Russia’s Threat to Estonia in the Next 24 Months


    Estonia-Russia relations are turbulent, due to several high profile diplomatic failures and tensions regarding Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Russian conventional military action against Estonia over the next 24 months is unlikely due to Estonian membership in multiple multilateral security agreements, and Russian dedication of military assets to its offensive actions against Ukraine. However, Estonia is still challenged with countering Russia’s hybrid warfare threats.

    Key Judgement 1: In the next 24 months, Russia is highly likely to employ misinformation techniques to attempt to gain support amongst the large Russian-native population within Estonia.

    • The Kremlin views Estonia’s membership in NATO and the EU, and therefore alliance with Western States, as a threat to its security, sovereignty, and autonomy [source].

    • Estonia has a large ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking community, accounting for up to 25% of the populace. This is due to Estonia’s former Soviet occupation, which ended in 1991 [source].

    • Russia has vowed to ‘protect the interests of all Ethnic Russian people’, highlighting its vested interest in appealing to this demographic [source].

    • Russia has a history of highly successful misinformation campaigns against the Baltic States. Much of this has been done by appealing to the shared cultural and linguistic ties of the Russian diaspora in Estonia [source]. Russia does so through several means, such as through radio, television, internet broadcasting, and social media campaigns [source].

    • Considering overwhelming Western disapproval of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Estonia has denounced repeatedly, misinformation will be critical to the Kremlin to control narratives and perspectives towards Russia within Estonia.

    Key Judgement 2: In the next 24 months, Russia is likely to continue cyber operations against Estonia, although Estonia maintains high resilience to such threats.

    • Russia maintains advanced cybersecurity capabilities, and consistent documented use of such means to target Estonian private and state organisations [source]. Russia has historically launched a mixture of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, website defacement, attacks against Data Name Servers (DNS), and mass email comment spam. Most commonly, these attacks target government servers and other public institutions [source].

    • These cyber-attacks occur on an immense scale, with Estonia being Russia’s main target for bot attacks [source]. The Estonian President stated that Estonia have experienced over 150 cyber-attacks per day in 2022 from Russian origins [source].

    • Estonia has high cyber operation readiness and resilience, with investment in cybersecurity increasing in recent years [source]. Similarly, Estonia takes part in multilateral cyber defence efforts, including the Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) [source].

    • In spite of this, Russia continues to launch cyber offensives against Estonia as part of its hybrid warfare strategy [source].

    Key Judgement 3: In the next 24 months, Russia and Estonia are unlikely to resolve border disputes through diplomatic and political dialogue. However, conventional military action against Estonia is unlikely.

    Russia's threat to Estonia
    (Img; A small area of Russian land cuts across Estonian territory, Named the ‘Saatse Boot’. This area was due to be ceded to Estonia in border treaties drafted in both 2005, and then 2014, but is still yet to be ratified; via RFERL)
    • Diplomatic relations between Tallinn and Moscow are poor, with diplomatic dialogue beginning in 2021 after two years of very limited political engagement [source]. Russia and Estonia both expelled diplomats from the reciprocal countries in 2021 due to alleged classified documentation leaks, although these leaks have not been independently verified [source, source].

    • Estonia has repeatedly condemned Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea [source], and the 2022 invasion of mainland Ukraine [source]. Russia recognises Crimea and Ukraine as sovereign to Russia.

    • In spite of this, both countries have shown significant interest in ratifying the treaty concerning the countries’ shared but disputed border [source]. Therefore, both countries are likely to continue to show interest in diplomatic dialogue for strategic reasons.

    • However, Russian conventional military action against Estonia is unlikely. Russia’s military assets are currently engaged in conflict in Ukraine, with progress being much slower than analysis prior to the invasion suggested [source, source].

    • Estonia is a member of multiple multilateral security agreements, including NATO membership and military agreements with the US, Switzerland, and the Baltic States [source]. As part of these agreements, Estonia has increased its military readiness, through increased international troop presence and increased military spending [source, source]. Therefore, Estonia and its allies boast asymmetric warfare capabilities against Russia’s current military availability [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 6th May 2022

    Abbi Clark
    Abbi Clark
    Abbi is a Grey Dynamics's Intel Manager and a graduate in Chinese Studies from the University of Nottingham with an MA in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University London.

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