TALLINN - Members of the Estonian government discussed on Thursday the state's preparedness to cope with the consequences of a possible escalation in Russia's military action in Ukraine, mapping the readiness for the full range of broad-based national defense.
There is no direct military threat to Estonia but every person and organization must be prepared for the impact of hostilities expanding in Ukraine, spokespeople for the government said.
"Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders and aggressive behavior towards European security is forcing us to thoroughly prepare for a crisis accompanying an escalation in hostilities," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.
The prime minister underscored that in addition to allied relations, independent defense capability and broad-based national defense are the elements that form the foundation of Estonia's security.
"As a society, we need to be ready for an influx of war refugees, worsening of the energy crisis and cyber attacks as well as a broader economic and social impact. The government has a plan for increasing the state's preparedness and coping with such situations. Members of the government introduced the corresponding activities in their field. In the process, we have mapped the bottlenecks that still need to be thought out and which require more action," Kallas said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets said that in the tense security policy situation, the key task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to maintain close communication with the allies, be prepared to support Estonian citizens in Ukraine and actively work in international organizations.
"The ministry's primary task is to prevent an escalation but we're ready to help Ukraine and our citizens in all case of all possible developments," Liimets said.
Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet said that Estonia will continue fulfilling its military national defense and defense policy objectives, the process of which has been expedited by the government's recent agreement to allocate an additional sum of 380 million euros for strengthening the country's security.
"Collective defense works and by now, Estonia's independence defense capability has been fully integrated with NATO's defense solution," he noted. Laanet said that Estonia has a busy period of training ahead of it on land, in the air and at sea.
"In the context of military exercises, the highlight of the year in Estonia will be the Siil 2022 [Hedgehog 2022] exercise. We all have a role in national defense -- in military national defense, every quill counts."
Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani said that the situation in Estonia and on the external border is calm, however, the state needs to be prepared for every situation.
"Complicated circumstances often hit us unexpectedly, but we need to remain united," the minister said. "In such cases preparations are needed from organizations of the state, local governments and the private sector and, of course, the preparedness of every individual is also needed," Jaani said. "Voluntary contribution is also crucial and everyone should think in which field they could be of assistance."
Local governments have a particularly important role during possible crises.
"It is local government who have to ensure the availability of vital services and coping of people in crisis situations," Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab said. "Therefore, all ministries and public agencies must discuss their plans with local governments at length and in detail and rehearse said plans during crisis exercises. The process is coordinated by the Rescue Board through regional crisis committees. In a crisis situation, everyone must know how to act."
An escalation of tensions in Ukraine may entail effects in the region on the economy more broadly as well as on energy security and cyber security.
"The task of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is to prevent and resolve disruptions in the functionality of services and the impacts of the crisis on the country's economy and security of supply," Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas said.
Minister of Entrepreneurship and IT Andres Sutt said that the threat of a military escalation in Ukraine has significantly worsened cyber security.
"The Estonian digital society greatly depends on its communications and information systems and electronic services, and therefore we must pay heightened attention to our cyber security," he said, adding that the importance of cyber security has been highlighted for years and now, action must ensue that indeed improves the level of security.
"Heads of businesses and agencies must first and foremost be the ones to take care of the basic security of their communications and IT systems as well as their back-up plans and crisis preparedness," Sutt said. He added that the state can assist in resolving cyber incidents with its central capabilities; however, the responsibility of taking precautions and having a back-up plan lies with heads of organizations. Every individual, too, can improve their preparedness in cyber security. Everyone who uses e-services in Estonia should have three ways for identifying themselves -- with an ID card, via mobile ID and Smart ID."
Under the remit of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the security situation becoming tenser in Ukraine first and foremost affects the food sector. The ministry has mapped possible risks and is mitigating them in cooperation with other institutions, umbrella organizations in the sector as well as with businesses that have an important role in terms of security of food supply.
"The impact of an escalation in the crisis in Ukraine may materialize through foreign workers partially returning to Ukraine as well as through a possible hike in the price of energy carriers or temporary problems in ensuring security of supple," Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse said, adding that while the Estonian food sector remains strong and is generally ready for crises, all people should have a reasonable supply of essential products available at home.
The Ministry of Culture gave an overview, according to which Ukrainians are the second largest minority in Estonia with over 12,000 Ukrainian nationals living in Estonia at present while the total number of Ukrainians in the country is around 30,000. The number of Ukrainians has increased in Estonia over the past few years.
The Ukrainian community is strong in Estonia and their representative organizations have been reliable and good partners to the state for years. Minister of Culture Tiit Terik said that it is particularly important during a crisis.
"Organizations help maintain coherence within the community and provide reliable information. The Ukrainian Cultural Center in Tallinn has previously helped Ukraine in crisis situations. For example, the center has delivered humanitarian aid, including financial aid, to Ukrainians injured and wounded in the war in eastern Ukraine. The state, in turn, provides financial support to these organizations, and this assistance will continue."
The government convenes to discuss the security situation in every two weeks or as needed.