Small Wars Journal

Beating America at its Own Game: How Russia Can Use Democracy to Influence Estonia and Undermine the NATO Alliance

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 11:56am

Beating America at its Own Game:  How Russia Can Use Democracy to Influence Estonia and Undermine the NATO Alliance

Cody L. Zilhaver

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Estonia quickly shaped its political landscape to maneuver from underneath the Russian sphere of influence and into the arms of NATO.  However, Estonia moved under NATO’s collective protection too quickly by ignoring a quarter of their population who are Russian speakers, most of whom are disenfranchised by the government, and all are highly susceptible to Russian coercion through modern mainstream media emanating from Moscow.  Consequently, Russia can use information operations to influence Russian speakers in Estonia, who are empowered to vote, and could elect leaders who can steer Estonia back into Russia’s favor and undermine NATO.  Therefore, the U.S. should suspend its European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) in Estonia that unnecessarily provokes Russia, until Estonia can unite with its Russian speaking population by cultivating its own mainstream media, adopting Russian as its second official language, and changing election laws.

Map of Former Russian Empire (Light Green) and Modern Day Russia (Dark Green)

Serious discussions about Estonia’s political polices begin and end with Russia.  Estonia and Russia not only share a border, but Russia’s enormous size, which spans 11 time zones, towers over Estonia, which is roughly the size of Maryland.  Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin, is a savvy nationalist who maneuvers an embattled, but proud Russia against what he sees as a hostile U.S. led worldwide conspiracy.  Small European nations like Estonia, in Russia’s near abroad, are highly susceptible to Russian dominance due to their proximity to Russia and history of belonging to the former Russian Empire.  Recent occupation by Russian forces of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine and of South Ossetia in Georgia provide examples of Russia seizing control in portions of neighboring sovereign nations that formerly belonged to the Russian Empire.  Indeed, Putin’s actions and comments illustrate his discontent regarding his predecessors under the Soviet era who in his mind squandered lands that once belonged to the Russian Czars.  When explaining how Russia was defeated by the Bolsheviks who signed the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty that ceded Estonia to Germany Putin remarked that “in essence our country was defeated by the losing side.”[1]      

European political borders changed continually since the end of the Russian Empire in 1917.  East Germany, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia for example, have come and gone.  Russian annexation of Crimea and military occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have shifted some political boundaries back in Russia’s favor.  Russia now counts both areas, which formally belonged to the Russian Empire, once again within its sphere of influence.  In Estonia, Johannes Kert, a member of the National Defense Committee, stated recently that Great Britain revisited the U.S. in 1812, roughly 30 years after American independence, and burned the White House.  Consequently, Russia could do the same in Estonia.[2]  Kert’s thoughts reconcile nicely with Putin’s former top economic adviser, Andrey Illarionov, who stated that “Putin has his eyes on eventually reclaiming Estonia”.[3]

Estonia has reason to fear aggression by its neighbors.  The tiny nation was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, Nazi Germany from 1941-44, and by the Soviets again from 1944 until 1991.  More recently, suspected Russian hackers overwhelmed Estonia’s internet infrastructure in response to Estonia relocating a Soviet war memorial within the capital city of Tallinn in 2007.  As Estonia relocated the statue to a local cemetery, Russian sympathizers within the country initiated a riot that resulted in 153 injuries and 800 arrests.  During the course of the unrest, the Russian government unequivocally stated that moving the statue would be “disastrous for the Estonians.”[4]  Simultaneously, Estonia suffered an unprecedented cyber-attack that crippled banks, broadcasters, police, and the national government.[5] As Estonia was brought to its knees, Putin commented that “those who are trying today to desecrate memorials to war heroes are insulting their own people, sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.”[6]

