EstoniaEstonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic States and covers 17,462 square miles, making it slightly smaller than West Virginia.  Its population of 1.3 million is the smallest among its ‘siblings,’ Latvia and Lithuania.  While its location has often made it a prize for more powerful neighbors to capture, today Estonia has found a clear path to freedom and independence and has, since the fall of the Soviet Union, made great progress in rejoining the rest of Europe.  Since regaining its independence, Estonia has democratically elected three presidents, and eleven governments with seven prime ministers, all the while developing a high tech economy that many have called Europe’s Silicon Valley.  Its privatization program is now complete, leaving only a small number of enterprises wholly state-owned.

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 (approximately 24 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 a future intervention.   In 2007 – the same year that Estonia was the victim of a series of powerful cyber-attacks that were traced to Russia’s doorstep – Russia intervened militarily in Georgia, and in 2014 Russia covertly sent troops into eastern Ukraine while annexing Crimea, both ostensibly to protect Russian minorities living outside of its borders.

In 2014, Russian security services kidnapped Estonian security officer Eston Khover, and smuggled him across the border.  Khover, who was investigating Russian organized crime activity, was charged with espionage and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.   He was subsequently released in 2015 as part of a prisoner exchange with Estonia.        

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 2015, a Commission hearing on Russian rule of law violation took note of the Eston Khover case, which Chairman Chris Smith termed an attempt by Russia to limit individual freedoms beyond its borders.

Staff Contact: Rachel Bauman, policy advisor

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