The birth of the national defence of Estonia. 1991–2017
End of the Cold War and breaking up of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused real exhilaration in the West, and also in Russia. It was thought that now the age of great wars was over for ever in Europe, where two of the bloodiest world wars of humanity had taken place, and from then onwards, the countries would live in friendship and constructive mutual cooperation. And this is how it more or less happened during the last decade of the previous century.
The former Soviet republics started building up independent states and transition to market economy. In Russia, this process was the most painful. The countries of the West tried to help their former enemy. Germany built houses for the Russian troops that had been deployed in East Europe and now returned to homeland. The USA helped Russia to deactivate the reactors of the nuclear submarines that were written off by the Northern Fleet, and gave money for liquidating the huge stocks of chemical weapons. In NATO member states, a discussion over the future of this international defence organisation started in 1992. Several countries proposed to dissolve NATO as an organisation that was unnecessary in the new security situation. Fortunately, this was not done. It was decided to preserve the alliance, but to give it rather limited tasks – mainly peacekeeping and conducting of peace implementation operations as a part of coalition forces. Ensuring the security of member states and readiness pursuant to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty shifted to the background. The armed forces of the Western countries that had been numerous during the Cold War were being reduced abruptly, and transition to small, professional forces with limited capabilities started. They were designed not for performing the defence obligations of countries, but mainly for use in conducting peace operations as part of coalition forces. The defence budgets of NATO member states diminished rapidly. The main expenses fell on the United States. Thus, the contribution of the US formed nearly 73 percent of the total NATO defence budget in 2003.
The security situation in Europe started to deteriorate abruptly since 2000, when former KGB officer, Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Putin became the President of the Russian Federation. Already in 2003, the Kremlin announced that all post-Soviet republics belong to the “sphere of special national interests” of the Russian Federation. Russia’s extensive propaganda war and information operations started. On the orders of the Kremlin, a collection consisting of five books was composed in 2005–2010. Four books of the collection were titled “Project Russia”, Part I, II, II and IV. The most important book was “The New Russian Doctrine”, with the sub-title “Time to Stretch the Wings” («Новая русская доктрина. Пора расправить крылья» 2009). The collection came to be called Putin’s doctrine. It established two strategic goals to Russia:
- Immediate goal – to restore control over the post-Soviet countries. This was confirmed by Putin himself at the meeting of the so-called Valdai Club in September 2013.
- Final goal according to “The New Russian Doctrine” was the following. If the USA only imitates and essentially vulgarises the role of GLOBAL ADMINISTRATOR, then Russia has the right to this mission. Now it has to prove it in practice by starting to perform it.
Moscow immediately started to perform these tasks, starting from the first. The former Soviet republics were offered participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Customs Union, the Eurasian Union that was about to be formed, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Those post-Soviet countries that decided in favour of integration with the West fell victims to aggression. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which had been part of Georgia, were violently occupied in 2008. Aggression against Ukraine in 2014 ended with the annexation of Crimea and occupying the eastern part of the country, where the military activities still continue.
Russia has started a hybrid war against all countries of the West. The Kremlin has strategic interests also in the Baltic States, but thanks to the NATO and EU membership of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the eastern neighbour has refrained from violent activities against them. However, c
onsidering Putin’s hypocrisy and unpredictability, Estonia needs effective primary self-defence capability, which together with the allied troops located in the country would ensure effective deterrence and the real protection of our independence.
The article aims to give an overview of the difficulties and development of the establishing of the Estonian Defence Forces until the present day.