Fear of Russian aggression is why Estonia joined NATO in 2004.  The collective security of 28 NATO member nations codified in the defense agreement specifies that “an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against them all, and that member nations will take necessary action to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”[7]  Although Estonia was eager to join NATO, long standing members Germany and France, who advocated for Poland to join, did not convey a sense of urgency to add Estonia.[8]  Adding countries to NATO comes with a risk to all member nations of being drawn into armed conflict with a non-member nation with whom a member country may not otherwise have cause for conflict.  Such in the case with the U.S. who invoked Article Five for the first time in NATO history after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  As a result, all NATO members were drawn into a protracted anti-terror campaign that continues into 2017.  Although NATO members confidently backed and contributed to the U.S.’ military operations in Afghanistan beginning in 2001, their support fell short when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.  The U.S., in an effort to build a coalition for Iraq by attempting to drag a reluctant NATO along the way, looked to potential new NATO members, such as Estonia, who were much more willing to contribute military forces in Iraq in exchange for joining NATO.  As France and Germany disagreed with the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq, and questioned the legitimacy of Estonia’s NATO candidacy, the U.S. rammed Estonia’s membership petition through NATO.  Consequently, U.S. President George W. Bush met a milestone toward achieving his vision of “an enlarged and globalized NATO ready to assist America’s global war on terror.”[9]  In what appears to be a quid pro quo, Estonia deployed forces to Iraq the following year.  Consequently, Estonia’s quick accession to NATO was more about U.S. anti-terrorism desires abroad than collective defense in Europe.

Estonia gladly pays the price for NATO membership in exchange for the collective security benefits the small nation receives in return.  NATO is set to deploy a multi-national Army battalion to Estonia under a program called Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) that will augment the Estonian Army that numbers roughly 3,200 active and 20,000 reserve troops.  Moreover, the U.S. Army recently conducted Atlantic Resolve in Estonia where American soldiers participated in a bi-lateral exercise with the Estonian Army.  As a precursor to the exercise, the U.S. pledged $68M to modernize former Soviet infrastructure at Amari Air Base and Tapa Army Base under the ERI program.[10] The increased American presence and financial obligations in Estonia signals a shift by Washington on how and why the U.S. manages its military forces in Europe.  The U.S. is clearly signaling a move away from merely assuring NATO partners that America is fully prepared to meet its treaty obligations in favor of hard power deterrence that warns Russia to stay out of Estonia.  Russia however, has a much larger force directly on the other side of the border.  Russia’s massive Army numbers 3.2M active and reserve troops with 61,086 tanks and artillery pieces; their Navy has 352 ships and submarines; and finally, the Air Force has 3,547 aircraft and 356 strategic missiles.[11]/[12]  Consequently, a serious question remains about how defensible Estonia is for NATO.  Defense experts predict the longest it would take Russian forces to reach the Estonian Capital of Tallinn is just 60 hours.[13]

However, Russia could gain control of Estonia without risking a military response by NATO by simply leveraging the U.S.’ most treasured hallmark - democracy.  Russia can use information operations through its mainstream media networks to influence Russian speakers within Estonia, many of whom have family still living in Russia, to vote for candidates who are sympathetic to Putin.  Russian media broadcasts news, political commentary, and entertainment worldwide in a modern format with the objective, according to the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) to “build support among Russians for Putin and his vision of a powerful, renascent Russia.”[14]  ICDS also states that with access to cable channels in Estonia, they are sharing that message with Russia’s “compatriots” abroad.”[15]  Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Estonian National Defense Committee underscores that “Russia’s level of sophistication using television, internet, and social media is on the highest level.”[16]

