French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly was in Estonia on Sunday and Monday, where she met with French troops serving at Ämari Air Base and then met one-on-one with Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform). The two ministers delivered a joint press conference on Monday afternoon, which ERR and ERR News broadcast live.
Defense cooperation between France and Estonia has been strong for years, and Estonia is glad to see it grow stronger by the year, Laanet said in opening the press conference.
"Especially at this moment, when the security situation in Europe is the worst it has been since Estonia regained independence [in 1991], it is great to have allies with whom we have built a trust-based relationship over many years of working together on various missions," he continued, highlighting the fact that Estonian forces have served alongside the French in Mali, and adding that the two countries are looking for future missions where this cooperation can be continued as well.
"It is clear to us that when the situation gets complicated, our French allies are here with us," Laanet said. "Today, instead of enhanced Forward Presence, we are talking about enhanced Forward Defense. The French have sent additional forces and extended their participation in NATO Battlegroup Estonia in Tapa, and the French Air and Space Force has arrived in Estonia with four Mirage fighters sooner than its rotation in the Baltic Air Policing mission was to begin."
A unit from the Alpine Hunters, the French Army's elite mountain infantry unit, recently arrived in Estonia as well.
Entretien avec mon homologue Kalle Laanet. Notre coopération de défense est exemplaire, renforcée par notre fraternité d'armes au Sahel. Au coeur de nos discussions : la guerre en Ukraine et ses répercussions sur la sécurité européenne. pic.twitter.com/qFcXRqnKKi— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) April 4, 2022
The two ministers visited the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Tallinn's Maarjamäe neighborhood together on Sunday evening. Laanet noted that the parallels between the victims of World War II and the Soviet regime and the present-day situation and war in Ukraine were all too clear.
"Russia was and is the greatest threat to European security, which is why our unity is more important than ever," the Estonian minister stressed. "First, to help Ukraine in every way possible to win the war. Second, to rebuild after the horrors of war are over. In terms of defense, we are in a new reality, where we have to reevaluate how we defend our allied territory. What makes the situation different for us from the times for which we have erected memorials is that now we have our allies. What matters most right now is unity."
Lors d'une conférence de presse conjointe à Tallinn avec mon homologue estonien, Kalle Laanet, j'ai condamné fermement les crimes de Boutcha et des environs de Kiev. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/xuvLBNigt0— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) April 4, 2022
"Since February 24, Ukraine has been suffering from an odious invasion," Parly said. "Recent images received from the Kyiv region, in particular the town of Bucha, illustrate how far the violence has gotten in this conflict. We stand by the Ukrainian people in such hard times, and we are more than ever impressed by the courage and success of the Ukrainian resistance. The world needs the truth about what happened in Bucha and around Kyiv."
Parly: Enhanced cooperation now a strategic imperative
The French minister said she had just had a long discussion with Laanet regarding the war in Ukraine and its implications for Estonian security and Europe more broadly.
"Estonia can count on France's solidarity and friendship," she stressed.
Parly described several ways in which France has contributed directly to Estonian security, including the French Air Force serving the Baltic Air Policing mission since 2007, contributing alongside other NATO allies to assurance measures in Estonia, the four Mirage combat aircraft that just arrived at Ämari Air Base as well as French aircraft serving Combat Air Patrol along the alliance's eastern flank as well.
"Since mid-March, we have also deployed an additional French company to Tapa," she said. "Indeed, after discussions with the Estonian authorities, we decided to extend our contribution to enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) due to Russian aggression against Ukraine. These missions are of crucial importance to guarantee our security. NATO, which happens to turn 73 today, remains the cornerstone of our collective defense."
Joint operations in the Sahel as well as in the Baltics reinforce ties between Estonia and France's respective armed forces as well as contribute to the stability of both Africa and Europe, she continued, noting that such common involvements on the ground help develop a common operational and strategic culture which is what comprises European defense. This European defense in turn, she noted, complements NATO.
"While war is back in Europe, enhancing cooperation between our two organizations is no more a luxury and no more an option — it is a strategic imperative," Parly stressed. "European security and defense has evolved more in the last days than in the last two decades."
Parly was on Monday bestowed with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, which she dedicated to the relationship and special bond of Estonia and France's armed forces.
"In particular, I would like to reemphasize our gratitude for Estonia's military commitment to the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region," she said. "Our soldiers stand side by side there, as they do here in Estonia. It reinforces the bond of trust that unites us."
'We are continuing to deliver weapons'
Responding to a question by an ERR journalist who asked what else can be done, as condemnation and sanctions alone don't protect Ukrainians, Parly responded that investigations into the crimes that have been exposed in recent days must be conducted.
"Prime Minister [Kaja] Kallas rightly drew the comparison when she said it reminded her of the mass crimes of the Soviet state and its heirs," she said. "So we definitely need the truth — investigations must be conducted."
She also highlighted the EU's significant step in so quickly passing the previous sanctions, and noted that it had now immediately begun working on a new set of sanctions, which this time will likely include energy-related sanctions on Russian oil and coal, which she acknowledged would be the "most painful" for European countries.
Estonia and France are also both doing their best to respond to requests Ukraine is regularly sending for specific weapons.
Asked by a journalist from Postimees for more specific details regarding what kind of military aid is being sent to Ukraine, Parly said that France does not have the same kinds of weapons in its stocks, and so they are focusing on providing weapons to Ukraine that can be used immediately, without lengthy or specific training.
"For the sake of security, I never comment on the content and details about what were are providing, but what I can tell you is that we started providing weapons from the beginning and we are continuing to deliver weapons," the French minister said."
Asked by ERR whether France is ready to reposition military equipment to Estonia and whether Estonia is ready to receive it, Parly said that the repositioning of allied equipment needs to be examined at the NATO level, including the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), and between EU member states.
Laanet added that Estonia on its part is ready to receive additional military equipment, noting additional defense spending that the Estonian government had just decided on last week.
Editor: Aili Vahtla