Estonia holds largest drills in its modern history with over a dozen NATO allies
The majority of the troops taking part in the exercise, which started on Wednesday and will last till Sunday next week, were provided by the host country. In addition to the regular and reserve military service members, Estonia’s paramilitary Defense League, the Women’s Home Defense Organization, and police and rescue workers are all taking part in Siil 2018, totaling over 13,000 people. Estonia’s entire population is estimated at just over 1.3 million.
The exercise scenario involves defending against an attack on Estonia by the fictitious nation of Murinius and its allies. According to maps of the drill, the attack comes from Russia and Belarus, who have sent observers to the event.
The 2,000 visiting troops at the exercise were provided by the US, the UK, Denmark, Germany, Poland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Georgia, Ukraine and Ireland. NATO heavyweights also brought in some hardware for Siil 2018, including American UH-60 Black Hawk attack helicopters, British Lynx Wildcat AH1 attack helicopters, French Mirage 2000 fighter jets and Poland’s veteran Sukhoi Su-22 fighter-bomber planes. The host nation provides Robinson R-44 utility helicopters and Aero L-39 Albatros jet trainers for the drill.
Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas described the training as an event involving the entire nation. The exercise “confirms that the people of Estonia are prepared to defend their nation. Just as the slogan of the drill says, every spine counts,” Ratas said, referring to the name of the exercise, which is translated as “hedgehog”. “There are few nations in the world capable of rallying over one percent of its total population for an exercise. This is the proof that people living in Estonia have a drive for defense, for what we call ‘broad-based defense’ here.” Siil 2018’s combat training will take place on May 8-12.
NATO has been holding record-breaking exercises in various Eastern European countries and training to rapidly deploy tanks and troops at Russia’s border since 2014. Members of the military bloc claim it is necessary to reassure countries like Poland and the Baltic states, including Estonia, that the more militarily capable allies would protect them from a Russian aggression. The presence of Americans, it is claimed, would serve as an additional deterrence to Moscow.
Russia denies having any aggressive plans towards NATO and perceives such actions as a threat. It responds by increasing the number of troops deployed in western Russia and holding military exercises on its own.
Moscow’s moves are inevitably cited by the allies as proof of Russia’s hostility. For instance, last year’s joint Russian-Belarus Zapad drill was portrayed by many politicians and officials in NATO as a possible preparation for an all-out invasion of the Baltics. No such act of aggression materialized, however, which is probably explained by the non-victims as yet another proof of Moscow’s duplicity.
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