Interview | UK ambassador to Estonia on NATO battlegroup fifth anniversary

The United Kingdom's Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Mr. Ross Allen.
The United Kingdom's Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Mr. Ross Allen. Source: British Embassy Tallinn

It was a changed security situation after 2014 led directly to the formation of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa, transforming the town of a little over 5,000 inhabitants, and about an hour's drive east of Tallinn, into a hive of activity and endeavor.

Now the security situation has changed once again, this puts even greater focus on the battlegroup, its philosophy and role, just as the battlegroup recently celebrated its fifth birthday.

Following a decision at the 2016 Warsaw Summit, the eFP battlegroup became reality early the following year.

While the battlegroup is part of the Estonia Defense Forces' (EDF) 1st Infantry Brigade, joined by troops from Denmark and France, the lead NATO nation is the United Kingdom, so who better to speak to about what has been achieved so far, what to look forward to and to iron out some of the details of the eFP's functioning, than Britain's own Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Mr. Ross Allen.

The eFP dos not constitute the entirety of Ross' or the embassy's work by a long way, of course, so before we get to the battlegroup, what else is on the agenda right now?

"We're in the final phases of negotiating a tech partnership with Estonia, for instance," the ambassador says.

"There are a few areas in tech where we want to collaborate and which we hope to have signed off in the next few weeks," he adds.

"We have a lot going on, on the business side; we have a trade and investment team here, so we support Estonian companies that want to set up in the UK, or British companies that want to export out here."

"There's also the consular section, which supports brits who are visiting Estonia or who live here, should they end up needing assistance, and we also do quite a lot of work with Estonia's broader foreign and security policies."

"We do quite a bit on climate too – I recently took an Estonian delegation of around 18 people to Scotland, to Aberdeen, a mixture of businesses, regulators, government and local government people etc., looking at how that city is gradually transitioning away from fossil fuels and into renewables and hydrogen."

Clean energy focus

For Estonia this means wind energy, in particular.

"We followed things up when we got back here, in Häädemeeste, which is a lovely part of the world down near the Latvian border. I was talking to people down there about offshore wind, as it is one of the areas which has been earmarked for a joint Estonian-Latvian wind park. Talking to people about the positive experience from the UK in wind energy will also hopefully allay some of the concerns," he adds, noting the benefits in terms of job creation as well as the environmental and energy benefits.

Estonia has been putting up on-shore wind-farms for many years now, but the type of offshore windfarms which now punctuate the UK coastline are still only at planning stage here, and are subject to much discussion, politicking and concerns.

"My message on the offshore stuff is not to be too scared of the unknown. Our experience in Britain– where we actually at one point had the most offshore wind power in the world – has been that even communities that have been negative of ambivalent towards it at the outset, are now much more positive."

"Estonia has good conditions for offshore: Shallow seas, areas on land that are relatively unpopulated etc., so it could be quite a good thing for the country."

"Estonia could be fully subsistent on renewables and even end up exporting electricity again," Ross notes, adding that this had been the case in the past with shale oil-generated electricity, but that modern climate considerations require a different tack.

A growth in renewables would help with decoupling from any residual dependency upon Russian energy, also.

Which brings us to the current security situation and the eFP. One of the things which one could contrast quite obviously between the Russian military, and multi-national NATO battlegroups like the one at Tapa, is that the latter almost symbolize a different, democratic values system.

Philosophy of the eFP and NATO's presence in Estonia

"All NATO members have a shared set of values; all three nationalities there at Tapa are really clear why they're here – that's even more the case than it was before because of what's happened with Russia and Ukraine."

"One of the things which is quite nice is we're all there (French and Danish troops join the Estonian and British personnel which make up the eFP) at the same time now."

"The French and Danes get to be together, which they didn't in the past, as they usually alternated on a rotational basis, so it's nice that has happened."

"When I visit Tapa and talk to the troops they, too, absolutely understand why they're here."

Ross Allen addressing the troops at Tapa base. Source: British Embassy Tallinn

"I was at the training area the day after the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) were told that they were extending their term, and morale was high, as if to say: 'We get it – that's why we're in the army and that's why we're here."

The RTR currently make up the core of the eFP along with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh – two battalions where in the past there had been one, plus supported by many other elements from many other British army units and those of their allies.

