News

2020.04.15 17:45

E-residency and Russian youths among Estonia's national security concerns

LRT.lt 2020.04.15 17:45

Russian youth engagement, e-residency vetting flaws and growing Muslim communities in Estonia are some of the risk factors discussed in the Baltic country's annual national security report.

Estonia's Internal Security Service (KAPO) published its 2019 Annual Review on Tuesday.

One area of concern identified in the report is the Russian government's efforts to engage with Estonia's Russian-speaking youth.

Russia is trying “to engage and train the next generation of leaders” by organising “Olympiads, competitions and other events, which typically include elements of ideological education”.

KAPO also noted the Russian government's campaign on the “75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism” which included international conferences and exhibitions.

“The aim was to present Russia and the USSR again in a positive and humane light. It is important that the Baltic States and other regions occupied under the MRP (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) are not among the so-called liberated Eastern European countries, as they are considered part of the USSR,” the report says.

According to KAPO, this ties in with Russia's long-standing effort to deny the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and to justify subsequent repressions.

Interest from Chinese special services

Intelligence gathering by Chinese special services in Estonia has been on the increase, according to KAPO.

Beijing is interested in Estonia as a member of NATO and the EU. Moreover, the country's “geographical location as a transit country between East and West, as well as infrastructure projects currently in the planning or development phase” also make it a target for Chinese special services.

KAPO's report also lists several people caught for spying in 2019. They include a former defence force officer and an electrician, both convicted for collaborating with Russia's military intelligence.

E-residency and economic security

The report mentions E-residency, Estonia's flagship programme allowing non-residents to access certain services, including registering businesses, opening bank accounts and managing taxes.

According to KAPO, the programme attracts people interested in the virtual currency industry and seeking anonymity.

“E-residency is seen as an opportunity to obtain a Schengen visa and various schemes are used for this purpose. Background checks on applicants in high-risk countries continue to be a problem,” the report says.

Applicants for Estonian e-residency included “individuals with extremist and terrorist ties” last year, according to KAPO. Without effective collaboration with law enforcement agencies in risk-group countries, Estonia risks to “damage the image of the e-residency programme, the Estonian economy and the country in general”.

Estonia is also losing its energy independence, according to KAPO. Previously a net exporter of electricity, the country became net importer for the first time in 2019. “In terms of continuity and security of supply, this entails risks of dependence on external connections and on electricity produced elsewhere, which could jeopardise energy security.”

Residents from high-risk countries

Estonia's state security agency also noted a growing number of residents coming from what it considers “high-risk countries”: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Cameroon.

“Over the past three years, the number of Estonian residents coming from these countries has more than doubled. In 2019, Estonia received 20,629 visa applications from citizens of the risk-group countries,” according to the report.

KAPO also sees risks in growing Muslim communities in Estonia: “Larger communities may inevitably lead to societal isolation and reduced openness. A community’s inward focus reduces the likelihood of integration and may increase radicalisation.”