Russia has a large and receptive audience in Estonia.  Russian speakers in Estonia number approximately 300,000 and comprise roughly 25% of the national population.  Distressingly, 2/3 of the Russian speakers don’t speak Estonian, the national language, and feel disconnected from Estonian government. A recent Estonian government report identifies “two separate societies living side by side but with only superficial connections between them.”[17]  According to studies, only about a third of the Russian speakers also speak Estonian and have Estonian citizenship.  Another third are legally citizens of Russia.  Yet, the remaining third of Russian speakers, more than 80,000 people, are stateless, neither Russian nor Estonian, but can travel freely to Russia without a visa.[18]  Alarmingly, in accordance to Estonian law, Russian citizens and stateless non-citizens residing in Estonia “may vote at the local government council elections if he/she resides in Estonia on the basis of a long-term residence permit or the right of permanent residence.”[19]  The fact that 25% of Estonia’s population is susceptible to Russian propaganda, many of whom are disenfranchised from the national government, but all can legally vote, brings significant potential for Russia to legally and ethically convince voters in an Estonian election to choose political candidates Russia prefers.  Consequently, multiple local level pro-Russian political leaders throughout Estonia, could fan the flames of public opinion to influence national leaders to change policies and laws to be sympathetic to Russia.  Considering Estonia struggled to obtain a simple majority to elect its current President in 2016, a process that took an unprecedented three separate votes, the political will of Estonians is far from certain. Although the non-citizen disenfranchised Russian speakers could not vote in national elections, the pro-Russian Centre Party did, and achieved 25% of the national vote.

If Russia can tilt Estonia’s political landscape in their favor through a democratic process, the U.S. would find itself in a difficult position to stop it.  After all, the current U.S. National Security Strategy states that “America is routinely expected to support peaceful democratic change.”[20]  Consequently, the U.S. would have little choice but to accept the will of the Estonian people.  Unfortunately, the U.S.’ current hard power approach of deterrence in Estonia is mismatched to the threat of Russia leveraging the democratic process to pull Estonia into its sphere of influence.  The U.S.’ direct financial investment into Estonia’s military infrastructure, combined with deploying forces to the European nation are not the appropriate tools to positively influence Russian speakers in Estonia who are in a position to control Estonia’s political future.  In fact, a survey published by the Estonian Ministry of Defense in 2016 highlights that “foreign speakers (mostly Russian) see the increased U.S. role as a potential threat.”[21]  Additionally, Russia interprets bilateral U.S. investment and training in Estonia is as a threat to their national security and expectedly ratchets up their efforts to counter American influence even more. Putin directed the Russian military to prepare for a “time of war" as the U.S. military moved into Estonia during Atlantic Resolve.[22]

The U.S. should suspend its bi-lateral military relationship with Estonia and focus on working within the confines of NATO.  Deploying military forces directly from the U.S. to Estonia sends a well-intended, but unnecessarily provocative message to Moscow.  One can only imagine the U.S. reaction if Russia sent an Army brigade to Mexico to conduct joint drug interdiction operations with the Mexican military near the American boarder.  The U.S. should instead use forces permanently stationed in Europe and exercise in Estonia as part of a larger NATO organization, such as the EFP Army Battalions, a small, but robust multi-national organization that demonstrates "strength of the transatlantic bond.”[23]  Consequently, Moscow would have a much harder time singling out the U.S. as an aggressor.  Although it is difficult to measure how much the U.S. deters Russia through a military to military relationship with Estonia, a show of force by a multinational NATO EFP Battalion is arguably enough to deter Russia from military action in Estonia.  Additionally, the $68M U.S. investment in Estonia’s military infrastructure under the ERI undermines President Trump’s efforts for all NATO member nations pay their obligatory 2% of their gross national product.  Instead, the $68M could be used on American infrastructure, and NATO could fund Estonia’s requirements.  The U.S. already provides over 22% of the NATO Common Fund, budgeted at €  €€ € 2.2B for 2017, and used for “requirements over and above those which are reasonably expected to be made available from national resources”.[24] The U.S. investment in Estonia may even prove a poor decision if the Estonian government, through new elections, turns sympathetic to Russia.  This concept is reminiscent of the U.S.’ shortsighted support to Saddam Hussein during the Iraq / Iran War which ended in 1988, just before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 1991.[25]

