Lt. Gen. Frederick Ben Hodges, the commander of the NATO Allied Land Command and of the US army in Europe, visited Estonia on Tuesday and confirmed that US troops will stay in Estonia as long as is required to deter Russia.
In a speech given to Estonian media representatives, Hodges had only good words to say about Estonian soldiers.
"I am very proud that we (US troops) have taken part of joint military exercises with Estonian troops. The US forces are here to assure our allies and deter Russian aggression. This rotation will last as long as is required by Estonia. I remember when Estonians served in Iraq, Afghanistan - they have also served in Africa - you have been trustworthy ally around the world. For this, we are very grateful,” Hodges said.
In an interview given to Eesti Päevaleht, the commander confirmed that the US is taking NATO collective defense seriously.
"The United States is one of the founding members of NATO. The organization is based on collective defense, tied by Article 5. An attack on Tallinn is the same as an attack on London, Berlin, or Paris. The US national security strategy is backed up by our forces based in Europe and the ability of our troops elsewhere. This was not only done in reaction to Russia's annexation of Crimea; our army will always function. The rotation of US troops is confirmed until the end of 2015 and we will continue to perform our task - this is part of the collective defense,” he said to the paper.
Hodges also gave a straightforward answer to the question of how the US might possibly behave in a hypothetical situation of Russia's invasion.
"If we look at how Russia has behaved in Crimea and in Ukraine, and how it pressurizes Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic states, then their aim is to cause rifts and uncertainty. It would be in their interests to make Estonians think that no matter what, NATO allies, such as for example, Germany, Portugal, or Canada, would not come to help Estonia in case of invasion. Russia would want Estonians to raise doubts about what qualifies under Article 5 and what does not,” he said.
"The defense starts at home. There will be a major exercise in Estonia next spring where the US troops will participate. I think that in case of a hypothetical invasion, the US President will decide in a bilateral context what would be the appropriate action. But our soldiers have always right for self defense. I will not imagine a situation where the Russian forces invade and the US troops just sit back and watch. But I don't believe that Russia would make it so easy for us that they use conventional methods,” Hodges added.