Behind every step the Russian Federation takes lies strategic considerations, leading Estonian politicians said on Wednesday's edition of politics panel show 'Esimene stuudio' during a week which has seen a major gas leak from the undersea Nord Stream pipeline.
The politicians also discussed a recent media report that British soldiers currently based in Estonia will be leaving at year-end, leaving roughly half the current complement, in personnel terms.
Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform), said the departure from Estonia of a British Army unit reported by UK daily The Times Wednesday was neither unexpected nor final.
"The Brits promised in the spring that they would be sending an additional battle group [to the existing enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup] due to the situation. This was deployed with the prior knowledge that it would be here until the summer," Pevkur added.
"Subsequently, the bilateral decision was made that its deployment would be extended until the end of this year. We are now in a similar situation to that before the initial extension. Yes, the British have indicated to us that they have the desire to move them back [to the UK]. Our task is to explain that even, if this rotation goes back, it should return here as soon as possible," the minister went on, adding that it is also important to focus on NATO's new regional defense plans.
Leo Kunnas (EKRE), who sits on the Riigikogu's defense committee and is a reserve army officer, said that as a major power, Britain has global interests, meaning Estonia has to work hard to get its desired result among these competing interests.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said that US troops were also needed in Estonia, noting that at the end of Mikhail Gorbachev's time in office (in late 1991 – ed.) there were 300,000 US troops based in Europe, compared with 70,000 on the eve of the current phase of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, starting February.
He said: "Our message is two-fold, the first being that the military presence of the US in Europe must grow significantly. The second, that the military presence in different categories must be diverse and must be within the territory of Estonia and in our region in general, as it is a separate question of both deterrence and defense postures."
Pevkur said that the UK is Estonia's primary NATO ally in, while Estonia must also make efforts towards this and make investments which will welcome allies.
He said: "At the moment, we have more firepower than we have had ever before. We currently have more than 40 tanks in Estonia (in both British and Danish service – ed.), the most modern tanks, and we have British Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS).
"This firepower and tech that Estonia has is greater than ever before. Let's not start to form up a feeling that we have no allies here, or somehow fewer of them. There are enough of them, though, do we want more – certainly, yes."
Also appearing on "Esimene stuudio", Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE) said that Estonia has raised several issues in foreign policy which have been very visible, such as the tourist visa ban or the Riigikogu statement on a flight ban over Ukraine but which have not yet been met internationally.
Reinsalu, a former defense minister, said that choosing the right battlefield also applies in foreign policy, noting that Finland's tightening up of its border with Russia after Estonia had already done so was testimony to some of Estonia's foreign policy achievements.
Center Party MP Neeme Väli called talk of war fatigue in Europe "pointless", while in fact, since Russia has already lost the war, the focus of discussion should not shift to how to rebuild Ukraine and to address what a "North Korea"-like bloc emerging in the middle of Europe.
Kaljulaid said that Russia would very likely resort to terror tactics against the west, meaning that the latter's guard should not be let down, even as Ukraine is winning the conflict, while Kunnas agreed that anything goes so far as Russia is concerned, while types of action not seen before could be included in that.
The current confrontation will last decades, he added.
Pevkur said the Nord Stream pipeline rupture was evidence of Russia trying to shift the focus from Ukraine and on to EU and western countries' internal affairs, while Reinsalu said that Russia had been step-by-step escalating the situation
"What happens under the sea can also happen on the land, while in fact this has been taking place in the allies' economic zone," he said, with reference to the Nord Stream leak.
Pevkur added that any repair of the pipeline could be accompanied by Russian naval vessels attending the site – near the Danish island of Bornholm, in the southern Baltic – at the same time creating an air defense zone which would also close access to the Baltic.
The nuclear threat is also being taken seriously by the west, he added.
Väli noted that: "Putin has no plan, there is option A, B and C, and just as the situation changes, an option is taken and used exactly to fit the current situation.
"It is important to understand that yes, the 'special military operation's' combat activities are taking place within the territory of Ukraine, but the war is against the West. This is very clear. The ultimatum was also not presented to Ukraine, but to the West," he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte