TALLINN - The agreement on establishing the new NATO Cooperative Center of Excellence in Cyber Defense in Estonia was signed in Brussels on May 14 as The Baltic Times went to press.
The document, which provides funding and staff for the center, was signed by top military personnel from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Germany and Slovakia.
The center of excellence is a first for the Baltics. It is both the first center of excellence in the region and the first NATO center to deal with cyber threats.
Estonian authorities made it clear that this breakthrough was a major coup.
"I am very proud that the center of excellence will be established in our country...I am quite sure it will live up to the hopes and standards [that are] expected for it," said Peeter Kuimet, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense.
The center will help NATO fight cyber attacks, analyze information and work out how and where attacks are coming from. The United States will contribute to the project by sending a specialist to Estonia.
Maj. Raul Rikk, head of the project, expressed personal pride in what has been accomplished.
"Of course I am [proud]," he said.
The commander of the Estonian Defense Forces appointed Lt. Col. Ilmar Tall, an Estonian citizen, to run the center as of Aug 1.
The center of excellence will be fully operational from August 2008. This means that the project is running ahead of schedule.
The center will be staffed by specialists from Estonia and other NATO countries and will be accredited, if everything goes to plan, by the end of January 2009.
The plan is for the center to become an international military organization within NATO.
The center still has to receive final approval from a NATO military committee and has to be endorsed by the North Atlantic Council, the highest political body of NATO, but these approvals are expected to be a formality.
The center of excellence is not a result of the cyber attacks on Estonia last year. As reported by The Baltic Times earlier this year, the plan for the establishment came out of proposals first put to NATO back in 2005. General plans to create a cyber center date back to 2003.
However, the center was created because the Estonian military saw the threat of cyber attacks, Rikk told The Baltic Times.
"The cyber attacks in May  just raised understanding among the people who don't work in the IT field every day. Now they understand that there is a real threat in cyberspace," Rikk told The Baltic Times.
The cyber attacks last year occurred after extensive rioting over a decision to relocate a memorial commemorating Estonia's "liberation" from Nazi forces by Soviet troops. The Estonian government considers the ensuing onset of the Soviet regime to be an occupation.
Many Estonian businesses and banks, as well as government Web sites, were hit by the attacks.
The center lies opposite the site where the Bronze soldier was relocated.