From Estonia’s perspective, the nation must adopt policies to better connect with its Russian speaking population to unite the country and counter Moscow’s rhetoric.  Estonia recently developed the Russian language network ETV+ to communicate news and entertainment to Russian speakers.  However, the media stream loses to the Kremlin’s far more experienced and efficient propaganda machine.[26] Estonia must work to make ETV+ a viable network for Russian speakers and communicate a message that places Estonians in a positive image to counter balance Moscow’s anti-Estonian rhetoric.[27]  Additionally, Estonia should officially adopt Russian as a second language to facilitate communication with the Russian speakers.  It will also build goodwill by demonstrating Estonia’s willingness to make the Russian speakers part of the collective society. The Russian language won’t miraculously disappear from Estonia.  Estonia should embrace their minority – not ignore it.  Belgium, Switzerland and Finland for example are other European nations with multiple official languages.  Finally, Estonia should change its laws to restrict non-citizens from voting.  Citizens have a vested interest in electing leaders who will not only represent their interests, but make decisions that benefit the entire constituency.  Conversely, non-citizens may have alternative motives harmful to the country. 

In conclusion, Estonia can ill afford to ignore their long standing failure to unite with its Russian speaking population.  Estonia ran away from the Soviet Union and into the arms of NATO, through U.S. insistence, too quickly.  As much as Estonia wants to move into the West, and away from the Russian sphere of influence, they can only do so at the speed of the Russian speakers within their borders.  If Estonia chooses to ignore that fact, the small country is at risk of Russia using its mainstream media to negatively influence the Russian speakers in such a manner to prove domestically harmful for Estonia and possibly even NATO itself.  Estonia must worry more about consolidating its population than appeasing the alliance.  Concurrently, the U.S. should allow NATO to do its job in Estonia without the ERI bi-lateral military to military engagement or financial investment.  Estonia’s membership in NATO is enough deterrence for the Russians to not invade.  The U.S.’ ERI program in Estonia lacks strategic foresight and requires a more nuanced approach that appropriately targets Estonia’s domestic audience.  America’s foreign policy tendencies to use its military and money to solve problems is entirely the wrong approach in Estonia. There is no need to poke the Russian Bear when it is confined in its cage.  Simply put, the U.S. must provide space and time for Estonia to pull its disenfranchised population into the national fold or risk losing Estonia from NATO.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

End Notes

[1] Nick Wright, “Putin attacks 1917 Bolsheviks for national betrayal,” 21 Century Manifesto, June 29, 2012 (accessed March 16, 2017).

[2] Johannes Kert, Estonian National Defense Committee, Discussion with Air War College Regional Studies Group, Tallinn, Estonia, March 3, 2017.

[3] John Aravosis, “Putin wants Finland, Baltic states, says former top adviser,” /putin-wants-finland-baltic-states-says-former-top-adviser.html, (accessed March 23, 2017).

[4] Patrick H. O’Neil, “The Cyberattack that Changed the World,” The Daily Dot, layer8/web-war-cyberattack-russia-estonia (accessed March 17, 2017).

[5] Patrick H. O’Neil, “The Cyberattack that Changed the World,” The Daily Dot, layer8/web-war-cyberattack-russia-estonia (accessed March 17, 2017).

[6] Patrick H. O’Neil, “The Cyberattack that Changed the World,” The Daily Dot, layer8/web-war-cyberattack-russia-estonia (accessed March 17, 2017).

[7] “The North Atlantic Treaty,” April 4, 1949,

[8] Mary N. Hampton, “Unfinished Business:  NATO Enlargement in the Baltic Sea Region,” The Baltic Security Puzzle: Regional Patterns of Democratization, Integration, and Authoritarianism, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 137.

[9] Mary N. Hampton, “Unfinished Business:  NATO Enlargement in the Baltic Sea Region,” The Baltic Security Puzzle: Regional Patterns of Democratization, Integration, and Authoritarianism, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 137-139.

[10] Q &A with the Estonian Ministry of Defense, (accessed March 18, 2017).

[11]MarescialloDiCampo, “Ukraine and Russia Military Strength,” =345954 (accessed March 18, 2017).

[12] Russian Military Strength, “Current military capabilities and available firepower for 2016 detailed,” (accessed March 22, 2017).

[13] Shlapak & Johnson “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO's Eastern Flank Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics,” Rand Corporation“, (accessed March 20, 2017).

