State planning Tapa-scale NATO base for southeastern Estonia
The state is planning to construct a large-scale military base in southeastern Estonia, in order to accommodate the growing numbers of NATO and allied military personnel due to be hosted in Estonia.
The exact location of the planned base and other details are to be clarified once the state budget strategy for the next few years, currently under discussion at cabinet level, is adopted.
The facility would also offer greater training options to the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF).
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, National Defense Investment Center (RKIK) director, told ERR the location is undecided, though in order to achieve economies of scale, is likely to be in one of several locations already used for defense purposes in the vicinity of Võru, in the southeast of the country.
Saar said: "Straightaway, due to communications concerns and related factors, it makes sense to build a new town somewhere where part of the required work has already been conducted. We have such locations primarily near Võru ... in the Nursipalu, Sänna and Tsiatsungõlmaa regions," he said.
Saar said that it is not yet possible to reveal how much the construction of the military barracks and/or the expansion of the training areas will cost the state. The National Defense Investment Center has made its own calculations, but the final amount depends on the state's budget strategy talks, he said.
"Once the government has made a decision, the National Defense Investment Center plans to construct the necessary infrastructure as soon as possible. I want to stress that if we're discussing building a new base or expanding the training areas, we are actually talking in terms of years," Saar said, adding that the investment center has not yet started liaising with local communities on the expansion.
"We actually don't know yet to what extent we will carry out the plans. First, more detailed plans will be revealed, then we will also talk with the local community," he added.
Saar did however put a figure on the number of military personnel – 1,000-2,000 soldiers – that the new facility would cater to, while the environment will be akin to those that the British, French and Danish units based at Tapa, or the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission at Ämari, function under.
Accommodation, staff buildings, warehouses, maintenance buildings, storage buildings, sports and victualing facilities were the main components Saar mentioned, while training and exercises involving armored, tracked vehicles on a larger scale than currently possible in southeastern Estonia would be included, as well as live-firing exercise capabilities.
The Taara military barracks in Võru, home to the elite Kuperjanov infantry battalion, cannot be expanded to receive new units, as capacity is already almost used up, he added, and a lack of space in general is one of the main challenges for both the EDF and for taking on larger numbers of allied personnel, stepped-up this year in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting in late February, and crystallized at the NATO Madrid Summit at the end of June.
The defense ministry's secretary general, Kusti Salm, wrote an opinion piece for ERR early on this month (link in Estonian) in which he called for the expansion of existing military facilities and construction of new ones, in order to take on the incoming, increased numbers of allied troops.
Both the U.K's defense secretary and the U.S. President have pledged more personnel, units and training exercises in Estonia – in the case of Britain that has already become reality as the figure of personnel has roughly tripled from the less than 1,000 it was at the start of the year, to the over 2,000 people today, while in the case of the US, the commitment incorporates all three Baltic States as well as Poland.
A national defense development plan adopted in December states that the training fields of the central training ground, Sirgala and Soodla must be expanded, while a deal was inked between the Center for Defense Investments and private sector firm Skepast&Puhkim Soodla for the preparation of a special state plan for the Soodla training area.
In July, a special plan was initiated by the government which deals with the central training area in Harju County.
Even these developments will be insufficient to host the projected number of allied forces, however, Saar added, particularly in southeastern Estonia.
Two existing training areas are to be found in an area outlined as a triangle by three points at Nursipalu, Sänna and Tsiatsungölmaa, all west of Võru and around 15km apart. The Nursipalu training area is as large as 3,124 ha, though much of it is marshland.
Tapa and Ämari bases are both located in the north of the country, within 100km of Tallinn (Võru lies over 250km to the southeast and less than 50km from the border with the Russian Federation). While they were both first constructed during the Soviet era, they have both seen extensive redevelopment, particularly at Tapa and particularly after the 2016 Warsaw Summit initiated the NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup to be set up in Estonia, along with three corresponding battlegroups in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
The battlegroup at Tapa became a reality in early 2017, while the base's facilities have been substantially enlarged since then. Tapa base hosts EDF conscripts also.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte