Sten Hankewitz

Sten Hankewitz is a lifelong journalist and Deputy Editor at Estonian World. Having lived in Estonia, Spain, the UK and all around the US, he now resides in Chicago, IL. He loves to write and besides working at Estonian World and doing some occasional blogging, he writes books and contributes to other outlets in Estonia, Israel and elsewhere. He has strong convictions and he shows them unashamedly. You can follow him on Twitter, like his page on Facebook or check out his personal blog. You can write to Sten at

Defence think tank recommends NATO to implement a Baltic Air Defence mission

The Estonian think tank, the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) recommends in a recent study NATO to transition the current Baltic Air Policing mission to an Air Defence mission to increase the presence of the alliance’s air assets in the region to face a potential danger from Russia.

The study, commissioned by the defence committee of the Estonian parliament, on the strategic balance in the Baltic Sea region, is intended to contribute to the discussion on the optimum NATO military posture in the region.

According to it, Russia follows an increasingly aggressive anti-Western policy of revisionism and has become a direct and open threat to NATO. “It is implementing an ambitious military modernisation programme and has demonstrated a tendency to use force against weaker neighbours,” the think tank says.

However, NATO’s overall superiority “vis-à-vis Russia is not reflected equally in the Baltic Sea region, especially by taking into account geography and force postures”. The report adds that NATO’s military power is not sufficiently available in the region.

Russian Su-27 near Estonian airspace in 2013

Even though the report concedes that Russia will strive to avoid a full-scale war with NATO, “it could be tempted, nevertheless, while being guided by misperceptions, to provoke and exploit a ‘local conflict’ to test and undermine” NATO.

However, the current NATO defence presence in the Baltic Sea region is, according to the study, “inadequate for the effective deterrence by denial”, meaning persuading the enemy not to attack by convincing it that its attack will be defeated. The ICDS says that credible NATO deterrence requires an optimum balance between deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment.

The think tank advises NATO to “clearly” acknowledge the Russian threat and to treat it as a strategic long-term challenge.

“Effective deterrence requires a clearly increased presence of allied forces in the region,” the ICDS says. “NATO’s forward defence has to move from a symbolic to a meaningful presence. The Alliance’s forward presence must balance two key aspects: military effectiveness and multinationality. Military effectiveness requires the forces to be combat ready. The United States should exercise leadership by providing the framework and certain key capabilities, which would then be complemented by contributions from other allies.”

An F-22 Raptor pilot from the 95th Fighter Squadron based at Tyndall Air Force

“In terms of manoeuvre formations, the baseline consideration should be brigade-sized units,” the study adds. “A continuous presence of two brigades would be necessary, in addition to the indigenous forces of the Baltic countries.”

In addition, the ICDS says an increased presence of air assets, including transition from Air Policing mission to Air Defence, and maintenance of a robust naval presence in the Baltic Sea, is required.

The full report, titled “Strengthening the Strategic Balance in the Baltic Sea Area”, can be found on the ICDS website.


Cover: an F-22 Raptor (courtesy of USAF).

Estonia to promote the country in Beijing

The Estonian embassy in Beijing, together with other government agencies, is organising a week-long promotion week for Estonia in the Chinese capital with cultural events, thus celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations with China.

The events, running from 25 April to 1 May, organised in cooperation with the ministry of rural affairs, the ministry of culture, the foreign ministry and Enterprise Estonia, will promote the country from various perspectives, culinary traditions as well as cultural treasures, including the work of Estonian chefs, the wild and pure food and beverages of Estonia, the opportunities for the Chinese tourists for culinary and health tourism in Estonia and culinary travel routes throughout Estonia and in the wider Nordic-Baltic region.

Estonian embassy in Beijing I

The programme also includes Estonian music performances, art, and design.

Merike Estna by Aime Estna

There will be two week-long events – the offering of Estonian food menus at the Grill 79 restaurant at the China World Summit Wing, and an awarded Estonian barman, Kristo Tomingas, at the popular Atmosphere bar on the China World Summit Hotel’s 80th floor. These events feature an Estonian chef, Inga Paenurm, who will be preparing Estonian dinner and lunch menus as well as a brunch menu on 1 May.

Maarja-Liis Ilus

The week will also present three Estonian musical guest to the Chinese audience – pianist Rein Rannap and singer Maarja-Liis Ilus will be performing.

Kris Lemsalu

In addition to the food and the music, a tourism seminar will be held at the embassy with a special focus on culinary and health tourism. Also, a contemporary art exhibition by will be opened at the 798 Art Zone, featuring five emerging Estonian contemporary artists: Flo Kasearu, Kris Lemsalu, Merike Estna, Katrin Koskaru and Sigrid Viir.


Cover: the China World Summit Wing.

Estonian internet voting software used in Utah Republican caucus

Estonian-developed internet voting software was used in the Utah Republican caucus where the Utah Republicans voted to choose the party’s nominee for president in the 2016 election.

At the caucus, the voters had the opportunity to vote using traditional methods or to vote online. For online voting, the Utah Republican Party used a secure i-voting system developed by the Smartmatic-Cybernetica Internet Voting Centre of Excellence that is based in Estonia.

Sven Heiberg, the CEO of the centre said it was created as a joint venture between Cybernetica and Smartmatic, two global leaders in electronic voting systems.

“The software used in the Utah [caucus] was developed in Estonia, but for the Estonian elections, we use a different system due to the differences in the local infrastructure,“ Heiberg said. Namely, Estonia uses its ID-card infrastructure for secure authentication and digital signature purposes, while in Utah, all voters had to pre-register in order to be eligible to vote online.

The system has also been used in Chile, where eligible voters in the Maipu region were engaged in the budgetary decision making.

The Smartmatic-Cybernetica Centre for Excellence for Internet Voting was created in 2014 as a multidisciplinary centre of research and development. Its goal is to study and develop the process of voting over the Internet from all angles: social, political, organisational, procedural and technological.

Ted Cruz won the Utah caucus that was held on 22 March.

In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world where people could vote online. As of now, every third person in the country votes online, without needing to go to a polling station.


Cover image by Shutterstock.

Russian jets make aggressive passes of US warship in the Baltic Sea

Two Russian Su-24 jets made multiple aggressive passes of US warship USS Donald Cook, a US Navy destroyer, in the Baltic Sea where the Navy vessel was operating in international waters.

According to the US Navy, USS Donald Cook encountered multiple, aggressive flight manoeuvres by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship. The incidents occurred on 11 and 12 April.

On 11 April, “Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 pm local,” the Navy said in a statement. “One of the passes, which occurred while the allied helicopter was refuelling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship’s commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the Su-24s departed the area.”

On 12 April, while the US destroyer was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted seven circles at low altitude around the ship at approximately 5 pm local time.

“The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship’s commanding officer,” the Navy said. “About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian Su-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian.”

Two Russian Su-24 attack aircraft fly over USS Donald Cook on 12 April. Credit: US Navy

The Commander of the US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, Admiral Mark Ferguson said USS Donald Cook was operating in a professional manner.

“In my judgement, [the Russian] manoeuvres in close proximity to Donald Cook [were] unprofessional and unsafe,” the Admiral said.

US Navy has “deep concerns” about the Russian flight manoeuvres.

“These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”

According to the media, the incident was one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory, and reminiscent of the Cold War.

The incidents happened as NATO plans its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to counter what the alliance – and in particular Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – consider to be a more aggressive Russia.


Cover: A Russian Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very low altitude pass by USS Donald Cook on 12 April. Credit: US Navy.

According to the Estonian Internal Security Service, terror threat in Estonia is small. Pictured, people going about their every-day lives at the Town Hall Square in Tallinn. Photo by Ingrid Hankewitz

Estonian internal security: terror threat small, but increasingly real

According to the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS), the threat of terrorism in Estonia is currently small; however, it has become increasingly real for the country.

The ISS says in its annual review 2015 that “a terrorist act in Estonia planned, conspired and sanctioned by a terrorist organisation is considered unlikely at the moment”.

“Estonia has been mentioned in the propaganda of terrorist organisations,” the ISS says. “We therefore ask all representatives of Estonian interests and residents working in or visiting high-risk countries to be more vigilant.”

The report also says that the threat of terrorism has become “increasingly real” for Estonia.