[14] Jill Dougherty and Riina Kaljurand, “Estonia’s “Virtual Russian World”: The Influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian Speakers,” International Center for Defense and Security, October 2015.

[15] Jill Dougherty and Riina Kaljurand, “Estonia’s “Virtual Russian World”: The Influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian Speakers,” International Center for Defense and Security, October 2015.

[16] Jill Dougherty and Riina Kaljurand, “Estonia’s “Virtual Russian World”: The Influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian Speakers,” International Center for Defense and Security, October 2015.

[17] Kivirähk, J. 2014; “Integrating Estonia’s Russian Speaking Population: Findings of National Defence

Opinion Surveys“: russian-speaking- population-findings-of-national-defense-opinion-surveys (accessed March 18, 2017).

[18] Jill Dougherty and Riina Kaljurand, “Estonia’s “Virtual Russian World”: The Influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian Speakers,” International Center for Defense and Security, October 2015.

[19] Valimised, “Right to Vote” (accessed March 18, 2017).

[20] U.S. President, “National Security Strategy of the U.S.,” February 2015, 19.

[21] Veebel & Ploom, “Estonian Perceptions of Security: Not only about Russian and the Refugees,” Journal on Baltic Security, Vol 2, Issue 2, 2016, 45.

[22] Henry Holloway, “Vladimir Putin orders Russia prepare for 'TIME OF WAR' as US Army arrives on the border,” (accessed March 19, 2017).

[23] NATO, “Boosting NATO’s presence in the east and southeast,” topics_136388.htm, (accessed March 20, 2017).

[24] NATO, “Common Funding” (accessed March 19, 2017).

[25] Seymour Hersh, “U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq Early in Its War Against Iran,” New York Times, (accessed April 28, 2017).

[26] Katja Koort, “The Russians of Estonia: Twenty Years After,” World Affairs, July/August 2014   72.

[27] The Guardian, Baltic states wary as Russia takes more strident tone with neighbours,, (accessed April 28, 2017).


Categories: Russia - NATO - Estonia

About the Author(s)

Cody Zilhaver is a U.S. Army Colonel. He holds a B.S. from Edinboro University, a M.A. from Webster University, a M.A. from the Naval War College, and a M.A from the Air War College. Colonel Zilhaver recently completed a Regional Cultural Studies Program at the U.S. Air War College that focused on national security issues in Finland, Latvia, and Estonia. The program culminated with a two week trip to the region to meet with senior U.S. DoS and DoD officials as well as executives from the National Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and NATO.


Bill C.

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 12:54pm

Outlaw, below, points to a common phenomenon of:

a. The Thirty Years War,

b. The Old Cold War and, indeed,

c. Today's New/Reverse Cold War also.

This common phenomenon being, in all such cases, that in order to gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world (through the advance of one's religion, one's way of life, one's ideology, etc.) and/or, indeed, in order to prevent another from gaining greater power, influence and control using such methods, a nation can intervene in another country -- as it wishes. This, regardless of the niceties/the requirements of international law. Herein, these such nations often justifying their such interventions saying that they must "save" like-minded individuals/"save" their ethnic/religious/ideological fellows -- however few these may be -- and, indeed, whether or not these individuals actually want to be "saved." (In this latter regard, for example, see Outlaw's statistics below.)

As relates to this phenomenon, consider the following observation from Hans Morgenthau in his 1967 "To Intervene or Not to Intervene:"


"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. Thus the cold war has not only been a conflict between two world powers but also a contest between two secular religions. And like the religious wars of the seventeenth century, the war between communism and democracy does not respect national boundaries. It finds enemies and allies in all countries, opposing the one and supporting the other regardless of the niceties of international law. Here is the dynamic force which has led the two superpowers to intervene all over the globe, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, sometimes with the accepted methods of diplomatic pressure and propaganda, sometimes with the frowned-upon instruments of covert subversion and open force."

