Russia fighting against Estonian mobile operators

  • 2024-02-12
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Russia has built hundreds of new cell towers on the Estonian border -- recently high-speed internet was cut off in the Pskov region near the border and now the authorities in this region want to suppress the signals of all Estonian operators, the daily Postimees writes.

Commander of the Estonian defense forces Gen. Martin Herem assumes that Russia is interfering with mobile communications on the territory of Estonia because it is preparing for a conflict with NATO. According to him, disturbances in the operation of satellite navigation systems (Global Positioning System -- GPS) increased in the Baltic countries in 2023.

Moreover, there has been a particular increase in these activities in the last month and this has been registered from Finland to Poland and from there to the Black Sea region.

"Someone is causing this and we think it's Russia," Herem said, adding that Moscow may be playing with the disturbances, so to speak, against the background of the risk of a possible future conflict with NATO.

In a recent publication, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also focuses on GPS disruptions in the Baltic region. The organization notes that recent disruptions are prompting speculation about the potential operation of Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems in the region.

At the same time, Mikhail Vedernikov, the governor of the Pskov region, is directly demonstrating that Russia is preparing to fight Estonia on the telecom front. He recently proposed that relevant Russian authorities review electromagnetic radiation regulations and abandon frequency use agreements in border areas. According to him, this is necessary in order to reduce the influence of base stations of communication operators of unfriendly countries in border areas.

Above all, Vedernikov intends to fight against the so-called suppression of Russian mobile communications by Estonian operators. He believes that Estonian operators are violating signed agreements on the use of frequencies in border areas. At the same time, in recent years, nearly 100 more masts have been installed alongside the base stations already located in the small settlements of the Pskov region. There has been no such active construction on the Estonian side.

Despite this, Vedernikov thinks that Russia has the strictest standards in the world for the power of mobile communication transmitters, which is why Estonian base stations are suppressing the Russian signal.

"In the US and Europe, the permitted limit is 10 times higher," Vedernikov said. "The question is not so much about convenience, but about ensuring national and informational security."

He did not provide details about which area near the border would be at risk from foreign electromagnetic fields, but concluded that the implementation of international agreements must be suspended and the power of Russian transmitters increased several times.

Currently, all the main mobile operators in the Pskov region, which are MTS, MegaFon, Beeline and Tele2, can place their devices in the same base stations. Previously, each cell tower could belong to only one operator. Now they share infrastructure with each other.

In addition, mobile communication companies in the Pskov region also use the technological infrastructure created by PJSC Rostelecom, Russia's largest home internet operator. This means that Estonian frequencies with the whole world are disrupted in this way.

Estonian telecom companies issue no comment on this situation. For example, Telia explained that since this is a political issue, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) must be approached.

"As a rule, it is agreed which frequencies are used by one country and which by the other, in this case no radio interference is caused to each other. Such an approach is standard international practice," Erko Kulu, head of the frequency management department at the TTJA, told Rus.Postimees.

He added that the fulfillment of valid coordination agreements is regularly checked by both the Russian communications regulator and the Estonian communications regulator.

"In case of deviation, the neighbor is informed and the distribution is adjusted," Kulu said. "From time to time there are deviations on both sides of the border, this is a common phenomenon with radio frequencies in border areas, which occurs with several neighboring countries."

Estonia's official communications regulator has not yet received complaints from Russia regarding the violation of the frequency agreement in the border areas.

Residents of border areas on the Estonian side constantly end up in the zone of Russian mobile communication networks. Tourists in Setomaa in particular are issued the warning that they may accidentally end up in a Russian network along the border. Local residents have known about this danger for a long time.