Foreign policy and defense
Estonia is a nation in Northern Europe. Its capital city is Tallinn. Estonia’s membership in NATO and in the EU from 2004 forms the basis of the country’s security and foreign policy. Estonia is one of America’s most faithful allies. Relations with Russia are complicated and have deteriorated in recent years in the tense conflict between NATO and the Moscow government.
Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and the subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine created concern among the Estonians that Russian provocations should also be directed at their own country. NATO began to build up a military presence in Estonia (see below), which in turn was answered with more Russian maneuvers near the Baltic States and repeated violations of Estonian airspace.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Estonia for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
When US President Barack Obama visited Tallinn in September 2014, he gave the country an assurance of US and NATO support. NATO’s desire to guard its eastern flank was challenged later that month when Russia seized an Estonian intelligence officer at the border and accused him of spying. According to Russia, the arrest took place on Russian soil, but according to Estonia, he was carried away by weapons threats from the Estonian side. Estonia then decided to erect a fence with high-tech surveillance along the Russian border.
For harsh sanctions against Russia
Russia has long accused Estonia of discriminating against its Russian minority and has demanded that Russian be an official language in Estonia and that all Russians there should have the right to vote. Therefore, when Russia motivated the annexation of Crimea with the need to protect the Russian-speaking population of the peninsula, it raised concerns in western countries that the Russian-dominated Narva area was also threatened. In Tallinn, however, these speculations have been rejected as baseless.
Since the independence of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has wanted to enter into a border agreement with Russia. One of these was closed after tough negotiations in 2005 but was torn up in disagreement. Following new negotiations, in the spring of 2014, signs of a new agreement came, but just over a week later Russia invaded Crimea and the border agreement was not ratified.
Estonia has been a leading voice within NATO and the EU for vigorous reactions to Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. Estonia has advocated continued EU sanctions against the Russian government, despite the country’s significant exports falling due to the import ban imposed by Russia in response to EU sanctions.
Estonia has used its experience of EU adaptation to seek to approach other former Soviet republics to the EU, primarily Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. A priority in Estonia’s foreign policy is the Eastern Partnership, the EU’s deepening of relations with these three countries, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Democratization and stability in the immediate area are crucial to Estonia’s security policy.
Faithful NATO and the United States
Estonia has close cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania, including in regular governmental meetings, the Baltic Parliamentary Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers. Baltic sea cooperation, especially on energy and environmental issues, is also important. Relations are close with Finland and Sweden, which are major investors and trading partners.
Following the liberation from the Soviet Union, Estonia built up its own defense force with support from the Nordic countries in the form of military training and equipment. Selective military duty prevails. There is also a voluntary protection corps, similar to the home defense.
Estonia sees the NATO membership as its primary security guarantee and the country is committed to being loyal to the United States and other NATO members. Estonian troops were included in the 2003 US-led operation in Iraq and Estonia has participated in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as in UN forces in Lebanon and Mali. Estonia is one of the few NATO countries that meets the Alliance’s requirement that two percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) should go to defense.
Estonia’s desire for NATO to deploy troops in the country was fulfilled after the Russian annexation of Crimea, when the United States sent 150 NATO soldiers to practice with the Estonian military. At the same time, Nato placed four fighter planes at the Ämari air base to monitor Estonia’s airspace. Weapons and equipment were also stored in the country. An Estonian request to expand NATO’s presence in the country was obeyed in 2016, when Nato maneuvered with 6,000 men in Estonia and decided to station about 1,000 soldiers there. The new NATO troops arrived in early 2017. Since 2008, NATO has had a cyber security center in Estonia.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 5,700 men (2017)
The air Force: 500 men (2017)
The fleet: 400 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.1 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 5.2 percent (2017)
Vigorous race for GDP
In the wake of the financial crisis, Estonia’s GDP fell by more than 14 percent during the year.
The opposition takes power locally in Tallinn
The opposition wins the municipal election in the capital Tallinn, where the Center Party’s controversial leader Edgar Savisaar becomes mayor with the support of the Social Democrats.
Budget cuts divide the government
The government is split after budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis, with, among other things, reduced public wages. The Social Democrats leave the coalition, and the Reform Party and the right-wing Alliance IRL rule in a minority under Andrus Ansip’s leadership.