A planned expansion of a military training area in South Estonia is inevitable, but compromise must be reached with local residents affected by the enlargement, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Leo Kunnas says.
Appearing on ERR's radio news "Uudis+" Monday, Kunnas, who is also a member of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee and a reserve army officer, said: "Naturally, the expansion of the Nursipalu training are is inevitable both from the point of view of our independent defense capability and from that of the deployment of allied forces. There is no doubt about that."
The defense committee has discussed the issue and finds that there is agreement on the need for an enlarged training area, he added.
"We on the committee are working to find a consensus solution, as the members fully understand that the training area is necessary in and of itself, the security situation being as it is. However, since this is a decision that we make once in a half-century, maybe even once per century, in this case, no one, the parties involved, should be left bearing any grudge, if we haven't tried to find the best solution," Kunnas continued.
Local residents' quality of life should not, however, suffer either, Kunnas went on. "Perhaps the simplest comparison is that if we look at the state, the 'wolf' must get to eat, i.e. the training area must be forthcoming, while at the same time the 'sheep', i.e. the people, must retain their well-being, i.e. they must not suffer," Kunnas continued, adding that the solution must be found on a case-by-case basis for each and every householder whose land falls within the expanded zone.
The compromise expansion area of 9,000ha, down from 20,000ha originally sought by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), is such that there is no further scope for any reduction in those dimensions.
"This would no longer be reasonable. However, I also see that it is no longer possible to increase it significantly either, because there is quite simply a more densely populated area nearby. A compromise must be found; there are no ideal solutions here where everyone can be absolutely satisfied," the EKRE MP added.
There are also no other suitable areas elsewhere in the country, he said, following defense ministry analysis to that end, with sparse population being not the only factor – for instance while there are such areas, for instance, close to the mouth of the Emajõgi River, they are too distant from existing military facilities and units, he said.
The core of the EDF's 1st Infantry Brigade is in North Estonia, centered on Tapa base, while the equivalent for the 2nd Infantry Brigade is Tara barracks in Võru, South Estonia, and these locations are pretty much set, he added.
In any event, local residents near or in Nursipalu must be compensated in full, which would included replacement farm and forest land where needed, he said, as well as compensation for those outside the actual expanded zone.
The latter process may prove more difficult, he added, and may involve local government and also the state where necessary.
This may also require legislative amendments, he went on.
There are three affected rural municipalities: Antsla, Rõuge and Võru.
Nursipalu as it currently exists is around 3,000ha in area and was recommissioned nearly a decade ago; the area had been used for military purposes in the past.
The expansion would permit more scope for, for instance, artillery live firing exercises both by the EDF and their NATO allies.
Kunnas said his party supports the Nursipalu expansion and will not oppose it, ahead of the impending elections on March 5. The party also wants to increase the involvement and presence of NATO allies as well as that of the EDF and its capabilities, and the party is itself searching for compromise on the project, he added.
The Riigikogu National Defense Committee is chaired by Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE).
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael