Estonian minister in Washington, «confirmed» by current news

Evelyn Kaldoja
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Photo: Evelyn Kaldoja

The meeting is shrouded by the Chatham House rule i.e. we may say what was said but not who said what. Therefore, a tricky task to cover defence minister Hannes Hanso's first ever official as well as unofficial trip to the USA.  

Thankfully, defence ministry press releases and Washington based think-tank Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) website feature information altogether public that this Tuesday, Mr Hanso participated at an event named «Estonian Security Policy and Transatlantic Cyber Defense».

On the heartfelt side, let it be mentioned that CEPA just happens to be among the spots outside of Estonia when right as one enters he may acquire a Blue Hepatica Campaign lapel pin. By Tuesday morning, they’d already sold some 40.

In the Washington wrapped in Tuesday morning, what was even more timely was the almost custom made illustration of what cyber defence meaneth for a man in the street.

Namely, cracker attack hit the main healthcare system of the US capital, the MedStar. Doctors were lacking access to data of thousands of clients. To make matters worse, the threat was that in case of non-payment to crackers, the information such as analyses of tests and health files – would be gone forever. A classic case of ransomware.

The CEPA event was ushered in by a recognition that it might get worse. Such as cyber crooks taking control of a plane. Or wreak havoc on Wall Street.

«What doesn’t kill, strengthens. 2007 has made us stronger,» they said, regaling the cyber attacks that accompanied the Bronze Night in Tallinn.

It was also revealed that an aim for Estonia at the Warsaw NATO summit this summer will be making cyber space a so-called fifth domain next to the four listed by NATO as it stands – land, air, sea and space.

But at the next event, Estonian defence minister participated publicly indeed. At the grave of Unknown Soldier in Arlington, he was to be beholden by anyone who came around.

Actually, the grave is for several unknown soldiers – one who perished in WW1, one from WW2 and one from the Korean War. From 1984 to 1998, there was a fourth man resting there who died in Vietnam. Then, modern science and DNA analysis came into play and the man was revealed to be air force member Michael Joseph Blassie, and the family wished to rebury him in native Saint Louis.

Obviously, the revelation of Mr Blassie has never diminished the respect by Americans towards the site. On Tuesday, some dozen minutes before the changing of the guard at 1 pm, an impressive crowd had gathered of people of highly differing looks. They all, down to the small children, were waiting in unbelievable silence – just as the signs tell them to.

Though the 253 hectare Arlington featuring its own subway station is open for visitors from 9 am to 5 pm only, an honorary guard is at the watch 24/7. Depending on the season of the year, they change the guard every half hour or every hour, and after two hours at night. The ceremony has everything trained to seconds, the steps and the looks of the eyes, and all happens to the rhythm of the heels clicked out loud.

Those leaving in the quiet of after the ceremony was over, precisely at 1:15 heard the announcement of the next event in line – a wreath laid by defence minister of Estonia.

The MedStar attack was not to be the only sign to accompany visit by Mr Hanso, in the US media. As if by providence, evening editorial by The Wall Street Journal had added a fact box headlined «NATO Non-Burden-Sharing».

Which was dedicated to the two percent criterion, and proceeded to print the most striking examples of the good and the bad.  Among the ten nations cited, Estonia, Spain and Belgium had their defence spending underlined at 2.0 and 0.9 percent of GDP for the latter two. Just to sent Mr Hanso to his meeting at Pentagon with US defence secretary Ashton Carter.

And unrelated to WSJ, in all likelihood, Mr Carter just happened to underline the Estonian 2 % as well.

Then, the very next day, winds of favour were again blowing o’er the US media landscape as, based on Pentagon data, it was reported that the USA was sending an additional brigade to Europe to assist the allies.

Thereafter, the Estonian defence minister and his delegation headed to Maryland, for a visit to Warfield air base – the local National Guard being a long-term cooperation partner to Estonian Defence Forces. For many serving at Warfield, as well to their A-10 attack planes, Estonia is known from military exercises.

«If you get sick, just close your eyes for a moment,» the Estonians were instructed about the flight imitators in the centre. Just for the occasion, both training cockpits had Estonian aerial view displayed. So all Estonians had their chance to practice flying over Tallinn and shooting at enemy tanks charging the city.  

«A-10 is infantry’s best friend,» said a soldier standing by. The aircraft is able to come very close to troops in trouble on land, and to decisively turn the situation. At times, when it is difficult to differentiate «ours» and «others» from up there, it helps for A-10 just to draw nigh – the enemy gets frightened and runs, or turns his guns away from infantry into the sky.

Asked by Mr Hanso how the pilots felt about reception while in Estonia, the guys were all smiles praising the accommodation at Swissôtel as well as hospitality at Ämari Air Base.

At the end of the day, another discussion was featured at another Washington think-tank: Centre for New American Security (CNAS). This time, the talk was rather about the traditional security with Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius and American opinion leaders at Mr Hanso’s side talking on «Baltic Security, European Eastern Flank, and Upcoming Warsaw Summit».

Again, the info on who said what is under the Chatham House blanket. It may be mentioned, however, that lots of worries are in the atmosphere, as well as fresh experience out of Ukraine. As well as the acknowledgement that by the West, Russia cannot currently be viewed as partner by a factor. «We are hearing calls to give up sanctions. I’d understand if we’d hear calls to apply Minsk agreements,» said somebody in the room.

While some around the table expressed concerns regarding the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, as well as Polish minority on Lithuania as hybrid threat, others retorted by asking whether such ideas hadn’t been planted by a crafty information operation from some hostile state.  The rest were reminded that in Estonia, for instance, the foreign minister is half Russian and half Latvian, and nobody has a problem with that. They went on to underline that the second-sized coalition party is led by a young guy whose name sounds Russian, and that Estonian Defence Forces feature lots of honest men with Russian accents.

It was hinted that prepositioned US equipment might be located closer than 1,000 miles to NATO’s Eastern edge. And that each of the Baltics might host an allied battalion. But the assurance was also voiced that «Estonia would defend itself whatever the case. Whatever the allies would do.»


Evelyn Kaldoja is foreign news editor-in-chief, at Postimees