“According to public sources, while the threat is on the same level in Latvia and Lithuania as it is in Estonia, the level was raised in 2015 in Sweden and Finland. In December, Finland’s Central Criminal Police arrested two men of Iraqi origin, suspected of war crimes in Iraq. Similar arrests were made last year in Sweden.”

What comes to the Muslim community in Estonia, the report says it continues to be “generally peaceful”, albeit there is some “internal dissatisfaction”.

“Examples of radicalisation among members of the Muslim community in Estonia are unfortunately becoming more frequent, expressed mainly through the display of terrorist organisations’ insignia,” the ISS concedes. “This assessment is justified by claims that the insignia are not connected to terrorist organisations but, rather, Islam as a religion. At the same time, such symbols are indeed mostly used by terrorist organisations and their supporters, which in turn scares people. The display of such insignia is used to test, and try to shift, the tolerance limits of society and the law-enforcement authorities.”


Cover: According to the Estonian Internal Security Service, terror threat in Estonia is small. Pictured, people going about their every-day lives at the Town Hall Square in Tallinn. Photo by Ingrid Hankewitz

Estonian prime minister Taavi Rõivas meeting his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Credit: Tauno Tõhk, the Government Office of Estonia.

Estonia to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation with Japan

Estonia and Japan are to strengthen cooperation on cybersecurity and digital identification, the prime ministers of the two countries agreed last week in Tokyo.

During his visit to Japan by the Estonian prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, his Japanese colleague, Shinzo Abe, commended Estonia on its successes in the fields of information technology and cybersecurity.

“There’s much we can learn from Estonia, which holds IT as the central pillar of nation-building, thereby promoting better efficiency in administration and people’s lives,” Abe said, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Japan has recently introduced a national identification system, called “My Number”, that is sometimes compared with Estonia’s e-government and ID-card system. Under the My Number system, all Japanese citizens have been assigned a unique 12-digit number that combines their interaction with the government – including their income, taxes, social security, benefits etc.

But unlike in Estonia, where the ID-card system has strongly embedded in people’s lives, the public opinion in Japan on the My Number system has been split. The critics of the system cite data breaches that have compromised both the public and private sectors, including a leak at the Japan Pension Service in May 2015.

In addition to cybersecurity cooperation, Abe and Rõivas also talked about an economic partnership agreement that is being negotiated between Japan and the European Union. According to the Kyodo news agency, Rõivas called for the signing of the pact before the end of the year.

The prime ministers also discussed speeding up negotiations for a bilateral treaty aimed at boosting business cooperation.

Taavi Rõivas is on a six-day visit to Japan through Sunday.


Cover: Estonian prime minister Taavi Rõivas meeting his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Credit: Tauno Tõhk, the Government Office of Estonia.

US Army Europe's 2nd Cavalry Regiment in training in Germany. Credit: US Army Europe.

Estonia to host a record number of US troops in Saber Strike exercise

During the allied Saber Strike exercise this summer, Estonia will host a record number of US troops; while the exact number is unknown, it’s estimated over 500 units of US military kit would participate in the exercise.

The Saber Strike exercise will be one of US Army Europe’s largest multinational exercises this summer in a bid to practice a speedy response with its new rapid-reaction forces in Eastern Europe, Newsweek reported.

The exercise will complement a summer NATO exercise, Brilliant Jump, to drill multinational response from eight allies in Eastern Europe, in the hypothetical scenario of a threat in the region, according to the magazine.

Saber Strike will kick off on 27 May in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and continue until 15 June, involving 14 different nations, including a 2,400-kilometre (1,491-mile) tactical march by 2nd Cavalry Regiment from Germany to the Baltics.

Saber Strike is an annual international exercise held since 2010 by the United States Army Europe, focused on the Baltic States. The exercise spans multiple locations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and involves approximately 2,000 troops from 14 countries.

According to Wikipedia, the exercise trains participants on command and control as well as interoperability with regional partners and consists of a brigade-level command post exercise and computer assisted exercise, as well as company-level field and situational training exercises. It also features the integration of US close air support with partner nation ground forces and the demonstration of US Expeditionary Medical Support capability.


Cover: US Army Europe’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment in training in Germany. Credit: US Army Europe.

