Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic States and covers 17,462 square miles, making it slightly smaller than West Virginia. Its population of about 1.2 million is the smallest of the Baltic States. Despite its long occupation by the Soviet Union, today’s Estonia has found a clear path to freedom and independence and has, since the fall of the USSR, made great progress in rejoining the rest of Europe. Since regaining its independence, Estonia has held numerous free and fair elections and developed a high-tech economy that has earned it the title of Europe’s Silicon Valley.
Estonia is a member of both NATO and the EU. Its security concerns are in large part defined by its relationship and proximity to Russia, and Russia’s legacy as successor to the Soviet Union. This includes Estonia’s own large ethnic Russian minority (about 25 percent of the population), which has complained of marginalization and discrimination by the Estonian-speaking majority. Estonians have voiced concerns that Russia may attempt to manipulate that minority to undermine Estonian sovereignty or use it as an excuse for future intervention, even militarily.
During the early years of Estonia’s independence, members of the Helsinki Commission repeatedly traveled to the country to observe elections and encourage their Estonian counterparts to embrace OSCE commitments. The Commission has also held numerous hearings to review Estonia’s progress in the areas of media freedom, human rights, and protection of minorities. In July 2019, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Estonia, Kristjan Prikk, testified during the Commission’s first international field hearing in Gdansk, Poland, on the topic of Baltic Sea regional security.
Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor