Kaitseliit, Estonian Defence league

Estonia is training a nation of guerilla citizens in face of Russian threat


Ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine, the Kaitseliit (Defence League, in Estonian) has been receiving more and more recruits. They are architects, salespeople, engineers, musicians, designers... and many university students. In total, there are about 18,400 volunteers plus 7,100 in the youth leagues. They gather on weekends and are trained on hybrid war scenarios, cyber-security and even open armed conflict.

 People in Estonia, along with their neighbours in Latvia and Lithuania, all of them NATO members, are feeling anxious about Russia’s attitude towards the former Soviet republics of the Baltic region. Since 2014, there have been many dangerous encounters between Russian and NATO’s aircraft and ships, both sides are escalating their military presence here, and the situation is the most tense since the Cold War. If this wasn’t enough, the upcoming Donald Trump presidency in the US has brought even more uncertainty to the situation. Nobody wants to believe an open attack is in the cards, but Estonia, where 25% of the population is ethnic Russian, is afraid of an eastern Ukraine scenario happening in its territory. And this is where having your population trained on hybrid conflict could actually end up being very helpful.

 We attended a Kaitseliit field exercise in a snow-covered forest in which the enemy was being played by its Latvian counterpart, the National Guard. We talked to Estonian and Latvian volunteers and officers, who instead of resting or going out for dinner were spending their weekend at -12ºC and sleeping in tents. We spoke to the Commander of the Kaitseliit, to the Chief of Staff of its Cyber-Defence Unit, and to regular Estonians who are not members. And we also conducted interviews with several international analysts on geopolitics and security in the Baltic region and in Eastern Europe.

Text by Jose Miguel Calatayud.    http://josemcalatayud.net/

Photos: Fernando Moleres