As an NYT story puts it, "When Estonian authorities began removing a bronze statue of a World War II-era Soviet soldier from a park in this bustling Baltic seaport [Talinn] last month, the expected violent street protests by Estonians of Russian descent."
(Estonia has a lot of Russians because of a conscious policy by the Soviets when they controlled the country -- a byproduct of the Hitler-Stalin pact -- of "Russifying" the Baltic states by encouraging and subsidizing Russians to move there, with the idea of overwhelming the natives by sheer numbers and hopefully wiping out the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian national identities. Ethnic Estonians, now that the country is independent --and incredibly market-oriented and increasingly prosperous -- resent the ethnic Russians and haven't always been completely fair to them, but they can't just eliminate them.)
The other protests, however, came in attacks on the Internet, to which Estonians are incredibly attuned. A data flood into the tiny country logged "the Web sites of the president, the prime minister, Parliament and other government agencies, staggering Estonia's biggest bank and overwhelming the sites of several daily newspapers." The Estonians are sure the Russians did it -- they say one site used to launch attacks belongs to an official in Putin's Russian administration -- but the Russian government denies involvement.
Is this the new face of warfare?
The authorities anticipated the attacks and thought they had set up effective firewalls, but the attackers were persistent and clever and had money. They used distributed denial of service attacks and infiltrated computers around the world with software bots, making them unwitting allies. At one point "The 10 largest assualts blasted streams of 90 megabits of data a second at Estonia's networks, lasting up to 10 hours each. That is a data load equivalent to downloading the entire Windows XP operating system every six seconds for 10 hours."
Estonian experts held off much of the attack, but it was still damaging. Members of Parliament were without e-mail for four days.
Such cyber attacks have already become a feature of political tensions and disputes. Paslestinians regularly attack Israeli Web sites, etc. Hard to know where this will go.