Western support for Ukraine remains a constant thorn in the side of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and provides a real opportunity for the Ukrainians to emerge victors in the current conflict, United Kingdom armed forces minister James Heappey said, while on an official visit to Estonia on Tuesday.
Overconfidence on the part of Putin and his regime, twinned with this assistance, have been key to the current conflict's course, the minister noted, rejecting any claims that Britain and other western nations have been providing the Ukrainians with ineffective military supplies.
Talking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) while visiting Tapa base Tuesday, Heappey, a former British Army officer, said: "I'm not sure that the west has been giving Ukrainians the wrong kit; I think we have been giving them entirely the right kit, and what Putin has learned throughout this conflict is every time he and his armed forces have done something outrageous, the Western commitment to Ukraine hasn't faltered, it's doubled down, so every time the U.S. and the U.K. and our allies have chosen to give the Ukrainians more, it's because his troops have done something despicable."
This was also demonstrated by the Russian Federation's offensive running into trouble early on in the conflict, thanks in part to western supplies of weapons to Ukraine's forces, Heappey said.
At the tactical level, and against the backdrop of Tapa base, which houses British Army Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks, including those from the prestigious Royal Tank Regiment, Heappey said: "The most effective way to stop a tank is to get about 200 or 300 meters away from it, with a really high-end missile system on your shoulder, and whack it."
The British contingent in Estonia, the lead nation in the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup, is tasked with being an active participant in Estonia's defense plan, bringing combat readiness at short notice if threats should present themselves, Heappey noted.
Minister Heappey also met with Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) Tuesday, where the pair discussed the need to rapidly implement decisions made at the NATO Madrid Summit, held at the end of June.
Pevkur said that: "Decisions made at the NATO Madrid summit significantly strengthen the security of Estonia and NATO's eastern wing, and the U.K., a major driving force in these decisions, has a big role here."
"The bilateral defense cooperation between Estonia and the U.K. is excellent. We feel this support in ensuring our security throughout Estonian society," Pevkur continued, according to a defense ministry press release.
Heappey also met with defense ministry Secretary General Kusti Salm while in Estonia.
During his military career, Heappey served with the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, and then The Rifles, following a merger arising from U.K. defense spending cuts. Heappey attained the rank of Major, serving in Afghanistan, among other places.
2nd Battalion, The Rifles are based at Tapa as the Agile Task Force, the second battlegroup deployed to Estonia to support European security. They support the existing NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) which has been there on a rotational basis for over five years and is currently led by the Royal Welsh.
Following the Madrid Summit, a divisional-sized NATO unit will be based in Estonia, with elements arriving on a rapid basis from the U.K. and elsewhere, where needed. The U.K. will provide a brigade-sized unit towards this division, alongside the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) two infantry brigades.
The current British contingent at Tapa is two-to-three times larger, in terms of personnel, than it was a year ago, following announcements to that effect from Britain's defense minister, Ben Wallace.
Editor: Andrew Whyte