According to NATO sources, the navigational systems within the aircrafts have a limited range. If KAPO suspicions prove to be correct, it would mean that Russian special forces are working from within Estonia, aldrimer.no reports.
A dramatic report was submitted to NATO by Estonian officers who explain the security measures they took during special force exercises Trident Jaguar on April 20-27, 2015.
Two weeks of silence
The tactical UAVs were spotted right after the NATO military exercise began. Before that, Estonian armed forces and KAPO had not seen them for at least two weeks.
“For the last two weeks, including the event on April 22, UAVs flew above the training areas southeast from the Ämari Air Base as well as over the Vovu army base in the country’s south east,” the report says.
Estonian KAPO officers are certain that Russia is responsible for these intrusions.
“Even though we do not have proof, there are suspicions that Russian Spetsnaz is somehow involved,” the NATO report said.
55 shots fired
The report contains a detailed account of first sightings and indicates that the situation was much more serious than what was initially announced to the public.
“Some incidents involving unmanned aircraft happened during the day time, others at night. All of the incidents involved UAVs equipped with recording devices,” the report said.
The document mentions that Estonian Defence Minister Sven Mikser issued a long-standing order to shoot down every drone that appeared over the Ämari and Emetsa air bases. The decision was made despite the fact that Estonian government knew full well that the aircraft were the property of Russia’s special forces.
“Right after the order to shoot down the drones was issued, an intrusion was sighted above the Ämari air base. Estonian forces shot at the aircraft 55 times. It was damaged, but not enough to take it down. The UAV successfully retreated from the territory,” the report highlights.
The unmanned aircraft that appeared during NATO military exercises was not shot down.
Confusing questions and perplexing answers
The former Estonian defence minister was ambiguous in answering whether or not he issued the order to shoot down aircraft that appeared above Estonian military bases (mainly above Ämari) while he was in charge.
“I would like to say that it’s a NATO military air base and we aren’t allowed to fly unmanned aircraft above naval bases or any other Estonian military bases,” Mikser said.
Aldrimer.no asked the politician if the drone would be shot down in case of a breach into zones of military importance. He answered: “Well, if needed, we take measures to prevent that.”
Mikser didn’t comment on the statement that, according to aldrimer.no sources, Estonian officers are certain that all unmanned aerial vehicles belong to Russia and Russian special forces.
“I would like to say that individuals or countries that are hostile towards Estonia or its interests could be using drones as means of surveillance. I can only comment on the issue when we have concrete evidence,” Mikser stated.
“An Estonian soldier took a picture of the UAV with their phone. The picture was shown to NATO personnel and there were no doubts that it was a tactical UAV used by Russian special forces,” the NATO source says.
Sources in defence told aldrimer.no that Russian special forces only use tactical drones, most of which are very small.
“The range of these drones is just a couple of kilometres, with 10 kilometres being the maximum,” says the NATO source.
NATO is sure that until April 2015, Russians had used at least five different types of UAVs in Estonia. Aldrimer.no has discovered NATO has surveillance data that indicates Russian special force’s involvement with four or five kinds of UAVs.
“The fact that they’re using several kinds of drones isn’t unusual,” the source states.
“I hope they succeed next time”
Former head of Estonia’s intelligence, Eerik-Niiles Kross, denies speculation that a Russian command centre or technical base, from which the UAVs are controlled, is located in Estonia.
“No, there is no possibility of them having a secret drone base in Estonia,” Kross says. He didn’t want to comment further on the possibility of Russian special forces operating in Estonia, with a command or technical base in Russia.
After aldrimer.no notified Kross of the fact that, in April 2015, Estonian forces fired upon a UAV but were unsuccessful in taking it down, he commented: “That’s unfortunate, I hope they succeed next time.” He was then asked what level of aggression is exhibited by the use of UAVs in Estonian territory.
“It’s a cause for concern, and only part of the bigger picture. It’s obviously not as dangerous as the things they do with their airplanes and fighter jets, because lives are at stake in those aerial confrontations. Fighter jets that breach air space are much more dangerous than drones. Nevertheless, it’s evident that they are testing the limits of what is allowed and what is forbidden. Even when they reach these limits, they don’t stop there and wait until they are stopped by someone,” the former intelligence head says.
Mr. Kross is worried about how far Russia can go in order to track and spy on NATO personnel. He thinks that elements of psychological warfare are used.
“It’s a possibility that Russians are employing aggravators. I would label this kind of behaviour as a psychological attack and wouldn’t consider it a serious attempt to gather surveillance information. They don’t need to do that. It’s one of those good old KGB tactical measures used to cause irritation,” Kross thinks.
Still, he says that Russia is spending a lot of resources on surveillance in Estonia, as it is important for them to gather information on NATO operations.
Kross refused to list concrete events, but notes that the more NATO forces operate in Estonia, the more interested Russia becomes.
The former defence minister of Estonia has expressed concern about the scale of Russia’s provocations, especially in the air space above the Baltic Sea. He thinks that other countries should also be concerned.
“Regarding aerial provocations above the Baltic Sea, I think it’s safe to say that countries of the Baltic region shouldn’t be the only ones concerned. The Russian Strategic Bomber fleet has been doing flights well beyond the Baltic region,” the former minister says.