President Karis: Permanent NATO presence key to eastern flank defense
The contribution of both NATO and non-NATO members to a large-scale air defense exercise, and their permanent and boosted presence, are crucial to Baltic Sea region security, President Alar Karis says.
Making his remarks while visiting the U.S. and international Operation Saber Strike air defense exercise on Monday, the head of state said: "In terms of the security of the Baltic Sea region, it is crucial that our cooperation with the allies be close, secure and trustworthy, and also with the Finns."
Five countries take part in Sabre Strike, an annual exercise which has taken on particular significance given Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24.
One of the five participating nations, Finland, is not a NATO member – though it is a NATO partner.
The Helsinki Air Defense Regiment, with its NASAMS medium- to long-range air defense system, is taking part in Saber Strike, along with the U.S. 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command (10th AAMDC) and other countries' units.
"Finland's contribution to our common security is extremely important, hence why we need to rehearse military cooperation on a practical basis also," President Karis went on, adding that Russia's outright military attack on Ukraine reaffirms this necessity, while Finland can be counted on to stand firmly by Estonia and her allies' side.
The U.K., France, Denmark and Belgium have also decisively bolstered their defensive presence in Estonia, the head of state went on.
Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem noted the lessons learned so far of the importance of air defense, nearly three weeks into the war prosecuted by the Russian Federation.
He said: "Air defenses are important; we are seeing that every day of this war."
"It is the air defense of the near country, mobile, which can be moved quickly, and which is tough for an enemy to apprehend; this is what Estonia now needs and is able to use quickly to defend itself," Lt. Gen. Herem went on.
Herem also said that boosted NATO presence in the countries, like Estonia, on the alliance's eastern flank ensures the requisite deterrent and defense.
"Therefore Estonia expects quick and fundamental decisions from NATO," X said.
Estonia continues to prepare for collective defence with @NATO Allies and Partners. Great to have a valuable contribution from our Finnish friends in exercise #SaberStrike. #StrongerTogether #WeAreAllies pic.twitter.com/t2tomz8KL1— Alar Karis (@AlarKaris) March 14, 2022
As well as visiting the EDF's Central Training Area in Harju County, the Head of State also visited the Exercise Saber Strike control center, where information is exchanged and fire-power coordinated.
The exercises are EDF-led, with the U.S. contributing air defense units, Belgium and Poland providing fighter jets and the U.K. providing both of these.
Operation Saber Strike is an annual U.S.-led multinational exercise first run in 2010. This year's exercise makes use of the late winter conditions, and has included a live-firing exercise featuring Stinger missiles, which took place on Rutja beach last week.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte