(Bloomberg) -- Estonia’s government is racing to identify facilities as bomb shelters amid growing fear of a possible attack from Russia.
Authorities are sifting through public buildings, schools and shopping centers in search of spaces that could provide protection. Since June, dozens of colorful signs -- blue triangles on an orange background -- have popped up to mark public shelters.
“Ten years ago, the prevailing narrative was that there would be no more conventional battles, no rockets,” Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets said in an interview this month. “Just because there is no war today doesn’t mean we don’t need to prepare for the worst.”
Among the dozens of sites recently marked as public shelters is a warren of tunnels beneath a 17th-century fortification in Narva, a city perched on the border with Russia. The bastion -- which was used when Soviet planes repeatedly bombed the city in World War II -- would be able to shelter hundreds.
At least part of the planning was shaped by a visit by Baltic and Polish interior ministers to Finland in October. Officials in Helsinki began upgrading their network of more than 50,000 civil defense shelters built over the last eight decades.
Estonia’s minister said the “class trip” showed the country had been neglecting its infrastructure for three decades.
“It will take a few years to fit apartment buildings with basic shelters,” Laanemets said in the interview. “It will take decades to develop a network of highly secure, purpose-built shelters.”
Still, Estonian leaders have repeatedly underscored to the public that the Kremlin doesn’t currently pose a direct threat, adding that NATO provides the ultimate security guarantee.
Also, Russia’s 76th air assault division, usually based some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Estonian border, has largely been redeployed to Ukraine.
According to an Estonian government-commissioned survey released Nov. 9, almost a third of respondents said a limited military attack by a foreign country against a strategic Estonian target was likely.
Estonia has long had an uneasy relationship with Moscow, but has particularly been rattled by its invasion of Ukraine.
That was followed by cyberattacks, missile-attack simulations targeting the Baltic nation and warnings that Moscow could disconnect the region from the electricity grid.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas put Estonia’s anxiety on display, saying that if her nation is attacked by Russia as Ukraine was, it would mean the “complete destruction” of the country given its size and abilities to fight back.
“Those of you who have been to Tallinn and know our Old Town and the centuries of history and culture that is here -- that would all be wiped off from the map, including our people, our nation,” she told a group of reporters in June.
--With assistance from Leo Laikola.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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