Tag Archives: Estonia

A new report says Russia is intensifying its spy game in Eastern Europe

From the northern tip of the Baltics to the southern edge of the Balkans, Russia is stepping up spying on its neighbors, according to numerous reports from the region.

The most recent notice of such activity comes from Estonia, whose intelligence service’s annual report says the “Baltic Sea area is especially vulnerable to threats from Russia.”

According to Estonia’s national intelligence service, Russia, acting through its military intelligence agency, the GRU, and its Federal Security Service, or FSB, has taken a special interest in the foreign and security policies, defense planning, armed forces, arms development, and military capabilities of its neighbors.

Continue reading A new report says Russia is intensifying its spy game in Eastern Europe


10 of the best European islands … that you’ve probably never heard of

Lyngør Islands, Norway

A far cry from Norway’s jagged western fjord-filled coastline, the Lyngør Islands offer Baltic calm rather than wild Atlantic. Base yourself on the islands of Sandøya or Borøya (where you can park your car) and use the ferries to get around. If ferries are too mainstream, Norwegians rave about kayaking between these tiny islands, so expect to see lots of brightly coloured boats being hefted around by visitors. Kayak rental is available in Tvedestrand, the town at the head of the fjord. Lyngør Island can only be reached by boat: there are no cars, and the main village consists of weathered clapboard wooden houses.

Stay The Tvedestrand 58 holiday house on the island of Boroya, which sleeps up to six, costs from £455 for seven nights.

Getting there Norwegian airlines flies to Oslo from £40 return; it’s then a two-hour drive south.

Mljet, Croatia

Beach Stara Baska - island Krk, Croatia

Odysseus was allegedly held captive here, for seven years, by the nymph Calypso, but it can’t really have been all that bad. One of Croatia’s southernmost islands, it’s best known for exceptional local produce and wild beauty. There are great hiking opportunities around the two saltwater lakes in Mljet national park and it is possible to hire a sailing boat to reach the 12th-century Benedictine monastery on Melita Island. Scramble around the island’s shady trails and swim in some of the clearest water in the Adriatic at Blace Bay. Choose a bottle of local red for your sundowner – Dingac and Postup are produced on the island – and try the plates of raw mussels drizzled with lemon juice, a local speciality.

Stay There’s only one hotel and it’s right on the coast – the three-star Odisej Mljet, with doubles from £33 B&B.

Getting there It’s a 90-minute ferry from Dubrovnik to the bay of Sobra on Mljet on Jadrolinjia lines.

Aegina, Greece

The hillside village of Vagia on Aegina, Greece

Come for the seafood, stay for the peace. Aegina, only one hour by ferry from Athens, is a great base during a summer weekend break. The heat in the city can be harsh; escape the crowds to spend evenings snorkelling the coast and devouring cuttlefish in wine sauce at Nontas – a beachside taverna close enough to the water to see your dinner being caught by local fishermen. As for hiking, the island’s trails lead you past ruined churches, meadows of wildflowers, and craggy hillsides.

Stay Clean, bright, and sun-drenched rooms at the Marini Luxury Apartments come with balconies and panoramic views over the sea, doubles from £66.

Getting there Metro from Athens centre to Piraeus port, an hour’s hydrofoil journey (£7) to Aegina.

Fehmarn, Germany

Dike Path, Sulsdorfer Wiek with Sun, Summer, Orth, Baltic Island of Fehmarn, Germany

Fehmarn, an island just off Germany’s Baltic coastline, catches the rays in spades while adventure junkies can kitesurf the days away (it plays host to various kite surfing competitions every year). Those after a more gentle ramble should pack their boots for Fehmarn’s portion of the Via Scandinavia: a walking route from Lübeck that runs through Germany and Poland, and on to Norway. Fehmarn’s scenery makes it unique among Germany’s Baltic islands. Badwelt Fehmare is a spa complex on the island and many visitors make the journey to enjoy seaweed wraps (taken from the shore) and natural saltwater scrubs.

Stay Close to the old town and a sandy beach, Apartments mit Flair has accommodation from £42 a night.

Getting there From Hamburg it’s a 90-minute drive to Burg, the historical capital of Fehmarn.

Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, Ireland

Inisheer (Inis Oirr), Aran Islands, Ireland.

This is an island of ancient language and mythology where the white beaches stretch out into the Atlantic. The smallest island in the Aran archipelago, Inis Oírr (pronounced Inisheer) only got permanent electricity in 1997. The Inis Oírr trail threads through fields carpeted with wildflowers; gentian, cranesbill and ladies mantle dust your ankles as you pace around the island under the shadow of O’Brien’s ruined 14th-century castle. Recuperate at Ostan Inis Oírr with a pint of Guinness and live music, which gets visitors up for a dance.

Stay South Aran House, with doubles from £60 B&B, is a guesthouse with free Wi-Fi, four en suite rooms and underfloor heating. The attached cooking school suggests that guests are in for a treat at breakfast.

Getting there Ferry from Ros a’Mhil costs £19, adult return, with Aran Island Ferries.

Belle-Île en Mer, Brittany, France

The port of Le Palais on Belle-Île-en-Mer.

An island that lives up to its name, its dramatic coastline and green interior inspired 19th-century authors and artists, most famously Flaubert and Monet. Now it draws holidaymakers in their droves in August, but outside of this short peak season its 60 beaches are gloriously crowd-free; and even in August your fellow tourists are unlikely to be Brits, who prefer chichi Île de Ré further south over its wilder Atlantic cousin. While Belle-Île has a handful of low-key attractions, including Sarah Bernhardt’s house, now a museum, and the lighthouse at Bangor, the main draw is the natural environment. In August beach lovers and walkers are joined on the island by opera buffs who come for the popular classical music festival Lyrique en Mer. Read more on the island in our Brittany article.

Stay Hotel Le Clos Fleuri has doubles from £53.

Getting there Ferries leave from Qubieron, 14km away.

Cíes islands, Galicia, Spain

Rodas beach on Las Islas Cíes

Despite this paper naming Rodas beach on Las Islas Cíes one of the best beaches in the world, these islands remain an off-the-beaten-track gem, thanks to a strict limit of 2,200 tourists a day. Their nickname – the Maldives or Seychelles of Spain – gives a clear indication of what to expect: gorgeous white beaches, turquoise waters … in other words, your average untouched paradise. The three islands (Monteagudo, San Martiño and Faro) opposite the town of Vigo on the Galician coast form part of the Islas Atlánticas national park. This means its wildlife, including colonies of marine birds and rich marine life – which can be explored by scuba divers (with a permit) – is protected.

Stay The only accommodation is a campsite – Camping de las Islas Cíes – with 800 places on Faro, which opens in Easter week, and on subsequent weekends until June, and then regularly between June and September. From £5 adults, £4 kids; £50 to hire a double tent.

Getting there A ferry service from the harbours of Vigo, Cangas and Baiona starts in Easter week and runs weekends and then everyday between the beginning of June and the end of September.

Hiiumaa, Estonia

Tahkuna Lighthouse on Hiiumaa.

The smell of nature hangs heavy on Hiiumaa: from white sand beaches slightly damp after a rainfall, and seaweed sweetly fermenting at one end of the beach. The second largest island in Estonia, this is the place to come if you have a book to write or pictures to paint. There’s not much to do other than tramp along the coastal paths and admire centuries-old Baltic-style lighthouses. For history buffs, there’s an old Soviet bunker to explore, but mostly people come here to feel the sand between their toes and clear their heads. Thanks to the island’s microclimate, Hiiumaa is a lot warmer than Estonia’s mainland, which makes exploring the town of Kardia’s wooden houses and relaxing in Roograhu harbour’s floating sauna even more appealing.

Stay Kassari Puhkekeskus, doubles from £50, has bicycles to rent and a large sauna.

Getting there It’s a 35-minute flight from Tallinn or half-hour ferry ride from Rohuküla, details for both at hiiumaa.ee

Samothrace, Greece

DDR639 Doric Hieron temple, Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Oros Fengari (Mount Moon), Samothrace island. Northern Aegean Sea, Greece

The drums beat late into the night and oil torches flare at one of Samothrace’s many beach parties. Eyes closed, the smell of bonfires and tannic red wine transport you back to when life was dictated by the Temple of the Winged Nike, now a crumbling ruin. Its many repeat visitors love the unaffected nature of this north Aegean island. As well as a solid collection of hiking paths, a bucolic waterfall trail, and sweeping deserted beaches, the island’s hot springs and hillside thermal pools only add to the sense of otherworldliness.

Stay The Archondissa Boutique Beach Aparthotel is secluded and just 20 metres from the beach. Each room has a sizeable balcony and terrace, studios from £40.