"I recently attended the eFP's fifth celebration here, and, listening to the speeches, with the French and Danish ambassadors, and the Estonian defense minister, we all could have practically given each other's presentations as we're all on the same page in our view of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, and the value of the eFP."

eFP battlegroups are also in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland

The eFP is part of an overall NATO presence on its eastern flank as a whole, and has equivalents in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, battlegroups which are Canadian-, German- and U.S.-led respectively and which have many other NATO member states contributing, particularly in the case of the Latvian eFP. British troops have also been in Poland in significant numbers, at least since the migration crisis on that country's border with Belarus starting last summer.

"Colonel Dai Bevan, who's the commanding officer based at HQ in Tallinn, also has a role overseeing some of the troops we have in Poland at the moment, and there has been quite a lot of going on exercise with the other eFPs in Latvia and Lithuania."

The eFP is not some occupying force, by any stretch, however – in Estonia, it the battlegroup is under the command of a NATO ally, namely Estonia itself, not vice versa.

"In terms of command and control, as well as fitting into the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) 1st Brigade, which in turn is commanded by EDF HQ and which in turn is commanded by the NATO multinational corps Northeast."

"The underlying purpose to defend Estonia and Europe; you need really clear command and control – what you don't want in a crisis situation is loads of people who are not sure who to take orders from, or picking up the phone to half-a-dozen other people."

"From our point of view, everything falls under the NATO umbrella; here, it makes sense to have our troops and the French and the Danes as part of the overall Estonian defensive structure, and we follow their defensive plan and deploy at their command."

Neither the components of this structure nor the various eFPs are hermetically sealed from one another; quite the reverse, Ross says.

"There's the tank live firing at Adaži (Latvia), where they share best practice with each other – the different eFPs talk to each other, and have their own integration with the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission based at Ämari."

This month, NATO personnel have also been taking part in the large-scale EDF reservists' Exercise Siil, here and in Latvia.

"So it's not just sat in Tapa, the reality is they're very active with these other aspects," which included another UK-led initiative, the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF)."*

"A recent JEF-badged operation saw the most recent Danish arrival coming to the eFP by ship, and that vessel was accompanied by some Swedish and other ships." Of course, Sweden recently applied to join NATO, of which more later.

The working language within the eFP remains English

"This works well I think. I talk to the French and Danish troops and they work alongside each other in English. They've found ways of communicating with each other with their different bits of kit etc."

"We also recently practiced doing logistics resupply by air, so we had an Airbus A400 aircraft flying from the UK to a drop zone in Estonia dropping supplies."

"Since Russia invaded more of Ukraine, there has been an increase in British air activity here in Estonia, mostly flying from the UK via  refueling but also, for instance, a couple of F-35 Lightning IIs based at Ämari for a while, the recent visit of the Royal Navy's HMS Northumberland, so there's quite a lot of interaction across the different domains."

All very fine, but the eFP and the other missions are still relatively small in size. The eFP now numbers well over 1,000 personnel from the UK alone, but compare that with the Cold War-era British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), which at its peak in the 1950s numbered as many as around 80,000.

"I'm a diplomat and not a military person, but I think in terms of those days for the BAOR and its scale, you could also think about the size of the area that needed to be defended."

"Here in Estonia, whether it's coming from the direction of Ida-Viru County, or from the southeast, it's a much smaller area and the terrain such that the zones in which you could bring in, for instance, tanks, are much narrower."

"Our army's evolved, we have much more tech, much more integration between the army, the navy, and the air force; we now have the cyber domain, the space aspect and so on."

"The overall size of the British army has diminished since then, but the focus now is on capability, rather than on raw numbers."

Are the great British public aware of the eFP, its role and the work it does, particularly now in the wake of the changed security situation in the region?

"Yes, I think it has grown enormously, particularly because of what happened on and since February 24th. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas here has done a fantastic job of talking in a very, very clear and hard-headed way about what is happening internationally; that has raised Estonia's profile especially."

"I get links sent to me from friends and family saying have you seen that Kaja Kallas has done an interview with such-and-such a paper, not just British ones but also in France, Germany and the US for instance."

"It's not just that she is doing lots of it, but also that she does it very, very well. That is not simply due to Estonia's position, but also because NATO has a united position, the fact that she can speak about her family history, which it helps to explain to people in the UK, for example, why Estonia has done so much to support Ukraine."

The British ambassador chatting to a British Army Lieutenant Colonel. Source: British Embassy Tallinn

"Certainly, people have noticed that Estonia's reputation has become incredibly high internationally, because of how much it has done to support Ukraine; I hear this from colleagues in the foreign ministry and the defense ministry, and people have definitely noticed it and really value and appreciate what Estonia has done."

Developments since February 24 2022

The interview was conducted exactly three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Or rather, this phase of it began.

"I would call it the invasion of more of Ukraine  – they'd already invaded quite a lot of Ukraine (from 2014 – ed.), so there's not an easy way to describe it but they did invade more of Ukraine from February."

This puts Russia and its military in a wholly different situation from the NATO nations', as already noted.

"Russia is very clearly alone – it is very isolated, and it has isolated itself."

"There was an attempt to try to take Kyiv quickly, which failed, and those other parts of Ukraine they've been into and now pulled back out of – they're now focusing on the east."

But what were the reasons for this failure on the ground?

"British, American and Canadian personnel were conducting training in Ukraine before all of this happened; we had training mission operation called Op Orbital, which started in 2015."

"There's a key difference between sending some weapons and hoping the recipients know how to use them, versus actually being there and training them, and I think one of the reasons that we've all seen the Ukrainian military fighting very effectively - perhaps better than people expected – is because of that US and Canadian and British training mission running in Ukraine, obviously alongside the continuing support."

"Like Estonia, the UK has been sending a lot of different kinds of weapons to Ukraine for their military to use, plus also financial support and humanitarian support."

"Both countries have taken in quite a lot of refugees – in Estonia the figure is incredible (at the time of writing just reaching the 40,000-mark – ed.), and equivalent to around 3 percent of the population, while I think Estonians have been incredibly generous and given n massively warm reception to Ukrainian refugees."

"In the UK we've also taken in some; things have been a bit slower – we had some problems around how quickly we could process visa applications. But this now moving much faster, and I think from both the UK and the Estonian point of view, we're doing as much as we can."

Estonia very much open for business

Doesn't all this put Estonia almost in the front-line?

"Someone told me that we're no nearer to Ukraine, as the crow flies, here in Tallinn, than they are in Berlin."

"I think there's a real important message for businesses as well. Although NATO is reinforcing here and making sure Estonia is well-defended, the threat is, if anything, currently lower than normal, because so many of the Russian troops who could normally threaten Estonia are elsewhere, or in Ukraine itself," including those usually based in the Pskov region, adjacent to Estonia.

This meant that from a British perspective, Estonia is still very much open for business, Ross adds.

"There is every reason to come and do business here and to come and visit – it doesn't seem to have put off anyone visiting me and my family, we've had an endless stream of friends and family come and visit, but I think no one else should not be put off either; summer is nearly here, come and have a really nice time in Estonia, it's a fantastic place to visit."

Britain's firm commitment to the eFP battlegroup

Back to the eFP. If that were to go, that would presumably be a good sign in that the security situation would mean it was no longer required. Does the battlegroup have a shelf-life?

"It's always had a rolling, five-year commitment. The deal agreed right at the start was that if at some point, the UK wanted to stop being the framework nation for the Estonian eFP, we would give five years' notice," in other words the battlegroup would remain in place five years beyond that announcement.

"However, I can happily tell you we have no intention of giving anybody any notice."

"Our prime minister has said, in his words, we'll be here as long as you want us."

Any potential change in government in Britain would not affect that either.

"When the British leader of the opposition was here recently, he noted that his party are just as committed to the eFP. So from the Estonian point of view, they know that the main opposition party in the UK is equally committed."

"On defense issues and things like Tapa and the troops here, I've heard from both sides of the British political spectrum that there's actually very good cooperation between our ministers and the opposition, and the leader of the opposition and the shadow defense secretary (John Healey – ed.), have both stated a preference for leaving party politics out of the equation, since it's about defense and security, and long-term commitments."

"So it's good that people in Estonia know that that long-term commitment is there, from both the main parties in the UK."

These words are backed up with investments from the UK into Tapa and into Estonia's defense, too.

"Estonia funds the majority of infrastructure requirements at Tapa, with some allied contributions. To accommodate the temporary additional battlegroup and its equipment, the UK is spending around £3 million (around €3.5 million)."

"The camp itself has grown even in the year I've been here.  The Estonians have built quite a lot of extra infrastructure both for people and for vehicles as well."

"The Estonian view I think is essentially, if you want to bring something in and you need to build something to host it, we will build whatever is needed," he adds, noting further the almost exponential growth of Tapa base and its facilities in the past five years.

