- Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership means that the Baltic Sea will be surrounded by NATO states – and Russia.
- Estonia’s defense minister told Insider he would view it as a “NATO sea” that could deter Russia.
- This would allow countries in the region to act faster and make better use of military equipment, he said.
Russia‘s western neighbors are poised to form a “NATO sea” that could allow them to make collective defense decisions and deter Russia, Estonia’s defense minister told Insider.
Hanno Pevkur said that the prospect of Sweden and Finland joining NATO would make the Baltic Sea “a NATO inner sea” – all the countries bordering it, except the Russia, being members of the military alliance.
Russia has used the Gulf of Finland, where St. Petersburg is located, for naval exercises since invading Ukraine, including in response to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join the EU. NATO.
But if the region were surrounded by NATO countries, Russia could be deterred from carrying out attacks, Pevkur said.
Being part of NATO would allow regional neighbors to work as “a unified operational space”, which could improve their “land, air, maritime, intelligence, cyber and all other capabilities”, he said.
It could lead to new agreements on joint control of the airspace around or over parts of the Baltic Sea, including the possibility of closing it; and joint surveillance of the sea, including the decision to limit who can sail there, Pevkur said.
NATO expands around the sea
Russia’s invasion prompted Sweden and Finland to join NATO, and most current NATO members have ratified their membership. The two nations are currently in talks with Turkey over its concerns, and a resolution is awaited.
Pevkur noted that parts of the Baltic Sea are international waters, but said that with Sweden and Finland as members, he would consider it a “NATO sea”.
Perhaps more importantly, it “enables faster and deeper sharing of information, which is the basis for better and faster decisions,” he said.
“All of this will most certainly have a chilling effect” on Russia, he said.
Talks for new deals like the ones Pevkur wants are already underway, such as work on a new Baltic defense deal with Latvia and Lithuania.
Pevkur also said he hoped the Baltic Sea countries could unify their coastal defenses. He would like to see, for example, an agreement between Estonia and Finland that would see their missiles with the range to reach the entire Gulf of Finland. No formal discussion about it has taken place, he said.
Estonia defended Ukraine
Estonia, like other countries close to Russia, has strengthened its defenses for a possible attack.
Estonia, a member of NATO and the EU, gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is one of the countries most determined to help Ukraine: it has given more aid to Ukraine as a percentage of its GDP than any other country since the Russian invasion, and gave Ukraine anti-tank missiles even before the invasion began.
Russia reacted to this, with Estonia declaring in June that Russia was simulating missile attacks against it.
Pevkur said Estonia also received cyberattacks from Russia “on a daily basis”, but they weren’t very effective because Estonia was prepared.
“We were ready for this. We are already training to counter-attack or to be ready for this type of attack, since 2007, when the first large-scale cyberattack was carried out by Russia against Estonia”, a- he declared.
He said Russia currently seemed too focused on physically attacking Ukraine to do anything else, but Estonia still needed to be prepared, as Russia’s other neighbors are doing.
This includes boosting its national defense capabilities, including buying more weapons and achieving Pevkur’s goal of doubling the size of the Estonian Defense League, its voluntary national defense group.
“We all understand that even when NATO troops are here … the first line of defense is the Estonian Defense Forces with the Defense League,” he said.
The number of NATO troops in Estonia has also increased since the Russian invasion. Pevkur told Insider the number is currently around 2,000 and he expects it to grow.
Pevkur said he also plans to improve accommodation and training areas for Estonian troops so they can attract more NATO forces.
“Estonia must be ready to fight,” he said.