NATO's eastern flank must be strengthened on a permanent basis, President Alar Karis says. The president was in Brussels on Thursday, scene of a NATO summit convened in response to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
"This is especially true for our region, as well as for the entire eastern wing of NATO," President Karis said at a meeting in Brussels with his Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian counterparts, Andrzej Duda, Gitanas Nausėda and Egils Levits respectively.
"Strengthening the East Wing's defense capabilities means a permanent and strengthened NATO presence in our region," President Karis went on, adding this applied to sea and air as much as land.
NATO should also clearly abandon the NATO-Russia partnership, Karis said, echoing remarks made by President Duda of Poland earlier in the week, and continue to support Ukraine via military assistance, particularly if Russia's aggression against Ukraine continues.
Sanctions also need strengthening, the president said, and the Russian Federation should also be cut off from possible alternative markets, he said, referring not only to China but also the Gulf states, among others.
Four new battlegroups to be set up on NATO eastern flank
The NATO summit was followed by an official statement which said that the alliance has activated its: "Defense plans, deployed elements of the NATO Response Force, and placed 40,000 troops on our eastern flank, along with significant air and naval assets, under direct NATO command supported by Allies' national deployments.
Four new multi-national battlegroups, mirroring those in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, will be set up in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, the statement added. "We are taking all measures and decisions to ensure the security and defense of all Allies across all domains and with a 360-degree approach."
While President Karis was in Brussels, Estonia was represented at the summit itself by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).
Kallas said that the main takeaway from the summit had been the boosting of NATO troop presence on the eastern flank and the 2 percent of GDP expenditure on defense rule for membership of the alliance should be a bare minimum; Estonia itself has boosted its defense spend to 2.5 percent of annual GDP, she said.
Takeaway from #NATOSummit:— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) March 24, 2022
Our unity & support to is firm.
2% of GDP on defence must be the floor not the ceiling. Today decided to increase our spending to 2,5%.
To defend @NATO territory, we need forward defence - including more NATO troops & air defence in Estonia. pic.twitter.com/SUvhyWN0OT
Kallas also said that: "In order to defend Estonia, we need a combat-ready NATO division consisting of Estonia's own and allied units and a command structure."
"We also need stronger air defense," the prime minister continued, according to a government press release.
"The first task of defense readiness is to prevent a war and immediately hold off any attempted attacks where needed," the prime minister went on.
Kallas also attended a European Council meeting later on on the same day, telling the media on her arrival that further sanctions aimed at halting Russian President Vladimir Putin's war machine were on the table, as were other ways to support Ukraine.
Highlighted in #EUCO doorstep that we need to:— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) March 24, 2022
work up further sanctions to dry up #Putin's war machine
look at ways to reconstruct #Ukraine.
My proposal: set up special third-party account to capture some of the payments for Moscow's oil and gas and use it to rebuild . pic.twitter.com/StnUUgraB4
Latvia and Lithuania were represented at the summit by their presidents.
Latvia's head of state Egils Levits told the summit that the alliance must be ready to respond to Russia's growing aggression, and make NATO forces in the Baltic region a permanent fixture.
I also emphasized that the presence of NATO forces in the Baltic region must become permanent. We discussed with the Presidents the importance of strengthening NATO's Eastern Flank.— Egils Levits (@valstsgriba) March 24, 2022
President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda said that he had discussed further ways of supporting Ukraine in its fight, with POTUS Joe Biden.
Main topic in #EUCO today - #Ukraine .— Gitanas Nausėda (@GitanasNauseda) March 24, 2022
leaders discussed w/@POTUS how to further help heroic fight of Ukrainian nation as well as sanctions on #Russia.
Russia must stop this abhorrent war against Ukraine.
Truth must win, Ukraine will win! pic.twitter.com/h2eTbulfQW
The announcement was also made at the summit that NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has had his term extended to 2023, given the current security situation regarding Ukraine. Stoltenberg had already had his term extended for a further four years in 2018.
The Estonian government has approved a €600 million defense and internal security funding package, due for completion by 2025 and including a focus on medium-range air defense.
Editor: Andrew Whyte