Getting there A Saos ferry from Alexandroupoli (on the mainland) takes three hours. Thessaloniki is six hours including drive and ferry.

Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary

Margaret Island in Budapest Hungary

Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest, spends winter shrouded in mist; come summer the island is an oasis in the midst the city. Encircled by a 5km asphalt running track and jetties from which to launch small boats (and bodies – some of the swimmers here are hardy folk), the illusion of an island holiday is enhanced by two thermal spa complexes. Both cost less than £10 for the day, and, after you’ve soaked, take a romantic walk around the island to visit the ruins of the 13th-century nunnery. At sunset grab an ice-cream and sit down to watch the fountains dance in time to the music.

Stay The Danubias Grand Hotel Margritsziget has doubles from £68.

Getting there The island is a five-minute walk across the bridge from Budapest’s district IV.

US troops drive in eastern Europe to show defense readiness

Stryker vehicles of the US Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll the highway, during ''Dragoon Ride'' military exercise,  in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America's allies. (AP Photo/Oksana Dzadan)
Stryker vehicles of the US Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll the highway, during ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America’s allies

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A U.S. army infantry convoy is driving through eastern Europe seeking to provide reassurance to a region concerned that the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and government forces in Ukraine threatens its security.

The U.S. “Dragoon Ride” convoy is attracting interest and greetings from people along its route. It started last week from Estonia and passed through Latvia and Lithuania before entering Poland on Monday.

A Latvian Army troop member shows his gun to a young  boy, during the ''Dragoon Ride'' military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America's allies.
A Latvian Army troop member shows his gun to a young boy, during the ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. The troops began the trek on March 21, and will travel through Latvia, The Czech Republic and onto Germany by April 1 in an exercise designed to reinforce America’s allies.

Flying U.S. flags, dozens of Stryker and other armored vehicles from the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment are driving down the roads on their way back to base in Vilseck, Germany. They took part in the Atlantic Resolve exercise that shows NATO’s readiness to defend its members. They will stop in some Polish towns to meet local residents.

The move comes at a time when Poland is stepping up its own defenses by calling thousands of reservists for urgent military training and by hosting major NATO and international exercises this year. Also Monday, Canadian and Polish troops held exercises at a test range in Drawsko Pomorskie, in the northeast.

Soldiers of the US Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment meet with local residents upon arrival during the “Dragoon Ride” exercise in Vilnius on March 22, 2015. During the operation “Dragoon Ride”, the ability to move manpower and heavy vehicles will be trained in the Baltic countries

Bordering Ukraine and Russia, Poland says it has trust in NATO’s collective security guarantees but it also harbors bad memories of defense alliances with Britain and France that failed when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939.

Adviser to the defense minister, Gen. Boguslaw Pacek, recently stressed that NATO expects its members to also build their own defenses.

Soldiers of the US Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment arrive during the “Dragoon Ride” exercise in Vilnius on March 22, 2015. During the operation “Dragoon Ride”, the ability to move manpower and heavy vehicles will be trained in the Baltic countries.

In an apparent reference to Russia, Pacek said that the U.S. convoy is a sign to “those in the East” that NATO is strong and united.

Meanwhile, Poland is practicing mobilization by calling on hundreds of reservists to immediately show up for military training. In total, some 12,000 reservists are to go through various forms of training this year.

AP Photo/Oksana Dzadan
Stryker vehicles of the US Armyís 2nd Cavalry Regiment roll down the highway, during the ”Dragoon Ride” military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015.

U.S. military vehicles paraded 300 yards from the Russian border

MOSCOW – U.S. military combat vehicles paraded Wednesday through an Estonian city that juts into Russia, a symbolic act that highlighted the stakes for both sides amid the worst tensions between the West and Russia since the Cold War.

The armored personnel carriers and other U.S. Army vehicles that rolled through the streets of Narva, a border city separated by a narrow frontier from Russia, were a dramatic reminder of the new military confrontation in eastern Europe.

The soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment were taking part in a military parade to mark Estonia’s Independence Day. Narva is a vulnerable border city separated by a river from Russia.

It has often been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it wanted to escalate its conflict with the West onto NATO territory.

Russia has long complained bitterly about NATO expansion, saying that the Cold War defense alliance was a major security threat as it drew closer to Russia’s borders.

The anger grew especially passionate after the Baltic states joined in 2004, and Russian President Vladimir Putin cited fears that Ukraine would join NATO when he annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March last year.

Russia’s Baltic neighbors, meanwhile, have said that what happened in Ukraine demonstrates exactly why they wanted to join NATO in the first place.

U.S. tanks rolled through the streets of Riga, Latvia in November for that nation’s Independence Day parade, another powerful reminder of U.S. boots on the ground in the region.

The United States has sent hundreds of military personnel to joint NATO exercises in the Baltics. NATO nations committed in September to forming a rapid reaction force that could deploy quickly to eastern Europe if they are invaded.

Lithuania prints ‘Russian invasion’ survival manual

Lithuanian soldiers take part in a field training exercise during the first phase Saber Strike 2014, at the Rukla military base, Lithuania, on June 14, 2014. (AFP Photo/Petras Malukas)

As NATO increases its presence in the Baltic region amid worries of “Russian aggression,” Lithuania has published a manual which advises its citizens how to survive a war on its soil.

“Keep a sound mind, don’t panic and don’t lose clear thinking,” the manual advises. “Gunshots just outside your window are not the end of the world.”

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas unveiled the 100-page public information pamphlet last Tuesday at a press conference in Vilnius. The book, “How to act in extreme situations or instances of war” aims to educate the country’s citizens on what to do in the case of an invasion.

The manual instructs Lithuanians how to “act during the organization of civil resistance, but also how to act under battlefield conditions,” in addition to containing information on governmental changes following a declaration of war and procedures for evacuating a building, according to Olekas.

The book suggests demonstrations and strikes or “at least doing your job worse than usual” as means of resisting foreign occupation. It also advises citizens to use social media to organize resistance and promotes staging cyber-attacks against the enemy.

Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Olekas said the project, a collaboration between the Defense Ministry and Lithuania’s Fire Brigade was prompted by “Russia’s recurring aggression against its neighbors – presently in Ukraine.” Copies of the pamphlet are to be distributed to libraries, secondary schools and non-governmental organizations, while an online version will be available for download from the Defense Ministry’s website, Olekas said.

The Lithuanian government is also considering requiring all future buildings to include a bomb shelter.

Lithuania’s Russian minority is around 6 percent according to the country’s last census in 2011, unlike the two other Baltic enclaves, Estonia and Latvia where Russian speakers account for approximately one-quarter of the population.

Recently, President Dalia Grybauskaite, an outspoken critic of Russia, has moved to restrict the broadcast of Russian state channels in Lithuania.

NATO’s General Philip Breedlove announced this week that the alliance was looking to beef up its operations in the Baltic region.

“There will be several adaptations of our exercise program. The first series of changes will not be an increase in number but they will be to group them together … to better prepare our forces and to allow nations to work together as a NATO force, but we are looking at increasing some exercises,” he said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ruptly news agency on Thursday captured footage of a train loaded with various American military vehicles rolling through Klaipeda, a coastal town in western Lithuania.

In November, during the Iron Sword military drill, 2,500 servicemen from nine NATO countries staged a two-week training operation in Lithuania. Iron Sword was originally planned as a purely Lithuanian endeavor but was expanded in response to the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Nato holds largest cyber war games

The Core Planning Team (CPT) from the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, during Exercise Cyber Coalition 2014

In the birch woods that ring the eastern Estonian city of Tartu, 50km from the Russian border, Nato is preparing for cyber war.

From this Baltic outpost, the alliance this week conducted the world’s biggest digital war game. Security was so tight that Nato did not reveal the existence of the event until after it had begun – for fear that the simulated hack would be hacked.

More than 670 soldiers and civilians – from 80 organisations in 28 countries – participated, making it more than twice the size of any previous Nato cyber drill.

As a demonstration of resolve, it is both impressive and needed: since the Ukrainian crisis plunged the alliance into an icy stand-off with Russia, its cyber weaknesses have been exposed. Nato’s core networks alone have to cope with more than 200m suspicious events a day, alliance officials told the Financial Times. Of those, some of which are merely spam emails, at least 100 warrant significant further inspection. As many as 30 turn out to be highly sophisticated cyber-espionage attempts.

Cyber attacks can be as dangerous as conventional attacks. They can shut down important infrastructure and they can have a great impact on our operations,” Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said during a visit to Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

Robert Hoar, the US Navy commander in charge of the war game, said the goal of the cyber drill was “to flex our systems – to test our ability to react to the threats in the current environment.”

From barracks in Tartu, a team of around 100 soldiers and intelligence officials on Monday began throwing sophisticated technical attacks at Nato teams across Europe and North America: Troops’ android phones were hacked after a downloadable app turned out be hiding sophisticated malware; an imaginary supplier of military equipment was found to have had its own manufacturing process compromised, with security loopholes built into its computer chips; a Nato emergency response team was flown to Greece after one scenario in which the attackers succeeded in seizing control of the systems running Nato’s Awacs surveillance aircraft – one of the alliance’s most prized possessions.

Monitors were switched off and rooms in the Tartu facility fell silent as a small group of visitors was given a brief tour in the midst of the action. “Scrub the whiteboard!” yelled one officer, apparently fearful that a lone IP address scrawled on it in marker pen – an unintelligible string of letters, numbers and symbols – might find its way out of the Estonian woods.

Number of suspicious events Nato’s core networks deal with daily that turn out to be sophisticated cyber-espionage attacks

In a particularly lurid cyber storyline, a senior Nato officer had his family kidnapped and was then blackmailed into stealing huge amounts of classified data from the alliance’s secure military networks.

“Eventually,” said Luc Dandurand, deputy director of the exercise, “[the participants] work out that all these attacks are coming from a single entity – it’s all from one nation state.”

Officially, the attacker was meant to be disrupting a Nato mission in a fictitious, war-torn state in the Horn of Africa. In reality, the scenario was a thinly disguised version of the threats confronting the alliance as a result of the crisis in Ukraine. Russia, though never mentioned, loomed large.

There is a lot of reality involved. These storylines are based in the real world and in some cases may have happened to Nato already– Robert Esposito, Nato

In one simulated attack, for example, the classified communications of the general in charge of the fictitious Nato deployment were hacked. The hackers then leaked the information to a global newspaper, which promptly published the Nato military chief’s private declaration that the war was unwinnable.

That was eerily reminiscent of an episode in Kiev in February when a candid conversation between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and Washington’s ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, was secretly recorded and leaked to the press.

“There is a lot of reality involved. These storylines are based in the real world and in some cases may have happened to Nato already,” says Robert Esposito, a former Royal Air Force officer who is now a senior official in Nato’s cyber operations team at the alliance’s supreme headquarters.

“The only way to see if you can cope is to do it for real or to do it in an exercise like this,” he added. “And it’s better to do it like this.”


Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania form joint military unit

Polish soldiers during joint military exercises in Ukraine - 19 September 2014

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania have agreed to set up joint military unit of several thousand soldiers.Defence ministers from the three countries signed the deal on Friday.

Poland’s defence ministry said the brigade would be based in the eastern Polish city of Lublin but the soldiers would remain in their home countries.

Poland and Lithuania are eager to bolster defences following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula earlier this year.

Russia sent thousands of troops to the peninsula in March, eventually forcing Ukrainian soldiers to withdraw.

Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence.

More than 3,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatists since April.

Peacekeeping role

A spokesman for the Polish defence ministry said work to form the joint unit with Ukraine and Lithuania first began in 2007, adding that it would operate under the guidance of the UN, Nato and the EU.

The unit would participate in peacekeeping missions, the spokesman added, but no details were given on any potential role in Ukraine’s conflict.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey (R), his Polish counterpart Tomasz Siemoniak (C) and Lithuanian counterpart Juozas Olekas (L) shake hands after signing an agreement on the creation of a joint military brigade - 19 September 2014Defence ministers from Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania formed the long-awaited military pact in Warsaw

Earlier this week, soldiers from Poland and Lithuania joined about 1,300 soldiers from 15 countries – including the US and other Nato members – in military exercises in western Ukraine.

In response, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said it must boost its forces in Crimea to counter the presence of Western troops in Ukraine.

Also on Friday, Nato defence chiefs agreed to set up regional centres in several Eastern European countries, during a meeting Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

Lithuania’s chief of defence Jonas Vytautas Zukas said the “command-and-control” centres would be launched in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania and would each employ up to 120 military personnel,

Meanwhile, Sweden said on Friday that it had lodged a complaint with Russia’s ambassador in Stockholm about two Russian fighter planes entering Swedish airspace.

Swedish officials said the jets had briefly violated Swedish airspace on Wednesday near the eastern island of Oland.

In another diplomatic row, Lithuania said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador to Vilnius after a Lithuanian fishing vessel was detained by Russian authorities earlier this week.