Estonia on a difficult search for a bunker

Since June, dozens of brightly colored signs — blue triangles on an orange background — have emerged to mark public shelters, Bloomberg wrote in an article Thursday. The website of the government agency Estonian Rescue Board says that public shelters will be marked in the country’s larger cities this year and next.

And further: “A shelter may be required in the event of a military threat, but also in the case of other threats such as extreme weather conditions, major fires, chemical attacks, mass unrest, etc..” Around 80 bunkers in five cities, two counties and one island are currently listed.

Notice board for a protective bunker

Estonia Rescue Board

Avalik Varjumiskoht, Estonian for “public shelter”, is intended for anyone “who needs help in case of danger”, according to the Estonian Rescue Board

Neglected bunker infrastructure

“Ten years ago, the prevailing opinion was that there would be no more conventional warfare and no more missiles,” Estonia’s Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets was quoted as saying on “Bloomberg”. But: “Just because there is no more war today doesn’t mean that we don’t have to prepare for the worst.”

According to Läänemets, Estonia has seriously neglected its bunker infrastructure over the past thirty years. It will take a few years to equip homes with simple shelters – and it will take decades to build a network of highly secure, purpose-built shelters in the first place.

Map of Estonia and surrounding states

Graphics: Map Resources/

17th Century Fortress as Joker

The country with its 1.2 million inhabitants benefits from a tunnel system under a 17th-century fortress in the city of Narva on the border with Russia. “The fortress, used when Soviet planes repeatedly bombed the city during World War II, could shelter hundreds of people,” Bloomberg said.

Part of the planning of the shelters in Estonia was also shaped by a visit to Finland. Baltic and Polish interior ministers met in October to discuss security concepts. In Finland, for example, the modernization of more than 50,000 civil defense bunkers built over the past eight decades has already begun.

Hermann Fortress in Estonia


The tunnel system under the medieval fortress in Narva could shelter hundreds

EU-wide discussion on civil protection called for

At the beginning of November, the interior ministers of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also called on the EU Commission to initiate a discussion on strengthening civil security. Home ministers recalled the importance of adequate preparation for potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and accidents.

The consequences of this could spread beyond the borders of individual countries and affect entire regions and even the whole of Europe. In view of the Ukraine war, public awareness and measures to protect the population should also be improved and joint civil defense exercises should be discussed.

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas

AP/Leon Neal

“An attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. That’s why we don’t feel threatened,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas

Reference to NATO partnership

Nevertheless, the Estonian government has repeatedly emphasized in the past that the Kremlin does not currently pose a direct threat. In addition, the NATO partnership would offer a strong security guarantee.

The Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an interview with ORF in June: “We are part of NATO, and Article Five says: An attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. That’s why we don’t feel threatened.” Kallas also tried to calm down after the rocket hit Poland.

However, the public does not seem very convinced of this. According to a survey commissioned by the government, almost a third of the population thinks a foreign country’s military attack on a strategic target in Estonia is likely. It remains questionable whether the new bunker markings strengthen the subjective feeling of safety or, on the contrary, weaken it.

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