Thus, whether we are talking about -- in the Thirty Years War, in the Old Cold War and/or in the New/Reverse Cold War of today --

a. Advancing (i.e., the "expansion") of one's religion, one's ethnicity, one's way of life and government and/or one's ideas/ideology, etc. And/or

b. Preventing the advance (i.e., "containment" and/or "roll back") of another's such attributes.

In all such instances, the idea of "sovereignty" (such as addressed in the Treaty of Westphalia?) is simply ignored.

This, because it -- oh so obviously -- gets in the way?


Wed, 07/19/2017 - 3:45pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

In addition to the pressure, a number of other developments occurred during Yeltsin's tenure that were conveniently ignored or forgotten by the West:

1. Using tanks to shell the legislature and kill 200 to 2,000 people, which was the worst massacre on Russian soil since 1954.

2. The Transnistria War by pro-Russian insurgents in Moldova backed by Russian regular forces.

3. Russia supported separatist ethnic Armenian insurgents in Azerbaijan.

4. Russia launched a destructive war to reconquer the separatist republic of Chechnya.

5. Russia supported separatist ethnic Abkhazian insurgents in Georgia (twice).

6. Russia involved itself in the Tajik Civil War.

Basically, Russia committed more acts of aggression and war crimes, and racked up a higher bodycount during Yeltsin's administration than under Putin. Yet because Yeltsin was a jovial drunk and because Russia was regarded as harmless to the West, this was all swept under the rug. In reality, Great Russian chauvinism was bound only by capabilities, not intent...

Outlaw 09

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 2:35pm

In reply to by Azor

Actually we do agree, but the Russian non linear warfare against Estonia and the entire Baltics and Poland have been ongoing right after their independence not in the last few years.


Wed, 07/19/2017 - 12:56pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

To Outlaw 09,

The celestial bodies must be aligned: we seem to be in agreement. ;)

I would say that Estonia and the other Baltic states have come under pressure from Russia since acceding to NATO, and also due to the ethnic tensions within each. Despite Putin stirring Great Russian chauvinism to buttress his position, there were some rather ugly ultra-nationalist sentiments in each of the Baltic states that prompted disturbing initiatives, such as lionizing wartime German collaborators who mass-murdered Jews. Zilhaver is as confused as the Baltic governments themselves. On the one hand, the Russian minority is a poison pill to be kept outside the democratic processes; but on the other, integration seems to be the key to avoiding secessionism, insurgency and inevitable conflict with Russia. Baltic history is actually rather nuanced, and there was never a period of time in which any of the nations had ethnically homogenous nation-states: Swedes, Russians, Germans and Poles-Lithuanians were always present to one degree or another.

I completely agree that Zilhaver dangerously undermines his support for liberal democracy – predicated as it is on the individual – with his collective treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian citizens in Estonia. It is well-known that the Kremlin’s influence on its citizens and co-ethnics in the Baltic republics and even Kaliningrad, for that matter, is far less than it desires. You mention material issues, including EU membership, as being decisive, but what of the cultural issues? For instance, there are large ethnic Han Chinese diasporas in the West, Philippines and Malaysia, and Taiwan is a Chinese nation-state. Therefore, as much as the Communist Party of China and its new “helmsman” Xi do not represent all Han Chinese, Putin and his ring do not represent all ethnic Russians, Russophones, Russian citizens or citizens of former Soviet and Imperial Russian subjects.

As for Estonia’s wartime history, there is no question that Stalin played a great role in sowing the wind that would become the whirlwind of the Holocaust. He knew how to turn ethnic groups on one another so as to consolidate power for himself and the “Great Russians”, and it is no surprise that German anti-Semitism gained a following in those Soviet-occupied areas where Stalin had unleashed Jewish NKVD officers to deport and murder millions, before these assassins themselves were murdered and replaced by Russians and Georgians just prior to Operation Barbarossa. Stalin’s ethnic games are still ongoing in northern Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, southern Russia, Azerbaijan and the Baltic states. If only people would wake up before turning on one another over borders and historical grievances that were deliberately meant to cause strife.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 3:55am

Had to reread this article to fully understand whether it was written by a US or Russian commenter.