The UK is not the only country involved in bilateral defensive investment, however.

"The US provides an enormous amount of funding – Without the US and Canada, Europe would be a lot weaker. Particularly in the UK we highly value the leadership role of the US in particular, applied to NATO. I hear exactly the same thing from the Estonians when I talk to people at the Estonian defense ministry and elsewhere, there's this huge appreciation for what the US does for all of us."

Perhaps going back to the democracies versus totalitarian states looked at above, the British troops in particular are noted for a version of the famed, and often successful, hearts-and-minds mentality when it comes to building up relations with allies.

At Tapa and in Estonia, this often takes the form of outreach projects which range hugely, from meeting the public, going to schools, providing English conversation practice and working on smaller infrastructure projects – all while time permits of course.

"Yes, even while I've been here I've seen quite a bit of that. My favorite example came when I went to Tartu to visit the mayor and meet people and talk to people at the university, then I realized that in front of the town hall in front of it, there were engineers and other British troops putting in a public ice-rink there."

"It must be stressed, though, that that this is not the primary reason they are here. There's a very hard security focus, with training and exercise – but when they have capacity, if they can help that's brilliant, in just building up that rapport with the local population."

This works the other way too – the Brits can learn more about Estonia, take part in sports events and in their down-time potentially get to explore some of the country. Experiences have been a diverse as skiing, or even going to the ballet – in both cases sometimes for the first time!

A Christmas carol service in Falgi Park adjacent to the embassy building also gave rise to an interesting conjunction of different cultures.

"Some of the neighbors from the Kassisaba district came along, but it was not necessarily what they were expecting. We had some Fijian troops serving in the British army, but also some French troops from some of the other south sea islands, and they'd all established with each other at Tapa that they all knew some of the same songs, so it was great, with all the lights up in the park, a couple of guitars and they were singing songs of Polynesia together, but in Estonia in the snow - so it was a really beautiful evening."

Women in the eFP

A trope regarding the stereotyped expat living in Estonia might be that he, above all else, was exactly that, a male. Was such a potential gender disbalance – for whatever reason it might emerge in civilian life – reflected in the eFP or not?

"No, there are a lot of women serving in the eFP including in the British Army."

"All elements of the British army are now open to women applicants – the combat arms were the most recent addition. Since they've opened up the whole of the army, the number is rising, and women now make up about 10 percent of the British Army as a whole. About 8 percent of the British personnel at Tapa base are women, totaling 74 and serving in the cavalry, artillery, the engineers, the mechanical engineers, logistics, education, communications and in administration."

"I've met a couple of officers who are women – Captain Tara Guyler, who is in the RTR, and Major Jo Merry, from the Royal Artillery; they're both fantastic and brilliant role models."

LGBT+ rights

Britain's armed forces have also come a long way down the years in terms of the position of serving members who are LGBT+. Since International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia had fallen just the previous week, perhaps this was also on people's minds.

"Yes that's been a big change over the past 30 years in the British military. Everything I said in a video message on the embassy's social media page the other day about LGBT+ rights applies in absolutely equal measure to the army, and to the navy and the air force."

"We recently had a visit from the HMS Northumberland as I said, and, in talking to the commander, he said this involves essentially enabling everybody to be themselves, not having to hide any part of their personality, which makes for a much more effective military effort. You don't want anyone who is part of a crew thinking that they can't just be themselves."

"So it's not just a question of removing discrimination, but it also makes for a more effective working environment where everyone can be themselves and this is something the army, navy and air force embrace positively – diversity and inclusion – but not just as a nice thing to do, but because it makes for a more effective fighting force, so this is quite an important message."

This message is also codified thus, Ross quotes: "'The British Army officially now provides opportunity for all, everyone is born free and equal in dignity, everyone must be treated fairly and with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, ethnicity – including nationality, sexual orientation, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, religion, belief or non-belief, rank and position.' That's a fairly comprehensive approach to these issues, and it's really clear they've thought things through."

"There's not any place in the British army for discrimination in person or online, and only by treating each other fairly and with respect, we ensure that every officer and soldier in the army fulfils their potential."

"I don't think anyone would claim things are perfect; there can still be issues of discrimination on all those grounds, just as there is in the rest of society. But in terms of the sort of goals and the official policy, and the effort particularly from the officers, to try to change culture is all very, very positive."

A future NATO division in Estonia?

As for the eFP's future, how does it slot into a recent request from all three Baltic States that a NATO division be permanently based in each of the three countries?

"Those were their proposals – the three Baltic States' proposals saying this is what we would each like; an army division in each of the state, with the majority of each of those made up of their own troops – the 1st and 2nd EDF brigades in Estonia and so on – and alongside that, a predominantly international brigade made up of allies, and they are also requesting troops from other countries to staff the divisional HQ."

"A division would also normally have what we call enablers with it, meaning other elements which support that division – they're talking to us about that, and to the French and the Danes."

Does this mean any potential boosted presence would only come from the three main "outside" nations contributing to the eFP?

"It might be that in order to make that up we might need one or two more allies to take part in that, though I'm not saying we definitely do."

"We're looking at the moment at what we can contribute, and I know that other countries are doing the same."

"We've said at a political level that we agree with NATO should strengthen its defenses on the eastern flank. But we haven't yet worked through the detail of what that would look like for us; but through the existing eFP we have that rolling, five-year commitment I mentioned."

"I think also when I talk to our troops, and also our defense minister, our military likes working with the Estonian military – we've worked together in Afghanistan, in Mali as well, so we've got the experience of working with the eFP here and we know we are good partners and that we get on well, and this all serves to underpin that commitment. We both like working with each other."

The parade ground at Tapa base. Source: British Embassy Tallinn

The other big, recent development is of course the application for NATO membership from the formerly non-aligned nations of Finland and Sweden. This is naturally hugely relevant to Estonia, being neighboring states and close to the Russian Federation geographically also. It must have been good news for Britain too?

Enter Finland and Sweden

"We've said we'll try and do our ratification (every existing member state has to ratify new applicants – ed.) as fast as possible. Our foreign secretary said that if we need to push legislation through parliament, we will do so as quickly as we can, plus we've said we'll extend the existing security guarantees [to Finland and Sweden] in the meantime, and we know that other Nordic countries have done the same."

"So it needs to happen as fast as possible; yes, there's a slight hiccup at the moment with Turkey, and we need to find a way to resolve that, but I think overall Finland and Sweden joining would be a massive boost to NATO generally, and,  particularly if you were in Estonian shoes, Finland and Sweden joining is about the best news possible."

History almost seems to have come full circle, though in a more cordial manner, with Denmark, whose monarchs once ruled over northern Estonia, already basing personnel here, and Sweden, whose rule covered virtually all of the country in the 16th and 17th centuries, applying to join NATO.

"It's almost ironic too, the idea of Danish and potentially Swedish troops being back here after hundreds of years, but in an entirely different capacity, helping to protect a sovereign, democratic country. I think it reflects a common set of values within democracies to support freedom around the word, sovereignty and so on."

"It provides lots of support, lots of additional benefits to Estonian security, and it will be a really good thing for Estonia."

The two new applicants are not exactly plunging into uncharted waters either.

"Finland and Sweden have been quite close partners of NATO already, so they already understand how NATO operates and have done a lot together, so it's not like a completely new country joining who has no idea how the alliance works."

Madrid Summit takes place in late June

There is also the hotly anticipated Madrid Summit taking place in the Spanish capital at the end of June. What are some of the main things to look out for there?

"The UK is keen first of all to look at NATO's core task of defense of member states, Article 5 and a renewed focus on that. It's really welcome that lots of countries are now properly committing to the 2 percent of GDP minimum spend for NATO membership," Ross says, adding that Britain's foreign secretary has stated that this is a minimum and not a ceiling.

Not that this is an issue for Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, who are all at 2.5 percent to 3 percent of GDP in their defense spend.

"Our position ahead of Madrid is that NATO does need to strengthen its position on the eastern flank, different countries have come up with different proposals and we are looking at those now and that is being actively worked on now, and I'd expect more detail on that by the time of Madrid."

"Another thing, further ahead, while obviously Russia is the current focus in terms of a lot of NATO's activity, we always think NATO needs to look in a slightly more global perspective and think about partners it will operate with in, for instance, the Indo-Pacific, and a broader role for NATO in the long-term, while definitely not losing that Euro-Atlantic focus on Article 5 and defending every inch of NATO territory."

More high-level visits from the UK?

Can we expect Boris Johnson, a member of the British Royal Family, or any other high-level visit in Estonia in the near future also?

"All I can say is I am confident there will be lots more high-level engagement in the coming months."

Some readers may have noticed the steady roster of high-level visits to Estonia from Britain and which have already happened in recent times: Defense secretary Ben Wallace, foreign secretary Liz Truss, leader of the opposition Keir Starmer, and the prime minister himself, Boris Johnson. Were such august figures coming to Tallinn and to Tapa a source of stress on the day, or just part of the job?

"I think most people at the embassy like having senior visitors coming, as it gives a chance to show what we're doing at the embassy and the opportunity to develop the relationship with Estonia and to push things forward. It's extra work, but I think in a good way."

The ambassador's first year in Estonia

The eFP's five-year anniversary has also coincided, almost, with Ross' first anniversary as ambassador – a post which he says has been going swimmingly.

"It's been fantastic, though I'd never been to Estonia before I arrived as ambassador. Normally I'd have flown over with my wife and we'd have had a look around – a recce visit, but because of Covid, that wasn't possible when I discovered I'd got the job."

Ross and his wife and three small children had more than made up for that in the meantime, however.

"We explored everything together, and. I'd say I've enjoyed every minute – from meeting loads of great people, making lots of friends, to exploring a lot of Estonia."

While Ross may not have been to Estonia until arriving for the job, there has been a visit from, according to Google anyway, a namesake – a DJ, who had performed in Tallinn over a decade ago, supporting British singer Sade.

"No, that's definitely not me," the ambassador jokes. "I did look him up, he's about 10 years older than me, though we do have similar musical tastes. Now that I'm an ambassador I have started appearing in search results, but for a long time it was only the DJ, and also a Ross Allen who is a herpetologist!"

Getting the work-life balance on point for this Ross Allen at least must be challenging however, particularly with all that has been going on recently with the Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years since her accession to the throne on February 6, 1952 with the death of her father, George VI – news she learned about on the same day, while on holiday in Kenya.

"We usually have a Queen's Birthday Party here in Tallinn , but this year we are going to make it special and have similar events in Narva and Tartu, to extend the celebrations to southern and eastern Estonia too."

"It's a real honor to be here in such a special year for Her Majesty, as she's been Queen now a lot longer than most people have been alive and done a fantastic job during that period; we're really looking forward to those festivities."

"Some of the other highlights in Estonia so far have included presenting my credentials to President Kersti Kaljulaid, who was president when I arrived. I went to Kadriorg with my wife, and there's nothing quite like going to present your credentials from Her Majesty, to the head of state of another country."

The ambassador finds time to join an Estonian choir

Ross has several more years to go in Estonia, but is already appreciative of how quickly things get done here.

"There are meetings here that take 10 minutes that in London would take half-an-hour. I've been posted in the middle east before and such meetings would take 2 hours there."

"Relative to the UK system, the foreign and defense ministries here are much smaller, but they are remarkably efficient and get an incredible amount done with a few people."

"Sometimes they'll ask us a question and we say, we'll need to check with London. And then they can be a bit puzzled as to why it takes a couple of weeks to get an answer!"

"I like all the digital government aspect – being able to pay for things quickly; my kids are very happy in school, my wife is very happy here, and we've loved every minute."

"I feel already that Estonia feels like home; I've joined a choir – we just had a rehearsal last night and we have a concert in Järvamaa on Saturday."

Ross will also still be in Estonia when the next national Laulupidu rolls around in 2024, with the auditioning process for choirs starting months beforehand.

"Hopefully I will be at the main event, that'd be my dream. The choir I'm in is pretty good, our directors are both very, very good and they both conduct at the song festival too, so they wouldn't put a choir forward that wasn't good enough."

Ross is a baritone, it turns out, having attended an audition for the choir. Did he have extensive musical experience beforehand?

"Not since I was young, but I focus very hard on what I'm supposed to be doing, so I make sure I'm sitting in the middle of the baritones, between two really good people, and sing slightly quieter and slightly behind them – I don't start singing anything on my own unless I'm sure we're all doing the same."

"Other than that, I would like to get to every town inside Estonia which has more than about a thousand people.  I think I've now been to all of the 10 largest places in Estonia, and most of the next 10.  I haven't been to Hiiumaa yet but would quite like to with my family."

Let's hope for some good summer weather!

* The JEF is a British- led coalition which is primarily focused on the maritime defense of the Baltic and North Atlantic. Member states include the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, in addition to Estonia.

The UK is tasked with overseeing the JEF's command and combat elements once it is activated, complemented by the capabilities of all other member states as required.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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