TALLINN - A Russian submarine that recently went undetected in Estonia's economic zone has raised questions about the level of maritime security in the Baltic state and, oddly enough, relations with Finland.
According to reports, a Russian submarine entered the waters of Estonia's economic zone in the Gulf of Finland sometime at the end of October. While not entirely out of the ordinary, the incident was odd in that Finland apparently knew of the submarine's presence in the area but had failed to inform Estonian authorities.
Interior Minister Juri Pihl, speaking on Nov. 1, said that he did not believe that Finnish officials deliberately misled their Baltic cousins. Rather, it was most likely a miscommunication, he said.
"Cooperation should become more effective. Apparently they had some kind of mistake," Pihl told a press conference.
Though Estonia joined NATO in 2004, Finland remains a neutral state.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip tried to downplay the incident, saying that there was nothing Estonia could do about the presence of Russian military ships in its economic waters.
"By itself the constant movement of ships in the economic zone is legal. The law isn't violated by it," he said. "If the ships entered territorial waters without a preliminary agreement with Estonian authorities, then that of course would be a violation of the corresponding rules."
Generally a nation's territorial waters extend approximately 20 miles from the coast, while its economic zone extends further. Every nation enjoys exclusive rights to exploit the resources in its economic zone but cannot forbid passage of ships 's and submarines 's from other countries.
"Of course, we don't want to watch how submarines charter a course beneath our nose," Ansip continued. "We don't like it, but they have the right to do it."
The incident also highlighted how little Estonia knew what was taking place in its economic waters. Ants Toomepuu, a former Soviet border guard, said that the government had little concept of what was going on in its waters.
He was cited by ETV24 as saying that Soviet submarines had routes they charted in Estonia water 's then part of the U.S.S.R. 's and that if the routes still existed then the Baltic state has no chance to detect them with its current resources.
Tarmo Kouts, former chief of Estonia's armed forces, said that previously there had been plans to create a submarine detection system, but they fell by the wayside due to a lack of funds and political will.
Mati Terve, a border guard official, was quoted as saying that five or six submarines enter Estonia's economic zone per year.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has boosted its military presence, albeit symbolically, in the sky and seas. Recently it launched regular patrols of strategic bombers, something that in the early years after the break-up of the Soviet Union it could not afford to do.
Shipping traffic in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland has soared in recent years after Russia opened a major oil export terminal in Primorsk on the eastern coast of the gulf.
In addition, Russia and Germany intend to build a 5 billion euro underwater natural gas pipeline, a project that Estonia has criticized and refused to cooperate with.
Environmentalists fear that the surge in ship traffic and pipeline construction will lead to catastrophic consequences.