Defense minister: Growth in JEF activity would demonstrate western unity
Boosted exercises by the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) will demonstrate regional solidarity and head off efforts by the Russian Federation to undermine western security in the wake of that country's unprovoked, large-scale attack on Ukraine, Estonian defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says.
Writing on his social media page following a meeting of JEF member states' defense ministers in London on Tuesday, hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Laanet said that: "We have called on representatives of other countries to increase the JEF joint exercise on land, sea and air in the Scandinavian, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea regions."
"Such actions demonstrate our united solidarity, our ability and our real preparedness to act. Working together with NATO and the European Union, we will not allow Russia to intimidate the people of Europe or undermine our security," the defense minister, who attended a meeting in Leicestershire in England just two days before the invasion, continued.
The JEF defense ministers' meeting in London took place a day after member states' leaders met with Prime Minister Johnson, at Number 10, Downing Street, which Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas (Reform), attended.
Tuesday's meeting was aimed mainly at finding novel ways to support Ukraine, including increasing humanitarian and material aid, plus ways in which the total isolation of the Russian Federation might be achieved, the defense minister noted on his social media page.
Bringing Russian leader Vladimir Putin to account at the highest level for his dark deeds was also a given, Laanet added.
"We fully support investigation into Russia's brutal violations of international law and its war crimes at The Hague. The result of this brutal war must not be of benefit to Putin - it must fail. We thus call on Putin to de-escalate the situation, and take responsibility for war crimes."
"The President of Ukraine [Volodomyr] Zelenskyy joined our meeting today via video link and gave us the latest overview of the situation and the needs of Ukraine.
"He was confident in the ability of the Ukrainian forces to continue to stand up to the Russian troops and to defend Kyiv at all costs. However, he called for an boost in all military aid to Ukraine, to enable their armies to have the means to defend themselves."
Laanet also said that: "The will to further help Ukraine is very strong, and specific ways to coordinate and finance assistance were discussed.
"The full-scale assault by the Russian Federation on Ukraine has permanently changed European security and put us in a situation where all of our allies and partners need to further strengthen their military deterrence and defense capabilities," Laanet added, according to a ministry press release.
"The whole of Ukraine is fighting bravely against this inhuman aggression; they have prepared for it both militarily and morally," Laanet continued.
More weapons are to be donated to Ukraine from the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Laanet noted, with negotiations on achieving this already underway.
He added: "All the weapons donated by Estonia are already either present in Ukraine or on their way to our ally. We have certainly been one of the quickest in providing real aid."
Military aid so far sent has included Javelin missiles.
The JEF is a U.K.- led coalition mainly focused on maritime defense of the Baltic and North Atlantic, with member states including the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, as well as Estonia.
Once activated, the U.K. is tasked with overseeing the JEF's command and combat elements, complemented by the capabilities of all other member states as required.
Laanet heading to Brussels Wednesday
Laanet will be in Brussels on Wednesday for NATO defense ministers' meeting, which again will be attended by a Ukraine's defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov via video link, ERR reports.
NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said that: "NATO allies and European leaders have been in constant contact with Ukraine and their political leaders, including President Zelenskyy before and during the crisis. I think it is key that NATO leaders communicate with [Zelenskyy]."
While the meeting is extraordinary, in the sense of being off-schedule, ERR reports, it is not unexpected given a NATO summit and meeting of member states' foreign ministers have already taken place on a similar basis since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Since the foreign ministers' meeting last week, the situation on the ground has stabilized somewhat, ERR reports, and there is less uncertainty now - though the NATO secretary general has still expressed concern about turns the conflict could take, for instance in the use of chemical weapons, noting that other statements that the Russian leadership has made, such as that they had no plans to attack Ukraine or that they would be recalling troops in fact turned out to be the polar opposite of what transpired.
False claims that Ukraine has biological or chemical weapons labs on its territory and for its armed forces' use are particularly worrying as a potential pretext for Moscow to use same, Stoltenberg noted.
Unarmed Russian drones found in Croatian and Romanian airspace, still under investigation, denote the nature of Russia's activities beyond the conflict zone also, the secretary general noted.
Another extraordinary NATO summit is to take place in Brussels next Thursday, March 24, exactly one month after Russia commenced its attack on Ukraine, Stoltenberg announced.
U.S. President Joe Biden will head the summit and will also take part in a European Council meeting on the same day – the first time a sitting POTUS has done so since George W. Bush in 2005.
To what extent this represents an even stronger show of western unity and the staging post for any bigger decisions will become clearer in the coming days, ERR reports.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte