Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Lt. Gen. Martin Herem said on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show on Tuesday that looking at Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he no longer believes in deterrence as a way to ensure national security.
"I no longer have faith in deterrence. Invading Ukraine was clearly insane, yet they still did it. I only believe one thing – that we need to be ready to dispatch as many of the enemy as cross the border," Herem said.
The EDF commander said that sums pledged to the EDF this year will help it achieve the level of preparedness Ukraine is missing today. "We have been allocated over €800 million that we can put to use over the next two or three years. Manufacturing simply takes time. It will give us what Ukraine is asking for today. We will be able to fire at long distances and are quite formidable up close," he said.
Herem said that sums allocated for munitions in January are covered with contracts. "And I believe the more than €400 million we received in March will be locked in by September."
Asked about the upcoming NATO summit and Estonia's wishes, Herem said that a new permanent U.S. base in Estonia is not a priority, while training with allies and rapid response capacity are.
"We need to achieve a situation where aggression would see the enemy met with a multinational division in Estonia. It is not failure if we do not see a new military base in Tapa. What we really want to achieve is people seeing allies, such as those participating in the Siil (Hedgehog) or Kevadtorm (Spring Storm) exercises, who can arrive and integrate into our units in a matter of a few days," Herem said.
Progress evident at Siil
Talking about the recent Siil 2022 exercise, Herem described it as the largest and likely best-organized exercise the EDF has held in the last 30 years.
"Our permanent members have trained a good reserve force. These men and women would fight a war," he said.
The EDF commander highlighted progress in the navy. "I know of no other exercise that has had a naval mine field. While we did not put anything in the water physically, other procedures were tested. The mined area was protected using Polish missiles and there were virtual firing exercises," Herem remarked.
He also highlighted long-range artillery drills. "Multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) were fired in Saaremaa and at the central polygon, and we virtually fired into Latvia from both Saaremaa and southern Estonia, using an Estonian-made fire control system. I believe it constitutes a major step forward."
The armed forces commander also mentioned the information warfare part of the exercise. "Over 400 information troops basically left the Estonian press bloodless and fought on information battlefields that is also a notable achievement."
Herem admitted that reservist participation could have been better. "Attendance of around 60 percent has remained roughly the same for years. While other indicators we look at among reservists and conscripts suggest defense morale has improved, the former rate has remained unchanged," he said.
"Attendance suffers from sudden illness, family and education problems of reservists. And looking in the mirror, I say that we need to do better in compulsory military service. Half of those who didn't participate we exempted as we found their reasons credible. We were initially unable to contact the other half who didn't show. They are looking at fines on the other side of €1,000," Herem said.
Artillery battles dominating in eastern Ukraine
Of Russia's successes in eastern Ukraine, Herem said he hopes they are temporary and sport local significance. The EDF commander said that while Russia could already claim it has won, it wants a more clearly felt achievement.
"Whether the Luhansk or Donetsk oblast. Achieving that would allow it to at least feign satisfaction. While I don't think they [Russians] are satisfied at the moment," Herem offered.
He added that taking Severodonetsk is difficult for Russia as it gives the Ukrainian infantry a chance to get close to the enemy and deploy artillery from afar. "But how well they are doing or how good their artillery, I cannot say today."
Herem said that howitzers are dominating the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. He added that the Russian forces can learn and no longer penetrate deep into enemy territory where they could be surrounded. "It makes more sense for them to move gradually supported by their superior firepower," he said.
Russian army still very dangerous
Herem said that the Russian armed forces must not be underestimated as it still has the potential to do a lot of harm.
"We have painted a picture of the Russian war machine that's dumb, sports low morale and is easy to overcome. But this "bunch of bandits" is killing hundreds of people and leveling cities every day, no matter how big of a shambles it looks," Herem reminded.
"The West, in supporting Ukraine's information operations, has perhaps also fooled some politicians into thinking that Russia will soon be defeated or is too weak even if it wanted to start up again somewhere else. I believe nothing will end in Ukraine. No matter what the borders will look like once the current conflict in Ukraine ends, we have no reason to rest easy or think Russia will never attack us again, or that if it does, we can handily defeat them," Herem warned.
Editor: Marcus Turovski