Members of Estonia’s part-time militia crouch in a sandy trench on a hilltop as machine gun fire echoes through rain washed forest. Russia may be some way off but it is wariness of a vast neighbor that is swelling the force’s ranks, drawing laborers and office workers alike to a grueling exercise.
The Defense League of the Baltic State has grown 10 percent to almost 16,000 soldiers since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea last year and support for rebels in eastern Ukraine raised security fears in the small NATO nation. …
The Kremlin denies Western charges it fomented rebellion in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. But Tallinn fears the Kremlin could incite unrest among Estonia’s own ethnic Russians, who account for some 25 percent of the population, concentrated in Tallinn and around Narva near the border.
Its fears are shared by the other Baltic states ruled from Moscow from World War II until 1991 — Lithuania and Latvia.