State planning artillery, missile system supply to Ukrainian armed forces
The state is planning to provide significant numbers of artillery and missile systems to Ukraine amid concerns over a build-up of Russian military forces on its borders. Under international rules, permission will be needed from the United States and also Finland and Germany, the countries of origin of the equipment, before the aid can go ahead, however.
The weapon systems - 122 mm howitzers and Javelin missiles - are primarily aimed at anti-tank defense.
Peeter Kuimet, head of the Ministry of Defense international cooperation department, told ERR Thursday that: "Estonia has made a decision in principal and via the Ministry of Defense that our desire is to support Ukraine with armaments and ammunition in its current, difficult security situation."
"What we are are currently considering or working on are Javelin missiles for anti-tank missile systems, and we are considering, or planning, to provide 122 mm howitzers together with their ammunition," Kuimet went on.
The announcement comes after significant numbers of Russian military personnel are reported to have amassed on the Russian side of the Ukraine border, even as some units have relocated, according to recent reports.
Of the cost, Kuimet said: "In a situation where Ukraine will soon have been under Russian aggression for seven or eight years, I would not want to start quibbling over kopecks here," adding that the intention was to "Look for places where Ukraine can really help with the things they need and which would strengthen their own defense capabilities and hopefully deterrence."
Kuimet added that Estonia is itself constantly procuring more Javelin missiles.
EDF personnel including special forces, pioneers, artillery and medics have deployed to Ukraine since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea and the start of the ongoing insurgency war in eastern Ukraine, work which is set to continue and which benefits both parties, Kuimet added.
He said: "Through the experience of the Ukrainians, we also get a more immediate picture of what a conflict or a battle picture looks like with the Russian Federation or the units it supports," adding that Estonia plans to continue training the ZSU, the armed forces of Ukraine.
"We currently hold annual courses in the English-language for Ukrainian special forces at the Defense Forces Academy [in Tallinn ]. Estonia, as well as the other Baltic states and Denmark, also sponsor Ukrainian students' study at the Baltic Defense College," he went on, and said the number of students could be doubled next year where needed.
In terms of materiel already sent, Estonia provided 2,400 Makarov pistols last year, but the new, proposed deliveries concern much more substantial and up-to-date equipment.
A joint Estonian-German initiative is also preparing field hospital facilities to the cost of €5 million, and similar to the one set up at Kuressaare Hospital on Saaremaa, during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. and other partners' permission needed first
Permission must be sought from the countries of origin of the hardware already in hand, before it can be sent to Ukraine, however.
In the case of the Javelin missiles, the country of origin is the U.S., while Finland and Germany must give the go ahead in relations to the howitzers (the Finns having purchased them from Germany prior to their sale – 42 of them at 31 million Estonian Kroons (around €2 million) to Estonia, in 2009).
The 122-mm howitzers have up until now been used by the EDF's 2nd Infantry Brigade artillery battery – their replacement will be the recently-procured South Korean-made K9 Thunder Self-Propelled howitzers.
Estonia also has over 30 155 mm howitzers at its disposal; these are likely to be retained in reserve. The EDF is also scheduled to acquire Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) weaponry in the next few years.
Expert: Military assistance on this scale unprecedented for Estonia
Kalev Stoicescu, researcher at the X (ICDS), said that the proposed military assistance was unprecedented move for Estonia.
Stoicescu told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Thursday tat: "Estonia has previously donated or provided military assistance in the form of small arms and lighter weapons, but not heavier weapons," adding that it would still be welcome.
"Ukraine has received a lot of assistance from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Poland, Lithuania, Germany - why not from Estonia?" Stoicescu went on.
In the new year, meetings involving the U.S., which has so far provided $2.5 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, AK reports, NATO's council and Russia are set to take place.
The talks have been called by Russia, based on a request to do the opposite of any NATO buildup on its eastern flank.
Stoicescu added that the process of clearing the weapons to be sent to Ukraine, and there actual arrival, would likely take months, by which time the situation regarding that country and its neighbors would be clearer in any case.
This article was updated to include comment by Kalev Stoicescu.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte