The Ministry of Defense presented mission medals on Friday to British and French troops serving with the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup based at Tapa, marking the official end of their tour in Estonia.
Director of the ministry's policy planning department Kristjan Mäe, who presented the medals, said that: "We are very grateful to our allies in the NATO battlegroup, whose continued and increased presence in Estonia demonstrates the unity of allied relations and the indivisibility of security in a situation, where the aggressor country Russia is threat to the whole of Europe."
"We have just successfully completed the large-scale Exercise Siil (Hedgehog) 2022, which increased our cooperation skills and interoperability even further. The contributions of units from the U.K., France and Denmark are highly significant for both deterrence and defense," Mäe added, according to a ministry press release.
Personnel from Britain's Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and the 3rd Company, 7th Battalion of the Chasseurs Alpins from the French army received the decorations.
Lt Col. Fabrice Bordais, Senior National Representative and Commander of the French Armed Forces in Estonia, said the medal: "Symbolizes the commitment of France and its military contribution alongside our allies. It marks our solidarity with the alliance's members, especially with Estonia," adding that France has opted to sustain its involvement in Estonia in the wake of the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, commencing in February this year.
Meanwhile Lt Col. Simon Worth, the RTR's commanding officer, said: "It has been an enormous privilege to train in Estonia, serving under both Estonian Brigades. We have had an incredible experience exercising in all weathers and navigating new terrains, training alongside the Estonian Defense Force with our colleagues from Denmark and France."
"This medal recognizes the determination and resilience that the officers and soldiers of the RTR have shown over the last nine months. Although my soldiers are looking forward to some well-deserved rest, we depart Estonia proud of our contribution and convinced of the vital importance of this mission," Lt Col. Worth added.
The RTR is set to leave Estonia following completion of nine months at Tapa, as part of the eFP. The stint was longer than a normal rotation due to the worsening security situation from February, which led to an announcement from Britain's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, that the RTR tour would be prolonged, alongside 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, who arrived at the start of March and normally would have wholly replaced their predecessor unit. This doubled the U.K.'s eFP presence almost overnight.
IN addition to Exercise Siil, primarily an exercise which mobilizes EDF reservists, the RTR and other personnel in the eFP took part in exercises Winter Camp, Iron Spear and Bold Axe, among other activities.
Community outreach projects during their time included setting up a temporary ice rink in Tartu's old town.
The eFP marks its fifth anniversary this year, having been set up after an agreement at the 2016 Warsaw Summit – itself held in the wake of Russia's initial invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 and the annexation of Crimea in the same year.
Following the February invasion, the eFP, as well as other NATO and allied elements in Estonia such as the Baltic Air Policing mission at Ämari, have moved on to a defensive, rather than deterrent, posture.
Editor: Andrew Whyte