Estonia is working to extend the presence of British troops in Estonia Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says, following reports the number of boots on the ground would be roughly halved by year end.
Pevkur noted that the movement back and forth of allies is normal and natural, adding that an extension of deployment on the part of UK military personnel has already been carried out once this year.
Speaking to ERR's radio news Wednesday morning following publication of an article on the website of UK daily The Times, which said around 700 troops would return home before Christmas, Pevkur said: "The presence of the same second battle group in Estonia was already extended once. In fact, they were supposed to move out already in the summer, but then the British decided to extend it, so we'll live and see. In fact, there is still a long way to go until the end of the year. I haven't buried hope until the end either, that the same second combat group will also stay in Estonia."
"If we already reached an agreement with the British on … both brigade-level and the eFP battlegroup capabilities, then it cannot be ruled out that the British will be back here, or that some other allies will also deploy here," he went on.
The eFP battlegroup, which first arrived at Tapa base in early 2017, remains in place.
Pevkur also said that recent defense decisions made by Estonia to upgrade its capabilities and make wide-ranging procurements had also been a factor in the British decision, though the movement of Russian military units normally based close to the Estonian border to take part in the invasion of Ukraine had been of no influence.
The picture in terms of allies should be looked at across the board, he added.
"We are not only looking at the British contingent, but we are looking at all the allies together. Whether and how much we have of a US presence here, what our air security is, and all things as a whole. We will proceed from the basis of Estonia being defended, and that these allies in Estonia who have, would above all bring firepower we may be a little shorter on," Pevkur added.
"It is important for us that the footprint of the allies is as large as possible here and the firepower of the allies is as large as possible here. Hence, this is what we are dealing with and the main task of our next meetings. A meeting was held at the level of the defense forces' main staffs on September 1, as well, to, so to speak, agree on further steps."
The decision, as reported by the Times, was an internal UK matter and the second battlegroup which arrived in spring, dubbed the Agile Task Force, was always intended to be temporary, so far as deployment en masse, in-country, went.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting February 24, the number of British troops deployed to Estonia more than doubled, with the Agile Task Force centered around 2nd Battalion The Rifles joining the existing eFP, as well as a Royal Tank Regiment deployment which was already in Estonia being prolonged.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov
Source: ERR Radio News