The massive wave of cyber attacks which have hit Estonia's websites this month are a security issue which concern NATO, the Alliance's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday.
Estonian government websites were allegedly targeted by Russian cyber forces
"These cyber attacks have a security dimension without any doubt and that is the reason that NATO expertise was sent to Estonia to see what can and should be done," he told a meeting of lawmakers from NATO member states held in Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
"Does this have a security implication? Yes, it does have a security implication. Is it relevant for NATO? Yes, it is relevant for NATO. It is a subject which I am afraid will stay on the political agenda in the times to come," he added.
NATO nations have sent cyber experts to Estonia, one of the 26 members in the military alliance, as has the United States to help it combat the cyber attacks which have jammed mostly government websites.
Estonia has said that some of the cyber attacks came from Russian government computers, including the Kremlin. Moscow denies any role.
Attacks begin after removal of monument
The cyber attacks on the high-tech country began after Estonian officials removed a statue on April 27 from central Tallinn which commemorates Soviet troops killed fighting the Nazis. Many Estonians consider the statue a reminder of five decades of Soviet occupation when their country was a Soviet republic after World War II.
But the move angered Moscow and Estonia's large ethnic Russian minority, who see it as an affront to the memory of the fallen soldiers. The monument is seen by Russians, including the sizeable majority that lives in Estonia, as a tribute to Soviet soldiers who fought fascism in World War II, while many Estonians view it as a painful reminder of 50 years of Soviet occupation.
Relations between the two countries plunged to their lowest ebb since the Baltic state regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The still simmering row between the neighbors was triggered when the authorities in Estonia moved a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery, and exhumed the bodies of Red Army soldiers buried beneath it.
Attack one, attack all, says NATO
NATO's De Hoop Scheffer
The EU, NATO, United States and individual EU members have all taken Estonia's side in the row, ignoring Russian calls to punish the Baltic state for violating the human rights of ethnic Russians. The western powers have all taken the side of Estonia in the wake of the alleged cyber-attacks, angering the Russians further.
NATO's treaty states that an armed attack on one of its members is "an attack against them all" and some commentators in Estonia have argued that this means NATO is obliged help it respond to the cyber attacks. The issue is, along with NATO's plans for further eastern expansion and US plans to set up a missile defense system in Europe, one of several matters which have raised tensions between the European Union and Russia.
Estonia, an EU member with some 1.3 million people, has established itself as an Internet pioneer since it broke away from the Soviet Union.
Russia row boosts EU identity in Estonia
Passion for Europe has increased in recent weeks
Support among Estonians for the EU, which the Baltic state joined in 2004, has soared since the row erupted with Russia over the removal of the Soviet war monument from central Tallinn, a poll showed Friday. "In comparison with the end of last year, support of the people of Estonia for membership of the EU, has grown significantly," the Emor polling agency said in a statement.
Of 1,001 people surveyed, 85 percent said they support Estonia's membership in the EU, compared with 74 percent in December, Emor said.
"The record-high support is linked to events at the end of last month," Emor analyst Aivar Voog told AFP. "The massive pressure from Russia on Estonia made people appreciate the EU as a security guarantee," Voog said. "The attacks from the east made the Estonians realize once again that support for them comes from the west."