ANDREY KUZICHKIN Where strength must be shown, Estonian state shows weakness

Andrey Kuzichkin
, columnist
A Russian border guard boat on the Narva River.
A Russian border guard boat on the Narva River. Photo: Photo: Private collection
  • Estonia's border is also the border of the European Union.
  • Vladimir Putin does not understand diplomacy.
  • Estonia did not react adequately to the Narva River incident.

Estonia's response to the plundering of border buoys by Russia was weak, as the only language Vladimir Putin understands is the language of force, columnist Andrey Kuzichkin believes.

How many times has it already been affirmed to the world that Vladimir Putin's regime is a strong, cunning, and insidious enemy that cannot be defeated by sanctions and resolutions. Putin does not acknowledge laws and constantly engages in fighting without rules. Therefore, the collective West, raised in the spirit of European enlightenment, humanism, respect for laws and freedom, is continually outmatched by the Kremlin.

Alright, the French, the Germans, the Italians – they are far from Russia's borders and can afford to play diplomatic games. Estonia, unfortunately, is on the borders of Europe and faces Russia. And if war should break out tomorrow, Estonia will be the first to be hit. That is why I have always been inspired by the Estonian politicians who took the firmest stance towards Putin in NATO and the European Union and promised an immediate response to any provocation by Russian warmongers.

And then a provocation took place: in the early hours of May 23, a group of Russian soldiers crossed the national border, intruded into the territory of Estonia, plundered Estonian state property – 25 border boys – and calmly returned to Russian territory. Eve Kalmus, head of the Border Management Bureau of the Border Guard Department of the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, calmly explained after the events that everything is under control, that Estonian border guards saw what was happening. The situation at the border was also seen by Estonian partners. "When assessing the situation, we thought it sensible not to react with physical force," Ms. Kalmus stated calmly. So! Stop!! Boys and girls!!! Before your eyes, a group of armed individuals with unclear goals intrudes into Estonia from the aggressor state, and you declare that "everything is going to plan"?! Aren't you afraid to miss the start of World War III?

And if war should break out tomorrow, Estonia will be the first to be hit.

Have you also considered the consequences of such open-mouthed staring at things happening? 1. In Russia, Z-bloggers are going crazy with joy, talking about how "our guys kicked the Estonians' butts." 2. In Estonia, Russian-speaking social media is buzz with approval: "Russia punished Estonia for the Putin caricature on the Narva castle wall on May 9." 3. Estonian citizens are in complete bewilderment: "But was that even allowed?" 4. In Brussels, they discussed: "Is Estonia really capable of defending Europe's borders?" An emergency situation on a European scale occurred. But I have not heard of a parliamentary committee having been being formed to look into what happened. Maybe I missed something. But surely Putin can record yet another victory in the hybrid war against Estonia: the Estonian state was shown to be weak. Kaja Kallas' chances of obtaining the post of European Commissioner at the same time diminished: the prime minister of a country which cannot effectively stand up to Russian provocations can hardly expect the full confidence of Brussels.

Before the passions around the buoys could subside, a scandal erupted at Tallinn Airport, where on May 27, 60 passengers missed Ryanair's Paphos flight. The reason was protracted passport control. However, the culprits could not be identified: AS Tallinn Airport GH, which sees to ground handling at the airport, the Police and Border Guard Board and Ryanair blamed each other for the incident. But I have a question: what do you, dear readers, think, which will receive a greater public response – setting fire to the cars of a minister and a journalist, or 60 angry people whose right to vacation was violated in the most flagrant way? I do not want to take on the role of a conspiracy theorist under any circumstances, but I have learned the handwriting of the Russian special services very well. Given the current level of information technology, just two or three people placed at critical logistical points can paralyze the functioning of large transport hubs with sabotage of the "Italian strike" type or by disrupting the operation of a server. In organizing information-psychological and sabotage operations against the West, Moscow's goal is to create chaos on a large and small scale. Therefore, in some European countries, such as Poland, commissions have already been set up to identify links between various incidents and the activities of Russian agents. Fires in shopping malls and car parks, and major industrial and utility-related accidents that leave hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, water and heat, can lead to mass discontent in society and protests against those currently in power. In the war with the West, destabilization is the Kremlin's main strategy. I think that what happened at Tallinn Airport should be thoroughly investigated by the Internal Security Service and MPs. On the eve of the European elections, such incidents may recur and become more intense. One should not play with fire and one should not joke with the Russian special services.

