The small Baltic nation of Estonia is teaching citizens how to fight an insurgency war in case Russia decides to invade.
Estonian citizens compete in weekend competitions intended to teach them the skills necessary to mount an insurgency war. The events are held nearly by the Estonian Defense League, a government-sponsored militia group, nearly every weekend.
Estonia’s military is comprised of around 6,000 active forces, a tiny sum in comparison to the massive Russian military stationed near the country’s eastern border. The government knows it would not survive long in a conventional fight with Russia, so it instead plans to engage in a nation-wide insurgency.
“The best deterrent is not only armed soldiers, but armed citizens, too,” Estonian Brig. Gen. Meelis Kiili, the head of the Estonian Defense League, told the New York Times.
Many eastern European countries witnessed Russia’s invasion of Crimea and worry they could be next. In response, Estonia is encouraging its citizens to learn tactics similar to those used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the use of IEDs.
“They scared us,” Jaan Vokk, a retired Estonian army corporal who served in Afghanistan, told NYT. “And a Russian is just a human being as well. He would be scared.”
The league also trains citizens in skills like marksmanship, basic first aid and enemy evasion. Vivika Barnabas, a coordinator for the militia, recently participated in an overnight evasion exercise with some of her female militia members.
“It’s cold and you lie on the ground, looking up at the stars and hearing shooting and footsteps nearby,” she told NYT. “It wasn’t so bad because we slept cuddled together. They didn’t find us.”
The Estonian government encourages defense league members to keep stashes of clothes, canned foods and ammunition ready in case of a Russian invasion. Around 15,500 people currently participate in the militia organization. The league also sponsors boy and girl scout organizations, adding another 9,000 potential insurgents.
Estonia has a history of engaging in insurgency campaigns against foreign occupiers. Partisans fought both the Nazis and the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century.
Several eastern European countries are preparing for a potential insurgency against Russia, including Poland. While both Estonia and Poland are NATO members, neither country is operating under the assumption that the U.S. and the rest of Europe will come to their aid should the Russians invade.
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