Estonian Defense League: Standing Against Russian Aggression Despite the Odds

Tiny Estonia has only one potential path to war but it is a terrifying one:

Estonia, a NATO member with a population of 1.3 million people and a standing army of about 6,000, would not stand a chance in a conventional war with Russia. But two armies fighting on an open field is not Estonia’s plan, and was not even before Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, said European members of NATO should not count on American support unless they pay more alliance costs.

Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes.

Perhaps it isn’t widely known but Estonia waged an irregular war in self-defense against Russia, the Soviet Union to be precise, before. During WWII Estonians fled the Soviet invaders, and the threat of deportation (or worse), by hiding in Estonia’s substantial wilderness. These “Forest Brothers” weren’t capable of driving the Soviets out but they did make life difficult for them at times:

The Soviet forces that either were stationed in or had retreated to Estonia, as well as the local “red” activists, went through a very intense period of combat from 4–12 July 1941, due to the various resistance operations conducted by the Forest Brothers. During this period, as panicked Communist activists and refugees fled before the oncoming German forces, Pärnu, Valga, Võru, Sakala, and Tartumaa counties came under the Forest Brothers’ partial or complete control, even before the advancing German forces reached these areas. North of the Pärnu–Emajõe line, numerous small and large battles took place between the Forest Brothers and various Soviet military units. In the middle of July 1941, an operational pause descended on the war in Estonia, a pause that changed the character of the Summer War. An increase in the number of Soviet units fighting against them, as well as more efficient counterinsurgency operations, temporarily stalled the Forest Brothers’ hitherto extremely active armed resistance. The Forest Brothers in the northern parts of Sakala and Tartumaa counties, located in the Soviet close rear, suffered heavy losses, caused mostly by NKVD operational units and so-called destruction battalions, and Red Army battalions that had been withdrawn from Latvia and southern Estonia.

Once the Soviet units had recovered from their retreat and the initial confusion caused by the Forest Brothers’ attacks, the new commander of the Eighth Army and the newly appointed rear guard commander were able to reestablish command and control over their units. At the same time, the Red Baltic Fleet established contact with the Eighth Army. Subsequently, most Soviet forces in Estonia managed to establish communications and improve cooperation and attempted to seize the initiative in their counterinsurgency operations. The rear guard forces were directed to support the missions assigned to the Army units. In addition, agent networks were established with the purpose of gathering information about the locations of the Forest Brothers’ units, and plans to search and locate insurgents in specific areas were put into action. The number of patrols and guard posts was increased to protect vital communication assets, while border guard detachments, railroad security units, operational units, and the destruction battalions, all under the command of the NKVD, assumed concrete areas of responsibility.

It is now more difficult to hide from a large adversary, thanks to modern technology, than it was in the 1940s but Estonia has few options. In reality they have only NATO and America’s willingness to stand against, and prevent, Russian aggression. That is a sobering thought given the inconsistent commitment to European defense and the understanding of the Russian threat that we have seen in this election. It is not inconceivable that Estonians will have to flee to the forests once again.

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Marie von Clausewitz: A Biography of a Wider Experience

I have just completed a book review of Vanya Eftimova Bellinger’s biography of Marie von Clausewitz, which you can check out on H-War very soon. For a variety of reasons, I was keen to write this review. First, it was a work of military history by a woman and about a woman. Given how infrequently that happens, it was important to me to interact with the work intellectually and professionally. Second, although not officially a Clausewitzian, my thesis focused on strategic culture and I have worked in academic strategy at regular intervals both in the civilian and military schoolhouses. But the most compelling issue to me was the unshakeable identification with Marie. As I have written elsewhere I was for a long time a military spouse. And so I felt strongly that I would have something particular to offer to the discussion of this biography.

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Ungoverned Spaces: What Threat do they Pose?

Since the attacks of 9/11 there has been much research and policy work done on ungoverned spaces.  An early discussion of ungoverned spaces occurred in February, 2004 when the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, provided a statement for the record to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [1].  His 2004 definition of the term spoke to “geographic areas where governments do not exercise effective control….Terrorist groups and narco-traffickers use these areas as sanctuaries to train, plan and organize, relatively free from interference.”  From a U.S. perspective, the idea that ungoverned spaces pose a threat to U.S. interests is continued today in the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy [2] which states that “[a]n array of terrorist threats has gained traction in areas of instability, limited opportunity, and broken governance.”  This article will discuss the term ungoverned spaces; what it means, its ties to human nature, how ungoverned spaces in and of themselves are not a threat, as well as outline a broad concept for action and identify one additional consideration.

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LZ Grace: A Place for Warriors to Heal

Lynnette Bukowski joins me to discuss LZ Grace Warriors Retreat in the latest episode of the Covert Contact podcast. Lynnette, and many volunteers, have transformed a 38 acre farm in Virginia Beach into a place for members of the special operations community and first responders to decompress and recharge. Lynnette shares the story of her husband, a Navy SEAL, and we discuss some of the unique challenges the she faces in supporting who are accustomed to serving, and often suffering, in silence.

The episode closes out with another update on Russia, and their involvement with Hezbollah, from William Tucker.

Please visit lz-grace.com to learn more and please consider making a donation to support this worthy, and much needed, project,

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