On May 2nd, Estonia kicked off its largest military exercise in history. The exercise is called Siil (Hedgehog) 2018. Members of the Estonian defense forces, Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteers, members of the women’s arm of Kaitseliit, police and rescue personnel are taking part. In addition, 2000 foreigners from ten NATO countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States) and five non-NATO countries (Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine) are also taking place bringing the total number of participants to 15,000. The exercise will go from May 2 – 14.
Estonia – Russian relations have been tense since Russia’s takeover in the crimea in addition to Putin’s disinformation campaign against the Baltics. Tension with Moscow over its Russian minority prompted the Baltic republic to reach out to its Russian speaking minority who have long felt marginalized. In February 2014, Marina Kossolapova a school choir director who was an Estonian citizen of Russian descent was honored by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. President Kaljulaid personally visited her hometown of Narva (on the Russian border) to give her a prestigious medal for her contribution to Estonian culture. After Estonian independence, Russian speakers felt like second class citizens and were basically treated that way by the newly independent country. Citizenship was granted only to those Russians who had lived there before 1940 and demonstrated the ability of passing a difficult language test. Giving these people a better slot in Estonian life became a sore spot on the national conscience of the country. The Ukranian Crisis was a wake-up call that raised alarm bells that the Russian media might try to divide loyalties between the Russian speaking Estonians and the rest of the country.
Due to the concerns raised by Putin’s adventurism, Tallinn has significantly increased the country’s spending on defense and has increased the readiness of the country’s reserves. The Russian press has taken an interest in Siil 2018. All of the Baltics have to keep an eye on Russia’s provocative behavior. In March Russia began three days of missile tests that forced Latvia to partly shut down civilian airspace. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius mentioned this is common with Russia. Is Russia trying to send an unwritten message that it wants to dominate Europe? Considering that ten NATO countries and five non-NATO countries are taking part, I am inclined to believe that a lot of countries are taking Moscow pretty seriously. The cold war with Communism is over, but the cold war with Putinism is just beginning to heat up. Welcome to the 21st century.