EDF commander: 60 personnel deployed to Polish border

Lt. Gen. Martin Herem on 'Esimene stuudio'.
Lt. Gen. Martin Herem on 'Esimene stuudio'. Source: ERR

The number of Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel being deployed to Poland's border with Belarus is around 60, EDF commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem says. The personnel will gain valuable learning experience, in addition to aiding an ally, he said.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday night, Lt. Gen. Herem said: "The lesson to be drawn from the Polish crisis is that the migration weapon that Russia used a few years ago is still contained in the arsenals of some states, and we should be prepared for that."

As to what personnel are being deployed, he said: "At the moment - and this is based on information that is about two hours old - a pioneers unit is going, similar to what we saw in the construction of our own areas, and some intelligence and observation elements are going, while a battle camera team and its support element are going too. All told, we can't say the exact number, but it comes to around 60 people."

Herem said there is much to learn from the Polish crisis and, while the media is not permitted in the Polish border zone, this does not amount to censorship.

"One of the reasons why the media is kept away is that it inadvertently plays an intelligence role on behalf of the other side. Everything we see in the public, on the TV, can be pressed into very good use by the other side. For this same, single reason, a large number of journalists are not permitted there. Polish armed forces' camera teams are there and we are going to reinforce them. This information is not censored, but is instead security-compliant."

"The [Estonian] camera teams will definitely do their job well, intel surveillance will support the Polish border guard and its defense forces, while the support element will ensure that everyone can sleep, eat and get their fuel and equipment in the right place," Herem went on.

As to concerns about the massing of Russian military personnel on its borders with Ukraine, Herem said he thinks an invasion at this point unlikely, since, in his opinion, insufficient force has been mobilized in Russia to carry that out.

U.S. intel recently warned of the developments on the Russia-Ukraine border, and expressed concerns over a potential full-scale invasion early next year, ERR reports, citing Bloomberg.

Herem added that many western countries back Ukraine at present, just as they do Poland.

Herem also said that he thought Poland was likely better prepared for the current migrant crisis than Lithuania had been, in part because the Lithuania situation gave advanced warning of what might come – at the start of the current migrant crisis in mid-summer, the bulk of the pressure fell on the Belarus-Lithuania border, rather than the Belarus-Poland or Belarus-Latvia borders.

At the same time, both Poland and Lithuania are dealing with the situation along similar lines, while Estonia – which does not share a border with Belarus – is monitoring the situation and can respond rapidly when needed, as the recent Okas 2021 snap exercise demonstrated, Herem said.

Recent reports that a second route via Pskov for migrants being enticed by the Belarusian regime, or in this case, the Russian regime, to fly from Iraq and some other middle-eastern states in an effort to enter the EU were not completely unexpected, Herem said.

The possibility had been examined for some time, he said, though in theory the infrastructure at Pskov airport – just 30km from Estonia's border – could in theory accommodate a throughflow of migrants, Herem said.

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) said last week that EDF personnel could well be sent to Poland, while his counterpart at the interior ministry, Kristian Jaani (Center) said that the same would likely happen with PPA officials, already deployed to Lithuania on a month-long rotational basis, both to Poland and to Latvia.

Southeast Estonian border razor wire installation complete

Meanwhile in Estonia, EDF reservists have completed installing a temporary barrier on Estonia's southeastern border, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported, also on Wednesday evening.

The EDF, in conjunction with the civilian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), installed a total of just under 37km of razor wire in 10 sections, at stages identified as being at-risk for any potential illegal crossings but where no permanent border infrastructure either exists, or is planned for the next two years.

Maj.Marten Suur, commander of the EDF's 27th Pioneer Battalion, told AK that: "The exercise has actually been very successful; the reservists are delighted that they were able to carry out the 'real thing', not simply exercises in a training area."

"A few dozen kilometers of the border barrier has been erected, in cooperation with the PPA, and in fact we received testimony to the operation of our reserve forces model," he added.

The work started at the beginning of the weekend immediately off the back of the announcement of the 2021 Okas exercise – an annual exercise in late fall which is nonetheless called at short notice and involves primarily reservists.

EDF reservists are individuals who have completed a term of conscription – at present eight or 11 months depending on the specialty – and who then remain on the reserve lists for the following years.

These augment the current crop of reservists and regular EDF personnel – the EDF also includes the Estonian navy and airforce – and in turn are bolstered by the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), an unpaid citizen force whose units include those focused on cyber warfare as well as more traditional forms.

What happens to the temporary razor wire barriers once permanent border construction work starts in a given section has not yet been decided, AK reported, while a PPA spokesperson said that it may be incorporated into the new infrastructure rather than removed.

That border cordons are lacking at all in Estonia's southeastern border relates to several factors including political wrangling on the issue over many years, finances and also the fact that erecting a permanent border on the current lines would be a tacit recognition of the status quo, as opposed to the 1920 Treaty of Tartu border, which lay somewhat the east of the current frontier.

The area also is home to the distinct Seto culture, which spans the border, meaning cross-border movement and ties are present.

Much of the rest of Estonia's eastern border is made up of bodies of water, though those areas where there is dry land, such as on a dry river-bed tributary of the Narva river, were also subject to the temporary razor wire installation this weekend.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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