British defense secretary Fallon reassures Estonia
The British defense secretary Michael Fallon paid a brief visit to Ämari Air Base in Estonia on Wednesday, meeting his Estonian counterpart Sven Mikser and greeting the UK's pilots and ground crew who are currently flying and looking after four RAF jets stationed at the base.
Fallon announced that a progress has been made on the NATO 'Readiness Action Plan', as agreed on last year's Welsh Summit. The plan is designed to respond to the challenges posed by Russia and strengthen NATO's collective defense and its crisis management capability. Its flagship element will be a 'Very High Readiness Joint Task Force' (VJTF), centered on a multinational brigade ready to deploy within two-three days. Britain is expected to play a leading part in the force and Estonia will also contribute troops.
Fallon told ERR News in a response to a question about the possibility of permanent NATO bases in Estonia that at this stage it is still hypothetical, but indicated that in some form or another, NATO forces will stay in the country indefinitely. He pointed out that the UK has constantly contributed troops and artillery to military exercises in Estonia, and four Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons are currently based in Ämari Air Base, as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. More than 200 soldiers from The Royal Gurkha Rifles are conducting land warfare exercises with NATO allies across the Baltic states and Poland, as part of Saber Strike exercise, and Royal Navy's largest ship, the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, is also deployed to Poland.
British defense secretary also commented upon the question of UK's defense spending, which is due to fall below 2 percent of the GDP for the first time in many years. Although Fallon conceded the fact, he emphasized that Britain is still the second largest defense spender in NATO after the United States, and one of the most formidable military forces in Europe.