1. Estonia has been literally under a heavy ongoing and constant Russian info and cyber war with Russia since mention of this current ongoing war

2. No mention of a recent polling that matches FIVE other polls run over the last seven years indicating that yes the Russia speakers understand they are a minority with no language protections BUT here is the critical point as they are the real the focus of the Russian info war

If given the chance would you want to re-join Russia and or relocate to Russia, amazingly over 81% stated a resolute NO to both questions, WHY they fully understand that yes they are Russians in a non Russian country BUT that they are far better off in Estonia when it comes to work, salaries and overlook living conditions due to surprise of all surprises NATO and EU membership with all of its benefits of free movement and work opportunities inside EU countries.... THAN Russians living inside Russia.

None of that is mentioned in this article, why not as he is a Regional Expert?

The comment "Estonia ran away" indicates that this so called Regional Expert never fully understood Estonian history and that history tied to Nazi Germany/WW2 and then the Soviet Union occupation and deportations.

Spoiler Alert: the first half of the article is a rehash of what we already know AKA as "background".

The author comes dangerously close to condemning democracy and freedom of expression, before resting on the same recommendations that have been made since Estonian independence, and contradicting himself in the process.

Zilhaver: “Small European nations like Estonia, in Russia’s near abroad, are highly susceptible to Russian dominance due to their proximity to Russia and history of belonging to the former Russian Empire”.

Would Poland then be as susceptible? Hardly. The true problem is the ethnic Russian minority.

Zilhaver: “Recent occupation by Russian forces of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine and of South Ossetia in Georgia provide examples of Russia seizing control in portions of neighboring sovereign nations that formerly belonged to the Russian Empire”.

Yet in both cases – and the author omits Abkhazia – the local population supported Russian occupation. In Donbas, where this constituency was a minority and where half to most were rather equally ambivalent about Moscow and Kiev, Russian occupation has had a much lighter footprint. Whereas Crimea falls into the same category as say Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, Donbas is more akin to Chechnya, in which Russia relies upon local auxiliaries.

Zilhaver: “In Estonia, Johannes Kert, a member of the National Defense Committee, stated recently that Great Britain revisited the U.S. in 1812, roughly 30 years after American independence, and burned the White House. Consequently, Russia could do the same in Estonia”.

Kert needs to go back to school. The U.S. declared war on Great Britain and invaded Canada. It didn’t go well for the U.S.

Zilhaver: “Estonia gladly pays the price for NATO membership in exchange for the collective security benefits the small nation receives in return.”

What price? Estonian defense spending as a share of GDP actually fell after Russia’s annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, and only rose above 2% in 2015, after Ukraine had been invaded. Estonia’s commitment to defense is nowhere near the efforts by South Korea or Israel, or even Russia for that matter.

Firstly, the article conflates ethnic Russians and Russophone residents in Estonia (26% in 2015) with non-citizens (16% in 2015), although the latter group is included in the former. Secondly, it also conflates local government elections with national elections: the Centre Party is “pro-Russian”, it received “25%” of the national vote and Russophones comprise “25%” of the Estonian population. Thirdly, it assumes that all ethnic Russians/Russophones in Estonia are “susceptible” to Russian propaganda, despite the fact that this group’s share of “disconnected” or “disenfranchised” individuals roughly coincides with group’s share of non-citizens, who again, cannot vote nationally.

It would be difficult for the U.S. to provide military reassurance to the Baltic states, which are regarded as the most probable NATO targets for Russian military aggression, while also suspending bilateral military ties so as to not aggravate ethnic tensions between the Baltic populations and their large ethnic Russian minorities.

Despite highlighting the risk of ethnic Russian participation in Estonian national elections, the author then suggests that Estonia should allow non-citizens to vote nationally, even though most if not all would be Russian citizens.

So much for “Regional Cultural Studies”. If discourse from the 1990s are new again, is the music going to come back as well?