Renewed: 22.12.2013, 15:12

07 November 2013 15:11

Editors Hans H. Luik and Priit Simson talk to Riho Terras: The nation of Estonia will fight to the last man

Editors Hans H. Luik and Priit Simson talk to Riho Terras: The nation of Estonia will fight to the last man Editors Hans H. Luik and Priit Simson talk to Riho Terras: The nation of Estonia will fight to the last man

Published in Eesti Ekspress; November 7, 2013

Russians recently tested Iskander ballistic missile system for the first time close to Estonian border, Commander of Estonian Defence Forces, MG Riho Terras says. Should we be concerned?

On our way here we discussed various things between each other and decided that neither one of us knows were we should be running to from our homes if Estonia was attacked. There is a joke: that Finland never importunes the Russians yet builds shelter bunkers below their houses, Estonia picks quarrels with the Russians but does not build bunkers.

I actually worked on this matter when I was with the Defence Ministry, though officially civilian protection is the Ministry of the Interior’s responsibility. Another example is that in time of conflict the Social Ministry would coordinate medical assistance at hospitals. The program has not progressed at the speed I would have liked. People really need to know where to go or find shelter during a conflict situation.

Have our forces learned from the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan? The Taliban’s tactics of concealment could be a positive example to the Estonian partisans or the Defence League, but in Syria there are urban battles, where the government is attacking with Russian artillery and tanks. In the defence of Estonia, which situation will be prominent, rural forest fighting or urban battles?

In a full out war, we will have no escape from neither. In an urban battle scenario the peaceful inhabitants should be evacuated. Countries that have unfriendly neighbours, for example South Korea or Taiwan, have border defence facilities. Estonia does not have these.

Fortifications are from the past. We must be manoeuvrable and know our own terrain. The forests and Lake Peipsi are our border defence facilities. We have urban battle training facilities at the Guard Battalion and the Kuperjanov Battalion.

By the way, if clearing an apartment building do we prefer to attack from the roof top downward or from the ground floor up?

From the top down.

The Estonian Defence Forces are prepared for urban battles. Our officers and soldiers are capable of decisions and commanding our units under intensive fire, much better than our opponents. We have learned this in actual battle situations and not simply in exercises.

Why has the Russian military exercise Zapad 2013 made people so anxious? Estonian counter intelligence states every year, that Russian military activity is enlarging. Is it finally happening? Is it true that the Swedes have brought their tanks to the island of Gotland?

Yes it is so. As of this past autumn the Swedes have realized that the pendulum of peace has moved since 2000. You can’t only go on expeditionary missions and forget to defend your own country. The awakening call was on Good Friday when Russian fighters flew within the Swedish borders and their own jet fighters could not respond in time to control them, whereas NATO Baltic Air Policing fighters were able to.

A Russian intelligence vessel sailed through the straights between Gotland and mainland Sweden, which has not happened since the Cold War. International agreements allow vessels to sail these straights but this does not occur in normal practice.

I hope the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium have taken a note the Russian activity. They have been like Snow White, in a deep slumber compared to the awakening with Norway or Turkey. The Russian have organized a comprehensive battle ready trial that reached the polar arctic dimensions. Zapad 2013 was part of that larger exercise. It was the first time since the Cold War that an exercise encompassed that large a mobilized force. Defensive exercises using civilian structures were conducted in Oblasts and and villages (The Russians do not have a voluntary Defence League like Estonia). Vehicles  in individual use were requisitioned. Large military units were repositioned without any major problems. Alarms went out to internal units and special forces in Moscow. NATO was told the total number involved was 13,000 to 15,000, but actually up to 100,000 men were called up.

The Air Force was deployed close to our border but again without any provocations. The Estonian border did not allow any „accidental“ border intrusions. But it was the first time that right close to our border an Iskander ballistic missile system was fired.

Goodness! It has a 900 kilo warhead and can fly up to 500 kilometers – out to Saaremaa for example. Sweden has no rockets at all. The Americans have written that the Iskander will fly up to 700 km, over the Gulf of Finland for example. How can the distance of same rocket be so differently rated?

(Humourously) With good weather they can fly farther, but their maximum distance is still 500 km. But there is no reason for concern, the Russians are not prepared nor have the need of attacking anyone right now.

Zapad 2013 was an impatient muscle flexing demonstration, as if to say „I can, if I want“. Russia has removed their conscripts and deployed professional active duty soldiers close to Baltic borders. The military units in Pihkva Oblast are well funded and well manned. But they have understood that they are not capable of vigorously developing new weapons like the T-90 tank. Instead they are equipping older T-72 tanks with modern computer controlled systems. This is definitely sign that they are attempting modernization that would come useful in modern days.

