NATO troops invited to deploy near Russian border
Estonia is ready and able to host a contingent of up to 5,000 troops from NATO’s rapid response force if the order to deploy them is given, Tallinn has said, despite Russian concerns over the US-led bloc’s forces near its border.
Speaking on Monday to state-broadcaster ERR, the Estonian Ministry of Defense’s Permanent Secretary Kusti Salm announced that the Baltic nation was prepared to accept a detachment of soldiers at an army base in the northeast of the country, around 110km (69 miles) from the frontier with Russia.
“Estonia has everything ready in case a NATO rapid reaction force of up to 5,000 troops arrives,” the top official said. “There is an area in Tapa to receive allies, where equipment and weapons can be stored and distributed to units so that forces can move from there.”
According to him, Tallinn is willing to accommodate soldiers in special containers and tents if there is not enough room for them in existing army quarters. “The allies will not travel to us to sleep in barracks if they are required to come here in order to strengthen military power,” Salm said, adding that if NATO troops have to stay in Estonia for a long mission, new barracks will be built for them.
He insisted that “in terms of a containment policy, the Baltic region should be strengthened. There are clear plans on how to do this if necessary.”
Salm’s remarks come amid strained relations between the US-led military bloc and Russia. Last week, NATO representatives and Russian diplomats met to discuss a series of proposed guarantees designed to safeguard security on the European continent, following talks between officials from Washington and Moscow.
Last month, Russia handed over two draft treaties – one to Washington and the other to the military bloc – which included a request for assurances from NATO concerning the movement of military personnel and hardware, as well as calls on the organization to refrain from further enlargement close to Russia’s borders.
The proposed deal also includes a promise that all signatories will not station their forces on European states that were not members of NATO in 1997, meaning that Western troops would be barred from former Soviet republics such as Estonia, which joined in 2004. NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said creating a “two-tier” membership system that restricts its activities in former Warsaw Pact states would be unacceptable.
Speaking to Reuters last Wednesday, the country’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said that Estonia, alongside Latvia and Lithuania, has begun discussions to beef up the presence of NATO soldiers on its territories due to a perceived Russian threat.
Kallas remarked that “if you look at the map, the Baltic states are a NATO peninsula and, therefore, we have our worries.”
NATO initially bulked up its troop presence in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland in 2014, in the wake of Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea.