Estonian Spy the Latest Flashpoint for a Potential NATO-Russia War

Russia, Estonia Differ Over Details of Spy's Detention

NATO’s announcement of a new “spearhead” force aimed at Russia comes as yet another new source of tension between NATO and Russia has emerged, and reflects just how little it might take to kick off World War 3 between the world’s largest nuclear powers.

That incident was the detention of a spy from the tiny NATO member nation of Estonia by Russia. Exactly which side of the border the spy was captured from is unclear, and both sides are differing on the story in several key ways.

Estonian officials claim Russia snuck into the country, attacked him with a stun grenade and hauled him off at gunpoint. Russia says he was detained on the Russian side of the border, where he had spying cameras, audio recording devices, and a bundle of cash.

Russian officials believe the operation was some sort of covert espionage operation carried out by Estonia’s Security Police, likely on behalf of NATO.

In the grand scheme of things, such a minor issue along the border of two nations would normally hardly be worth mentioning. In the context of President Obama and other NATO officials insisting any “sovereignty violation” against any NATO member is an attack on the entire alliance, and one that would be met with military retaliation.

These sort of automatic alliance-wide declarations of war reflect a very dangerous problem with NATO, and a much bigger one since NATO has absorbed so many tiny nations along the Russian frontier. Any minor border agitation could quite easily lead to a war escalating out of control.

Estonia is a nation of just over one million people, and a single dispute over a single spy would never, under normal circumstances, lead to a war for such a nation, especially with a large neighbor as Russia. The NATO alliance gives Estonia effective control over 900 million people worldwide, and most of the planet’s military assets, so they could quite readily escalate any such incident beyond all reason.

The danger of a war expanding regionally because of interlocking alliances was seen clearly in World War 1, which tore a path of destruction across Europe. Yet that could be a drop in the bucket compared to a NATO-Russia War, given each side has a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out the human race several times over, and neither tends toward reasonableness in the face of apocalypse.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of