East Europe.  It represents Americans of Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian descent.  Its member organizations cooperate in calling attention to issues of mutual concern, especially as regards United States policy toward Central and East Europe.


JBANC Meets with the Baltic Embassies

The Latvian embassy hosted the Baltic ambassadors and Baltic American community representatives for the third quarterly JBANC-Baltic embassies meeting in September 2016.  The ambassadors updated us on their countries’ priorities and upcoming events and a productive exchange occurred on many relevant topics.

In addition to the three embassies and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), the meeting included representatives from the Estonian American National Council (EANC), the American Latvian Association (ALA), the Lithuanian American Council (LAC) and the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL).

Russia’s disinformation campaign was an important subject of discussion.  While it has been ongoing since the Baltics gained independence, participants noted that it has become more aggressive and has spread throughout Europe and to the U.S.  The problem remains how to address it.  Suggestions included more U.S. participation in NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga and continuing efforts by the Baltic governments to provide transparent alternative broadcasting options to their populations.


Ambassadors and representatives from Baltic-American organizations discuss current events.  Photo courtesy of JBANC.

This fall’s presidential elections in all three countries, along with the U.S. elections, were also discussed.  While definitive results were not yet available, the election period and its aftermath were recognized as a time of uncertainty when the Kremlin might test transatlantic unity.  The Baltic Ambassadors acknowledged that the Warsaw summit confirmed solid support for the region.  Since NATO’s forward presence will not be fully in place by the U.S. inauguration, the situation calls for understanding among the allies that this is a soft period.  Passage of the U.S. defense budget, which includes European Reassurance Initiative funding, is a high priority.  Advocating for permanent presence of U.S. troops on Baltic soil will also become a major focus with the next administration.

The community leaders presented their news and events.  EANC’s highlights included the November meeting, awards gala, and public forum; the upcoming publication of Estonians in America; and activities in Washington.  JBANC reported on the work they have been doing on the Hill.  JBANC requested information on upcoming Congressional delegations to the Baltics to facilitate follow-up meetings with those offices and issuance of invitations to join the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus and House Baltic Caucus.