What Estonia’s defense chief learned on his latest trip to the US

Estonia's Hanno Pevkur hosted meetings across the Midwest and Washington D.C. last week, spotlighting the need for continued support for Ukraine.
Estonian Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur briefs reporters on April 12, 2024. (Photo by Brandi Vincent)

As they work to boost their domestic defenses against intensifying cyber and kinetic threats from Russia, Estonia and a coalition of its European partners are also moving to expand support for Ukraine’s military, including by supplying 1 million drones and new information technology assets to enhance its capacity on the battlefront. 

Estonia’s Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur provided new details about those plans with a small group of reporters Friday at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, D.C., discussing the latest leg of the Russia-Ukraine war and the security situation felt from NATO’s eastern flank.

“Starting from the situation update — definitely, the situation [with Russia] has also worsened for us,” Pevkur told DefenseScoop. “The situation is not being de-escalated in our region, but rather, it’s still escalated by Russia.”

Estonia and Russia share an almost 200-mile border and a tumultuous history. 


An independent country before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, Estonia declared its independence again in 1991 after a half-century of occupation. Since then, the small but technology-savvy nation has built up a reputation as a vital NATO ally with a strong digital and cybersecurity foundation.

Based on a strategy drafted by its Defence Ministry under Pevkur, the Estonian government recently pledged to donate military aid to Ukraine that’s equal to 0.25% of its GDP (or about $131 billion) over the next four years and called on Europe, North America, and other allies to follow suit.

Pevkur has paid multiple visits to his counterparts in the U.S. since Russia invaded Ukraine and ignited the war just over three years ago. But this trip, which also included stops in Chicago and Des Moines, occurred as Congress weighs options for a new supplemental package on foreign aid that would include assistance for Ukraine.

His biggest takeaway from this visit is that Estonia must better articulate and explain — to Americans of all ages — how the threat of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and others ultimately widening into the next, major “world war” could lead to detrimental impacts on their lives and futures. 

“[For the U.S. general population], it has been a long time since the last big war and people do not have the sense of urgency. So, the younger generation has no contact with the war like we have. Basically, every family in Estonia felt the deportation or torture during the Soviet time — the tortures while they were still there. So we have this sense of urgency, but I believe that we need to raise this awareness to a new level also here [in America],” Pevkur told DefenseScoop in a separate conversation after the media roundtable concluded.


“What we’re not helping together at the moment for Ukraine, then at the end of the day it will be more expensive for everyone — for Estonian ordinary citizens, for U.S. citizens — just the burden will be much higher,” he said.

And that burden of tensions with Russia, he added, already continues to feel increasingly high for Estonians, particularly near its eastern border.

Pevkur assessed that, since he last spoke to DefenseScoop in November, Russia ramped up attempts to conduct “hybrid” warfare attacks involving drones, cyber intrusions and other means against Estonia and other NATO members in the Baltic region.

“Cyber — we’ve faced some very serious attacks. A couple of weeks ago, we faced one of the most serious attacks in the last few years against our banking system. Of course, we managed that, but it took quite a lot of hours where our ATMs were out of order all around the country because this was like a really big attack,” he explained.

Another hybrid warfare tactic Estonians are witnessing from Russia involves deliberately flooding their borders with migrants from Belarus, the Middle East and other places. 


“We know that there are thousands of migrants waiting for the weather to be better to move again, either to Finland or to us. So this is why we have to be very careful. But we know that they are still there. We don’t know the exact quantities — but they are still there. So, you know, let’s say that something is boiling,” Pevkur told DefenseScoop.  

There’s no imminent threat of a major, more-than-hybrid attack from Russia at this time, Pevkur said. But he confirmed that Estonia’s government has also been procuring new artillery systems, missiles and loitering munitions that are set for delivery within the next two years.  

“We bought, so far, two times more ammunition as we had bought in [the previous] 30 years in total,” Pevkur noted.

Beyond protecting its troops and borders, there are also several mechanisms through which Estonia is moving to bolster Ukraine’s military arsenal. In January, for instance, it joined Latvia in forming a coalition of nations that aim to rapidly surge Ukraine’s drone cache with heaps of new systems.

“We want to send at least 1 million drones to Ukraine as soon as possible. And the other part is that we try to help Ukrainians to build up their own drone industry — although they’ve done an amazing job and they have the capacity at the moment and the capability to attack more than 1000 km into Russia. So, the Ukrainians are doing great in that sense,” Pevkur noted. 


The Russian military has been able to manufacture drones that span a wide range of form factors and performance capabilities at a much faster pace than Ukraine throughout this conflict and purchase even more from Iran and others. 

“So, we are producing different types of surveillance drones — and also, one of our companies is making joint cooperation at the moment with Ukrainians to come out with some kind of very small Shahed-type drone [referring to the Iranian-made kamikaze systems], and we are quite successful in that. So basically, the Latvians are trying to put together everything you can because everything goes and the drones are very important on the battlefield — but at the end of the day, also spoofing and jamming brings them down. It’s basically, let’s say, a very expensive bullet, but much cheaper than rockets,” Pevkur told DefenseScoop.

“Because we see, unfortunately, what the Russians are doing. One of my contacts in Ukraine said that they’ve had one case at least where against one Ukrainian soldier the Russians used 15-to-20 drones,” he said.

Among other initiatives, as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Estonia also recently launched and now leads a multinational coalition that strategically aims to strengthen Ukraine’s information technology capabilities and data centers explicitly associated with military purposes.

“The IT coalition is moving quite nicely. But still, we’re also waiting for the U.S. to join. We are waiting for many other countries to join and to really help the Ukrainian Army to be able to do something here,” Pevkur said.

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

Latest Podcasts