The threats to Estonia’s security arising from Russia have not changed
We often take for granted when things are good and only tend to consider what remains yet to be completed or accomplished. Sometimes we may focus too much on the negative, on unfortunate developments. This is perfectly natural and human. When it comes to security, we must do everything to prevent the worst-case scenario and avoid unfavourable consequences. The essential purpose of all security authorities consists of gathering and processing information and producing intelligence for making decisions on security policy and protecting the constitutional order.
However, today’s abundance of information has transformed the role of security agencies. Our skillset and intelligence are necessary for compiling appropriate situation reports and understanding and distinguishing between meaningful information and fake news. We need to determine whether Estonia’s security and national defence are being targeted by the special services and other state institutions of hostile or unfriendly foreign powers, or whether it is simply a case of activism by citizens seeking to achieve their ideological or pragmatic goals. Simply put, we must distinguish hostile influence activities from common self-interested manipulation. Blatant lies are circulated on international social networks and media channels, seeking to convince people of endless conspiracy theories. Security agencies are often accused of similar pursuits. There is no point in arguing to disprove a conspiracy theory. Our actions speak louder than words; we act when we know the facts. This is how we have operated in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future.
The threats to Estonia’s security arising from Russia have not changed. In this annual review, we cover the usual developments in the protection of constitutional order and counterintelligence, as well as some changes in cyberspace. To provide some context, we should note that Russia’s resources are currently being primarily expended on attacking Ukraine, but yet they have no shortage of resources. Russia has enough time and energy to continue threatening our safety and security. Russia’s influence activities cover many areas of life. The standard open attacks by the propaganda machine, along with the covert manipulation of information and smear campaigns aimed against Estonia, have been so persistent that many have developed immunity. Often, we pay no heed to hostile propaganda anymore and simply shrug it off. So what? It makes no difference to us. But is that always the case? While hostile action may not be a direct at-tack against us, the consequences often manifest in other ways and forms. We still have a pending court judgment regarding a propagandist who acted in the interests of Moscow and collaborated with foreign special services and whose lies gave rise to accusations at the international level of human rights violations in Estonia.
Corruption is a social evil caused, on the one hand, by the imperfection of human nature, and on the other hand, by an acquiescent legal and cultural environment. On the whole, Estonia is making good progress – systemic corruption is not a glaring issue in the state or local governments. Of course, such assessments depend, to a large extent, on underlying attitudes and values. Some morally reprehensible behaviours may not qualify as corruption in the legal sense. Conversely, some people fail to change their behaviour even after being sentenced for corruption and instead do everything in their power to carry on without being caught again – in effect, they conspire to act almost like foreign spies.
Estonia’s economic development has also brought new threats, especially in relation to Islamist terrorism. The number of people coming from high-risk countries has quadrupled in Estonia over the past six years. As a reaction to Islamist terrorism, terrorist acts by right-wing extremists have increased across the European Union. Both trends give cause for concern. To prevent terrorism in Estonia, we need to consider the developments that we have seen in other European countries. These may affect us in 10 to 15 years’ time. As a state, we must act today. Above all, we need to integrate people from Muslim countries and help the second generation, and the future third generation, to blend into our cultural space in the broadest sense. The better we integrate people in all areas, the safer it becomes for everyone in Estonia. However, sometimes we just seem to go along with the flow, drifting downstream. We should make our own decisions, even if they are unpalatable.
Director General of the Internal Security Service