The UK sends fighter jets and a warship to bolster Estonia’s security

The United Kingdom is to send Typhoon fighter jets and the Royal Navy warship HMS Iron Duke to the Baltics to bolster the region’s security.

The Typhoon jets and the Iron Duke will deploy to the Baltic this month as part of the UK’s commitment to eastern European allies, the ministry of defence said in a statement.

The Typhoons will be based at Ämari air base in Estonia and their crews will operate in a quick reaction alert role, the ministry added.

“British planes protecting Baltic skies alongside our warship patrols and troops exercising, show how serious we are about the security of our eastern European partners,” the UK defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said.

The UK deployed Typhoon aircraft to Lithuania in spring 2014 and to Estonia between May and August 2015. They will operate alongside the Portuguese air force around the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Type 23 Frigate HMS Iron Duke - photo by Jeremy Pearson

At sea, HMS Iron Duke is due to return to the Baltic region after participating in the bi-annual, multinational exercise Joint Warrior off the coast of Scotland. The Type 23 frigate is half way through a six-month deployment to northern Europe as part of a multinational NATO task group where she has taken part in exercises and operations. The warship is available to NATO for a range of tasks including diplomatic visits to countries in the region.

Later this year, the Iron Duke is due to operate in the Baltic region with up to four other Royal Navy ships, including HMS Ocean and HMS Pembroke, in the maritime exercise Baltops 16.


Cover: Royal Air Force No 11 Squadron Typhoons (courtesy of RAF)

Polish technology conference invites Estonian startups to participate

A Polish technology conference, called infoShare 2016, invites Estonian startups to be among 5,000 of its participants and enter a startup contest with a €20,000 prize.

The conference, dubbed “the biggest tech and new media conference” in the Central and Eastern European region, is to take place 18-20 May in Gdansk, Poland. This year’s event is the tenth in a row.

According to the organisers, the conference entails lectures, workshops and panel discussions on five stages. Among over 100 international speakers, the creator of the Opera web browser, Jon von Tetzchner, and the CTO of Spotify, Kevin Goldsmith, will take the stage.

The organisers said in a statement that in addition to the expected 5,000 participants, over 250 exhibitors will showcase “specialised applications and modern IT equipment”.

A startup contest that is scheduled to take place at the conference gives companies a chance to “pitch on the main stage” and win €20,000 in cash, “plus up to” €1,000,000 in possible investments.

Startups interested in taking part in the event can register until 20 April on the conference website.


Cover: infoShare 2015 (photo by Tomek Kamiński)

Estonia 13th worst in Europe in terms of ‘Nanny State’ regulations

Estonia has scored 13th in the Nanny State Index among its European Union peers, meaning the country has thirteenth worst record when it comes to regulating people’s every-day lives.

The Nanny State Index, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, gives every European Union country a score out of 100 according to how it regulates private lifestyle choices on alcohol, food, soft drinks, tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

“Taxes on beer, wine and spirits and all higher than the EU average in Estonia,” the analysis says. “The country has mixed rules on alcohol advertising, allowing it on TV and radio after 9PM, but banning wine and spirits advertising outdoors. Its near-total ban on tobacco advertising is typical of EU member states, as is its ban on cigarette vending machines, although it does not have graphic warnings or a display ban.”

On the other hand, Estonia’s smoking restrictions are less severe than most EU countries, the report admits. “A law that effectively prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes was overturned in 2013 and they can now be sold as consumer products. There are a few restrictions on vaping indoors.”

Nanny State index

Estonia’s northern neighbour Finland scored number one in the 2016 index due to its taxes on chocolate, soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco. Finland also has an outright ban on e-cigarettes, a ban on happy hours and strict restrictions on advertising.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that the results “make depressing reading for those of us who want the government to keep out of our private lives”.

Another Estonian neighbour, Sweden, came in second worst in terms of regulations, and the United Kingdom – to many the epitome of nanny state – came in third.

The freest nations in the EU are, according to the Nanny State Index, Germany and the Czech Republic.

“Unless you are a teetotal, non-smoking vegetarian, my advice is to go to Germany or the Czech Republic this summer,” Christopher Snowdon told the British daily, the Daily Telegraph.

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