Minister: US troops to be on regular rotation in Estonia
An agreement has been struck in principle which will see the United States contribute additional, rotating military units for the defense of Estonia, and consequently NATO's Eastern Flank, Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said.
Up until now, US military visits to Estonia have taken place often, but usually in the form of flyovers or naval vessels putting in in port, or short-term deployments of ground troops on exercise.
Pevkur is on an official visit to the US this week and made his comments following a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, where the pair discussed Estonian-US defense cooperation and to address issues related to the strengthening of NATO's Eastern Flank and support for Ukraine.
Pevkur said: "We reached an agreement in principle that the US will contribute to Estonia's security via additional rotating units and additional capabilities.
"More detailed weapon systems, capabilities and units that will be present in Estonia on a regular basis will be outlined in the near future," he added, via a defense ministry press release.
Speaking to ERR after the meeting, Pevkur said that he had presented Estonia's defense plans to the Pentagon also.
Of these plans, he said: "One [aspect] is the creation of a divisional structure, creating a divisional headquarters, having a British brigade deployed to Estonia, and in the same way, obtaining regional plans at NATO level. These three components are currently the most important in our defense structure."
"This also means that the Americans are also taking a look at how we will create our divisional structure, and as a result, they can determine which units and forces and capabilities which will rotate in Estonia."
The Estonian Ministry of Defense had also quoted Pevkur as saying: "Over the course of the next couple of years, we will invest the US$140.5 million received from the US by way of security aid this year in the development of long-range, indirect fire capabilities, by acquiring HIMARS multiple rocket launchers.
"We received confirmation from the management of the HIMARS manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, that the Estonian order is well on schedule," the minister went on.
Estonia's own defense spend this year and following Russia's invasion of Ukraine has come in three tranches totaling around a billion euros, while the country has also pledged to boosting its defense expenditure to 3 percent of GDP per annum by 2024.
The US has also boosted its contributions towards bolstering NATO's eastern flank, of which Estonia is an integral part.
The next important development in terms of deployments is the allocation of a UK brigade structure to Estonia, since it would be a necessary precursor towards the next-level structure, ie. a full division – which would incorporate Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) units as well as those of allies.
Currently, the UK-led enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup, a NATO structure in place since early 2017, is roughly battalion or regimental level in terms of the size of British deployments, regularly joined by French and Danish personnel.
Britain has also deployed a second Agile Task Force battlegroup to Estonia for this year, while Challenger 2 MBTs from the Royal Tank Regiment were kept in country for several months longer than the original intended tour, staying to early autumn.
All of the developments also point towards next year's large-scale Exercise Kevadtorm (Spring Storm) being the biggest ever to date, Pevkur said.
Minister Pevkur has also taken part in two different panel discussions on defense and security with think tanks while in Washington, and is to give a talk on cyber security at the National Defense University today, Wednesday.
On a lighter note, the minister also presented Secretary of Defense Austin with a personalized Estonian sports vest (see gallery above).
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Maria-Ann Rohemäe, Mirjam Mäekivi