Defense minister: No direct Russia threat to Estonia, but risk rising
The massing of Russian military personnel on that country's border with Ukraine has not directly increased the military threat to Estonia, but indirectly the risks have risen, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) said on Monday.
"Today, there is no direct military threat to Estonia, but there are risks that that may later arise," Laanet said at a press conference on Monday.
Close co-operation is being established with the allies in order to maintain a unified threat picture and common positions, he added.
NATO defense ministers are to meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, while on Saturday, Laanet and his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts are to discuss the issues with their U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin in Vilnius , looking at ways in which the US can strengthen NATO's eastern wing, Laanet added.
Early next week, defense ministers from ten states in the Baltic region are to meet in the U.K., Laanet said.
Also appearing at the press conference was Deputy Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Maj.Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm, who pointed out that the number of Russian Federation military personnel on its border with Ukraine's borders are greater than those in 2014, when separatist forces started to engage in an insurgency war in the east of Ukraine.
Palm reiterated that close NATO cooperation is set to continue. "All the steps we are taking are aimed at achieving harmony with our allies - where we take steps simultaneously and in one direction," he said.
Maj. Gen. Palm said he agreed with the defense minister on his assessment of the direct threat to Estonia. "However, living next to such a neighbor is a big risk," he added.
Russia's concentrating of forces near Ukraine mean in some senses the immediate risk to Estonia may have even decreased, Palm said, as Russia had removed airborne and ground forces and other units previously deployed close to the border with Estonia.
"But if a new attack on Ukraine breaks out, it will clearly lead to a deterioration of our security situation, a clear deterioration," he went on.
Russia has not undergone such a level of military preparation in the last 30 years as is currently taking place near the borders of Ukraine, Palm added.
"While it's not known what's going to happen, an attack is one option," he said. "
"It is one thing just to threaten, but so far ,such preparations have been made along the lines of carrying out widespread aggression in Ukraine," he said.
Kalle Laanet also noted how quick the Russian Federation would be able to deploy military personnel – as last month's deployment of troops to Kazakhstan LINK, which took place within hours, demonstrated.
Laanet: Scale of military exercise in Belarus being concealed
Kalle Laanet said at the press conference that the size of joint military maneuvers involving Russian and Belarusian forces, in Belarus, are being concealed, despite the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Vienna Document's requirement that neighboring countries be informed of military movements involving over 9,000 personnel.
"We know that there are 30,000 troops there [in Belarus] in addition to the weapons brought there," Laanet said, adding that he did not believe Russian claims that these personnel would leave Belarusian soil once the exercise, dubbed Soyuznaya Reshimost ("Allied Resolve") 2022, has ended, a little under a week from now.
"This is not an exercise, but a concentration of forces that would be ready to attack or do other similar activities in a short time," Maj. Gen. Palm added.
Laanet also said that plans for the arrival of displaced persons from Ukraine who were fleeing the conflict were in place.
He said: "There are plans for refugees to arrive. As the level of risk increases, the pressure on our borders will increase, the Police and Border Guard Board will take action initially, followed by the Defense League (Kaitseliit) and then the Estonian Defense Forces, depending on the nature of the pressure. We have plans for different contingencies."
Estonia's social protection minister, Signe Riisalo (Reform), recently said Estonia has sufficient space to cater for an influx of around 2,000 refugees, while Laanet said that his ministry enjoyed good cooperation with the interior ministry, including with the PPA.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called for representatives from Belarus to attend a meeting on Monday within the OSCE framework on the situation with Soyuznaya Reshimost, after the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to earlier responses on the issue, put forward by Lithuania on behalf of all three Baltic States, as "insufficient".
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Editor: Andrew Whyte