ERKKI KOORT Estonia needs a concept for hybrid attack

Erkki Koort
, security expert
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Migration attack is one of the many forms of hybrid attack against us. It is quite certain that various attacks will continue already in the near future. The photo is of a migration attack at the Kuznitsa border crossing on the Polish-Belarusian border on November 15, 2021.
Migration attack is one of the many forms of hybrid attack against us. It is quite certain that various attacks will continue already in the near future. The photo is of a migration attack at the Kuznitsa border crossing on the Polish-Belarusian border on November 15, 2021. Photo: Leonid Shcheglov
  • According to the Internal Security Service (ISS), we are under constant hybrid attack.
  • New attacks against us have already been prepared.
  • What attacks are we prepared to undertake to defend ourselves?

More and more facts are emerging that we are under constant hybrid attack. Of course, this requires countering hybrid threats, but perhaps it is appropriate to discuss what kind of hybrid attack capability we ourselves need, writes Erkki Koort, security expert at Postimees and the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.

The latest annual review of the ISS gives an insight into the hidden threats we face and says quite clearly that we are under constant hybrid attack. This became even more pronounced in the remarks of the director general of the ISS at the press conference introducing the annual review.

In fact, hybrid attacks have been a topic of pubic discourse, to a greater or lesser extent, already for the last decade. In particular, such methods started to be talked about after the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Windows of the personal car of Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets were smashed on the night of December 8, 2023. It is now clear that this was an attack by Russian special services.
Windows of the personal car of Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets were smashed on the night of December 8, 2023. It is now clear that this was an attack by Russian special services. Photo: Erik Prozes

In 2023, the news came of acts of vandalism targeting the cars of the interior minister and a journalist. At the beginning of 2024, it emerged that Russian special services were behind the attacks and that the ISS had succeeded in arresting the individuals who had acted on the instructions of Russian special services. At the presentation of the annual review, the director general of the ISS said that there were 13 such people in total.

Public information indicates that these are young people who, for a relatively small remuneration, placed themselves in a situation where they acted in the interests of another country's intelligence. Not all of them acted out of ideological beliefs, but rather for the benefits they received. In fact, this is a problem not only from the perspective of these individuals, but similar bending of principles occurs elsewhere as well. Some that first come to mind are cases like the simultaneous refueling with gasoline and diesel, and other similar cases. In both cases, the motive is a relatively small amount of money.

We need a new concept

During the past year, Estonia has repeatedly come under hybrid attacks. These include the attacks already mentioned on personal cars, vandalizing of monuments, bomb threats to schools and destruction of infrastructure objects. I would like to add two more important keywords: the Nord Stream pipelines and the attacks on opposition figures from Russia in Lithuania. We are not far from these cases, either geographically or substantively.

Just as we buy self-propelled artillery and anti-ship missiles to be able to also use them against targets located on Russian territory if necessary, we must also be prepared for hybrid attacks.

Russia carried out hybrid attacks prior to the large-scale invasion of Ukraine. For a moment, much of the attention went to such hostilities, but that changed. It can be said that the worse things get for Russia on the battlefield, the more they focus on other methods. The more united the West is, the more reason Moscow has to resort to a hybrid offensive.

When it comes to defending ourselves against hybrid attacks, as far as we know we have done well. However, the public is certainly not aware of all cases and some may have slipped under the radar of Estonian authorities as well.

In the near future, we must bear in mind two things. First of all, how to be ready to repel new attacks, because there is no doubt that they have already been prepared. Secondly, think about how to effectively foil the adversary's designs.

The war in Ukraine has shown that it cannot be ended by pushing the aggressor out of one's borders. Military and hybrid attacks will continue. It is only attacks on supply chains, commodity supplies and production facilities on the territory of the aggressor that upset the rhythm of its functioning and cause problems.

The above does not mean that Estonia should now organize some kind of actions in Pskov or elsewhere. Certainly there are things that only an aggressor state run by a dictator can afford. But what are we prepared to do to defend ourselves?

Just as we buy self-propelled artillery and anti-ship missiles to be able to also use them against targets located on Russian territory if necessary, we must also be prepared for hybrid attacks. If we are not prepared to use an anti-ship missile against a warship stationed in the port of St. Petersburg, we have made a relatively useless investment.

Materials of the press conference on the Blue Spear mobile anti-ship missile system show that the range of this system allows to hit military targets in both St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad.
Materials of the press conference on the Blue Spear mobile anti-ship missile system show that the range of this system allows to hit military targets in both St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. Photo: Madis Veltman

Estonia has both security services and special forces. The problem is not their absence, but the conceptualization of the challenge. We have mostly built our actions and attitudes on defense, and this supports our strategic goal of defending ourselves against any enemy, no matter how overwhelming. This means that we have no ambition to attack ourselves, and there is no reason to wage a war of conquest.

In actuality, the defense of Estonia does not start from the first meter, but well before that. This, however, means that we must be prepared to confuse the adversary long before he reaches the bunkers to be built on our eastern border.

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