Given the current level of information technology, just two or three people placed at critical logistical points can paralyze the functioning of large transport hubs with sabotage of the "Italian strike" type or by disrupting the operation of a server.

But why does Estonia constantly show weakness instead of strength? Perhaps the reason is that Estonian society, diluted 1:3 with Russians, is a favorable environment for the proliferation of Putin's agents and the undermining of the national security of the Estonian state from the inside. Russia's war against Ukraine is in its third year. War propaganda and aggressive symbols are prohibited in Estonia. But what do I read in Russian-language social media groups managed by the Estonian media: "In 2014, a fascist coup took place in Ukraine. The Ukrainians started harassing the Russian language and went to war against the Donbas. Putin defended the Russians in Donbas and simply brought his territories back home. Now Russia is fighting on its own territory. 'All the best for Donbas children,' Ukrainian Nazis wrote on deadly shells and launched them directly on kindergartens, schools, hospitals and maternity hospitals. People begged Putin for help! Putin helped. Russia doesn't abandon its own!"

Perhaps the Internal Security Service also reads these comments. However, what measures are taken against the authors of the comments and the administrators of the groups – I don't know. I just see how these authors continue to "bomb the Donbas" and are making their contribution to fostering anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Estonia and propagating Kremlin narratives. The Internal Security Service has a good reputation in Estonia. However, the freely conducted war propaganda in our social media is a fact. I remember how Postimees editor-in-chief Priit Hõbemägi scolded our Internal Security Service in February 2023 for not taking action to detain Aivo Peterson (Krylov) upon his return from Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. In his article, Hõbemägi also provided examples of war propaganda conducted in Estonia and asked the question: "How long will the Estonian state allow itself to be spat in the face?" Aivo Peterson was detained. But the question remains.

The Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn. – Photo:
The Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn. – Photo: Photo: Madis Veltman

It is noteworthy that in all these cases, we cannot see the active position of Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets, even though all the incidents in question occurred in his area of responsibility. At the same time, the minister is making significant efforts to separate the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (EOC-MP) and the Patriarchate of Moscow. Even though it is very clear that stirring up tensions around the Estonian Orthodox church benefits primarily the Kremlin. Moscow now has a pretext to make loud statements about discrimination against Russians and persecution of Orthodox believers in Estonia. Meanwhile, a powerful column (about 150,000 people) consisting of the congregations of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is forming in Estonia, ready to defend their church and stand up to (!) the Estonian state in the fight for their faith.

I myself have been Orthodox believer for 50 years and belong to a congregation of the EOC-MP. However, already in 2022, after the beginning of the war, I publicly condemned the Orthodox priests and Patriarch Kirill who supported Russia's aggression against Ukraine. And I have my own ideas on how to resolve the crisis around the EOC-MP with the least damage. But I won't give free advice, because the Ministry of the Interior has its own experts on the Orthodox Church, who apparently advise the minister and get paid for it. Only that the advice is such that it has led to an impasse where any new move will only deepen the crisis. And the Estonian state looks weak again.

PS. Of course, I am an exclusively peaceful person and cannot give recommendations to Estonian border guards. But in their place, I would have opened warning fire in the direction of the sabotage group that intruded into Estonia from Russia on the night of May 23. And no need to be afraid! When responding to provocations, only the use of force can stop an escalation of conflict with Russia. Not weakness, but force! Putin simply does not understand any other language.