Thursday, November 03, 2016

“Military Sport” and War Games in Estonia: Preparing Guerillas for Partisan Warfare to Defend Against a Russian Invasion

“We just have to stay alive,” [Vivika] Barnabas said of the main idea behind the Jarva District Patrol Competition, a 24-hour test of the skills useful for partisans, or insurgents, to fight an occupying army, and an improbably popular form of what is called “military sport” in Estonia.
Thus reports Andrew Kramer for the New York Times. No mention is made in the article of eight years of the apologizer-in-chief's brilliant forward-looking policy of smart diplomacy; indeed, the mainstream media's left-leaning outlook, if not overwhelming, is still quite visible, prompting Stephen Green to write: ' Forget the gratuitous swipe at Donald Trump, and marvel instead at reporter Andrew E. Kramer’s estimation of Estonians’ enthusiasm for their own national defense as “improbably popular.” '
The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia’s incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States.

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.

The Jarva competition entailed a 25-mile hike and 21 specific tasks, such as answering questions of local trivia — to sort friend from foe — hiding in a bivouac deep in the woods and correctly identifying types of Russian armored vehicles. On a recent weekend, 16 teams of four people had turned out, despite the bitter, late fall chill. The competition was open to men, women and teenagers.
Ms. Barnabas and her three teammates had spent the night hiding in a nest lined with pine needles and leaves on the forest floor, while men playing the occupying army stomped around, firing guns in the air and searching for them. Contestants who are found must hand over one of the 12 “life cards” they carry, which detracts from their final score.

“It’s cold and you lie on the ground, looking up at the stars and hearing shooting and footsteps nearby,” said Ms. Barnabas, a petite woman who is also a coordinator for the league in her day job. She was swathed in a few layers of long underwear and camouflage.

“It wasn’t so bad because we slept cuddled together,” she said, flirtatiously, of her female team. The footsteps came and went, and the women stayed quiet. “They didn’t find us.”
Encouraging citizens to stash warm clothes, canned goods, boots and a rifle may seem a cartoonish defense strategy against a military colossus like Russia. Yet the Estonians say they need look no further than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to see the effectiveness today, as ever, of an insurgency to even the odds against a powerful army.

Estonia is hardly alone in striking upon the idea of dispersing guns among the populace to advertise the potential for widespread resistance, as a deterrent.

Of the top four nations in the world for private gun ownership — the United States, Yemen, Switzerland and Finland — the No. 3 and 4 spots belong to small nations with a minutemen-style civilian call-up as a defense strategy or with a history of partisan war.

“The best deterrent is not only armed soldiers, but armed citizens, too,” Brig. Gen. Meelis Kiili, the commander of the Estonian Defense League, said in an interview in Tallinn, the capital.

The number of firearms, mostly Swedish-made AK-4 automatic rifles, that Estonia has dispersed among its populace is classified. But the league said it had stepped up the pace of the program since the Ukraine crisis began. Under the program, members must hide the weapons and ammunition, perhaps in a safe built into a wall or buried in the backyard.

Whatever the reason, training for underground warfare is going ahead here, where partisans are still glorified for fighting the Nazis and Soviets in World War II.

“The guerrilla activity should start on occupied territory straight after the invasion,” General Kiili said. “If you want to defend your country, we train you and provide conditions to do it in the best possible way.”

 … “Partisan war is our way,” Mr. Vokk said. “We cannot equal their armor. We have to group in small units and do a lot of destruction of their logistics convoys. We needle them wherever we can.”
Mr. Vokk served with the army in Afghanistan, where, he said, he gained an appreciation for the effectiveness of I.E.D.s.

“They scared us,” he said. “And a Russian is just a human being as well. He would be scared.”