Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Russia has halted military exercises in the vicinity of its western borders, and its military aircraft are flying in the Baltic airspace with their onboard transponders switched on. But the Estonian defense forces do not agree with this assessment.
Fomin said in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia: "We are trying to find common points of contact. For example, the military exercises in direct vicinity of the Russian borders on Western states were halted on our initiative."
"Our combat aviation is flying over the Baltics with their transponders on. We manifest endless openness when holding military events," the deputy defense minister said.
The headquarters of the Estonian defense forces did not confirm Fomin's words.
"Looking at the flights of Russian aircraft this week alone, there have not been any positive changes," head of the Estonian Air Force, Col. Rauno Sirk, said. "NATO jets were scrambled four times in one week to identify Russian planes as their transponders had not been switched on."
Capt. Aivo Vahemets from the press unit of the defense headquarters said that Russia has itself announced that military inspections will be carried out in the Western and Central Military Districts of Russia from March 25-28.
"Also to be held are inspections of the Russian air and space forces, strategic missile forces, combat engineer platoons and military medical units," Vahemets said. It was said that the purpose of the exercise, which will involve some 80,000 military personnel, according to the information relayed, was to test the troops' readiness for a mass infection, he added.
Fomin noted that in Russia's view, NATO is not ready to take real steps to reduce the tensions in Europe, to take Russia's interests into account.
"On this background, it is difficult to speak about any significant progress in reducing tensions. But we are committed to serious and pragmatic dialogue with NATO and with individual states of the bloc," he said.
"We constantly communicate our position to our partners: NATO expansion eastward, increase of the military infrastructure near our borders, the creation of a so-called military Schengen area in Europe, the deployment of air defense systems and attack weapons amid the reduction of military contacts only lead to the escalation of tensions. Especially on the Russia-NATO contact line," the Russian deputy defense minister noted.
Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik said earlier this week despite the coronavirus, Estonia's geopolitical position next to Russia has not changed in any way and the threats regarding military crises remain unchanged.
Editor: Helen Wright