Defense minister: Estonia is ready to increase its defense readiness

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Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Sander Koit/ERR

The transfer of Russian troops to the border areas of Ukraine means that there may also be a need to increase defense readiness in Estonia - if so, Estonia is ready for that, Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform) said on Friday. The international community must also put pressure on Russia to avoid a wider conflict in Ukraine, experts said.

Compared to 2014 and the start of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, Russia has moved more than 25,000 soldiers and a lot of military equipment to the border areas of Ukraine, ETV's evening news program "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported on Friday.

In recent weeks clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed Donbass separatists have intensified and a Ukrainian soldier was killed on Thursday when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the region. Zelensky has reaffirmed his desire to move towards joining NATO.

Estonian Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet told AK this may be one of the reasons for Russia's activity.

"Russia is definitely a country that wants to show they are also players, and if Ukraine thinks that it is moving in one direction or another here, then this is not quite that simple," Laanet said.

Former defense minister Juri Luik said the reason for Russia's activity is domestic stagnation. "Such a situation requires the mobilization of people and with victorious wars, or threats of war, is how it has always been done in Russia," Luik said.

Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Dmitry Kozak said on Thursday that Russia may move to Donbass to protect its citizens if Ukraine tries to recapture the region. Ukraine has said it has no plans to attack areas controlled by separatists.

Luik said such messages from Russia are part of the attack.

"We are seeing a sharp increase in intensity, but there are several components - troops, propaganda, local terrorists, complete disregard for diplomatic initiatives. So the situation is pretty gloomy," Luik told AK.

Researcher at the International Center for Defense Studies Martin Hurt said we do not really know what Russia's final goal is.

"The whole world's focus is currently on the deployment of Russian troops to the territories of Ukraine and the border areas of Ukraine, but in the shadow of all this, Moscow is usually very masterful in carrying out other operations elsewhere," Hurt said.

In other words, Russia's secondary focus could easily be closer to Estonia. "What we need to keep in mind here is sending signals to Russia ourselves that we are monitoring what you are doing, if necessary, we will increase our defense readiness ourselves," Hurt added.

Laanet told AK: "We are ready for that, and we also have certain exercises to be carried out in the near future, where our allies will also come to the territory of Estonia."

Luik said: "Battle is not ongoing yet. It is highly likely that conflict can currently still be avoided. Putin must understand that the international community is so united that if he does something, he will have very big problems."

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Editor: Helen Wright

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