The Russian forces surprised the world during the Georgian war, in that they did not have night vision equipment, the Georgians of course did. Do the Pihkva special forces armoured vehicles and Smolensk attack helicopters have night vision capabilities? When will the Russians finish their own satellite communications and will no longer have to depend on the American GPS?

Our neighbours south eastern forces have procured powerful control systems. GLONASS has not started to be used yet, but the first signs show that in the near future it will happen and we must reckon with that. The Russian are capable of having modern helicopter projects or modern technological projects but they can only produce solitary examples and not on a large scale. We are more concerned about the attack helicopters and transport helicopters that are now situated by our border.

In Ostrov, by the Latvian border there is a helicopter regiment?


There are M-35 attack helicopters along with digital fire control in Smolensk. There is a new camp in Vladimirsk that was not there previously with 4000 personnel, rockets and artillery: the new Uragan that can rake the terrain 70 kilometers away. France additionally is building two Mistral amphibious assault ships that Ansip once said that it was a bluff, those ships will never arrive. Should we protest in front of the French embassy?

Those soft shelled ships, without defensive systems are still in dry dock and their so-called assault capabilities will not affect the Baltic nations, because we can be easily attacked by land, if they so desire. I believe the whole show of strength by the Russian forces centred here in the Baltics simply is a ruse, meant to hide their own defence problems. Real military challenges are lurking by the Russian Chinese border and in the Caucasus. Here in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania they have little to win, if anything at all. They realize that war is won by the force that has the most friends and NATO has no opponents for domination in the skies.

We are able support the activities of one mobilized brigade with our Mistral short range rocket launcher. We have plenty of rockets. Our radars work efficiently deep into our eastern neighbour's territory. We just procured new radar systems with Finland.

Eesti Ekspress wrote in the Spring that Estonian junior officers salaries are less than Russian junior officers. This was surprising. Upon this discovery you raised the junior officers salary to somewhere around 1200 Euros. Interesting competition. Still at the same time do Russians really need to spend money in their northwestern sector?

Russian officers don’t want to live somewhere deep in Siberia. They want to be in northwestern Russia which has always been a developed area of Russia and thanks to the military exercise Zapad 2013 they are learning how to rapidly move large strategic units. From mid Russia to here and back again. In my opinion they are insuring their western border, in four years conventionally doubling their presence. At the same time they are able to bring bring their forces from Siberia to here quickly. The Soviet military was also constantly at the western border. Over 300 military facilities were built in Soviet Estonia. The movement of forces to the western border was a strategic signal to the west then and still is to this day.

The Russian northwestern and western border forces are stilled manned mostly by professional soldiers. At the same time one can speculate that if the FSB were to initiate a security company somewhere in Australia for example, that were to offer our Scouts Battalion members $3000 USD per month, our Scouts Battalion would be very quickly empty of personnel? Our eagles are currently stuck somewhere in India.

Russia is going towards a professional army. We have remained to true and to our concept, whereby we maintain our reserves from a trained conscript base.

The Estonian Defence Forces has 3150 cadre members and our goal is to take that to 3570 by 2022. When it comes to movement of the Scouts Battalion active duty members, then I don’t believe the young men of the Scouts Battalion should remain there 10 or 20 years. When they come back from operations abroad, they have a little extra start up capital and experience which they can sell. As we see, the martime security companies pay well, of course the risks are higher and the work not very enjoyable. At some point they will get sick of this and come back. We are not going to compete with these conflict area security companies where quite probably they are currently being paid $3000. I have no problem if an officer ends his military agreement for a couple of years to do something else and then comes back to his service. We have calculated this into our development plans. The Defence Forces do not require our members to be with us for 50 years. If someone else outbids us, then fine – we let them go and train someone else to replace him. Estonia wins economically in this scenario.

The salary raise in the Spring brought Estonian Defence Forces members close to the top level in governmental employee salaries. We stopped the mass migration from the military, Scouts Battalion which was at 50% capacity is currently at 85%. NCOs in the Kuperjanov Battalion are arranging house mortgages for the first time, there is a feeling of assurity. Finally, the Russian junior officers pay raise came just prior to the presidential election, they have now been greatly decreased.

Of all of the NATO nations the Baltic border is most unbalanced border in that our traditional enemies as the chronicles state strongly outnumber us. We figure since our population is so small, there is no way we can properly defend ourselves. For example if 12,000 of our young men were to die in a conflict, our nations future population would be in jeopardy. Can someone take a white flag and surrender? Or is this legally not possible? In todays society, is the sanctity of our borders more important than life?

Of course war is always a crazy situation and a catastrophe, but Estonia must fight to the bitter end. Even in an occupation situation. I do not conceive of a white flag waver. Estonia must be defended, that’s it!

You have initiated a strong drill atmosphere in the military, push ups and two mile runs. Former Commander Estonian Defence Forces, Ants Laaneots said that our youth are macaronis. Now, I understand that some officers, like media favourite, Lieutenant Colonel Peeter Tali must wait a while for his next promotion until he is more proficient in his physical testing. Did your son enlist as soon as he was called up?

Yes, my son chose mandatory service this year. He was in University for a year and then decided to volunteer for service, I was of course very pleased by this. He wants to become a battalion fire base commanding officer. In basic training he received 297 points out of a total of 300 in his physical test. Sports tests were previously in the military, they were not especially stressed upon. Now I train as do others.

The other thing I require is shooting ability and I initiated a shooting instructor system.  You win wars, if you shoot better than your enemy.

It was brought out in the news that only three quarters of policemen know how to shoot which means a quarter do not know how to. How are the Defence Forces?

(Somewhat morosely) The Commander of the Defence Forces shooting competition was still won by the police force.

How virile are Estonian officers? The Russians Commanders behind our border have so-called killed with their own hands by commanding forces in the Caucasus and Afghanistan. Some have visited our units.

I have had meetings with them in their headquarters. They are real warriors. We have amicably shared war stories.

What percentage of our forces are combat officers and what percentage are ballroom officers?

I do not know what a ballroom officer is. Since my first day in the Defence Forces, the first three-four years were very serious. I slept at my desk and there was not a ballroom anywhere. As the military attache in Germany and in Warsaw, I was responsible for bringing the Milan anti tank rocket launcher and artillery to Estonia. Those 2000 vehicles that are in the various units were negotiated at German receptions and saunas.

The former Minister of Defence, Jürgen Ligi, said once that the Defence Forces should be totally a professional military. This decision was part of the Reform Party platform program. He may have said what he said but still thanks to his realistic vision, Ligi never wrote a single order to that effect. Where would we be today with a professional army?

The professional armed forces idea was not pressed upon by Ligi, but actually NATO,  that at the time was very involved in international operations. All the member nations were pressed upon. As is the case in Latvia, where now it is clear that due to their professional army, they have no reserves to mobilize in time of crisis. Even worse since they have no mandatory service, their youth have absolutely no contact with the military. We have been able to convince NATO, and honestly even convince Latvia and Lithuania but you can not change past political decisions. The Latvian Defence League is also small comparably to their size of their territory, 8000 members to the 13,000 in our Defence League.

You were the military attache in Germany when Herman Simm betrayed Estonia and sold our mobilization chain of command and command structure military secrets. Did you know that Simm was also a German spy additionally to his being a Russian spy? Germany kept quiet initially but then formally apologized to Estonia. Have you heard the apology?

Edward Lucas told me that he was a German spy. All of Herman Simm’s treason has cost the Republic of Estonia a lot. The command structure had to be redone. Several other things as well. I have not heard an apology. Simm is a real lowlife.

What else have our troops learned in conflict missions? How is it possible that without anything similar to a West Point education, the Taliban is able to so effectively and logistically organize the removal of casualties from a battle before sunset? As well as destroy the Allied armoured vehicles without any air power support.

When a country has been at war for over 30 years, that is their military academy.

They cannot read or write but know very well how to manuoever in familiar territory against their enemy, it is in their blood. But the Taliban has a hard time finding commanders among themselves anymore, the most recent leaders have come from outside their country, mainly from Pakistan. After NATO leaves, I believe Afghanistan should choose a monarchy as head of a relatively flexible tribal society.

Is it true, what one of our intelligence members revealed: that he grew a beard, learned a few local phrases and moved about Afghanistan gathering information like a local?

All military intelligence members have beards there, you are not considered a full man without a beard. Our intelligence gatherers and unit leaders had good results in discussions with locals as well as with Afghan national army members.

And the last question: Where will the next mission be for Estonians? Is it in Mali,  Africa, where our reporters spotted Estonian troops? Are our troops using VW Touareg SUVs there to get to the Touareg people?

We have six men in Mali. One is involved in intelligence analysis, the others are training Mali soldiers, basically conscripts in the use of firearms. Intelligence shows that the situation is, due to the timely intervention of the French, under control. If the oil rich country of Nigeria was in conflict, there would be cause for alarm. The Touaregs have been dislocated in four different countries due to set borders, they have to be assisted by the Mali government in discussions towards autonomy. The VW Touareg SUV is too expensive for the Estonian Defence Forces.

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at], Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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