AK: Martin Helme defense proposal possibly linked to overseas defense firm

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday night that an Israeli defense firm had presented weapons systems to the Riigikogu's defense committee back in spring. However, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) says that while additional defense investments are being seriously looked at, this is not to favor any concrete defense contract bidder.

Ratas' words follow a clash between finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) and defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) over the extent and nature of defense funding for 2021, and implied accusations of graft in awarding defense contracts to the as-yet-unnamed international defense companies. Martin Helme recently proposed borrowing €300 million for defense expenditure, but as an investment into newly procured air defense and coastal defense systems.

Former Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) officer and now Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Leo Kunnas told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Thursday night that he and fellow EKRE MP Alar Laneman had approached the Ministry of Defense during the summer, on the issue of gaps in defense capabilities and the possible coastal and air defense set-ups.

The prime minister confirmed that the issue of potentially increased defense spending is on the table, but rejected the idea that this was to favor preemptively any particular defense company with a contract.

"If there are thoughts of someone coming along with offers [for defense contracts] and we then do x, y or z, I can say this is certainly not the case," Ratas told AK.

Interior minister Mart Helme expressed the situation in terms of opportunities, however.

"We now have this window of opportunity, which must be exploited, but not so as to run into a dead-end. But we are now in a situation where we can find extra funds to do something which so far has not been done, due to a lack of money," he said.

Finance minister Martin Helme recently proposed procuring weapons systems for a total of €300 million in defense expenditure additional to the state budget; the possibility reached Helme via Kunnas and Laneman, who are members of the Riigikogu's defense committee, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Martin Helme asked EKRE MPs where borrowed money for defense funding could be invested in August

Kunnas said that Martin Helme had asked them directly as to where in the defense sector the funds could be diverted, in August.

Defense expenditure is a component of the annual state budget, due for completion at cabinet level by month end, when it will then go to parliament for debating and voting.

Martin Helme made his finance proposal Wednesday, but defense minister Jüri Luik's (Isamaa) response was to say that defense spending should not be improvised ad hoc and certainly not be directed by the finance minister.

Luik wants to maintain defense spending levels as budgeted for for 2021. As a NATO member state, Estonia is required to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense, a target which it meets.

Martin Helme: Can go over 2 percent GDP expenditure provided this is in investment

Martin Helme also recently said that defense expenditure could rise above the 2 percent mark, but only if more went into investments.

Of this €300 million Helme proposed borrowing, €250 million was earmarked for air defense and the remaining €50 million for coastal defenses; the idea had its genesis in a Riigikogu defense committee presentation in spring, where Raivo Tamm, a businessman who represents an Israeli defense systems firm, provided an overview of possible procurement.

Leo Kunnas added that if the Ministry of Defense had better ideas, he was all ears, saying that neither his party nor defense minister Jüri Luik, nor Luik's party, Isamaa, nor anyone else had a monopoly on the nationa's defense.

Kusti Salm, head of the Center for Defense Investment (RKK) said it was perfectly natural for arms manufacturers to present their products, but added a procurement process would then have to follow, rather than going straight to the company.

Procurement in defense is based on a 10-year development plan in conjunction with NATO allies and considering other aspects such as logistics and infrastructure, he said.

The original AK report (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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