The government will start discussing moving forward with a planned military training area expansion in South Estonia, starting next Thursday and in spite of the looming elections, Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says.
The training area at Nursipalu, Võru County, will be roughly tripled in size, to bring training capabilities there in line with the current requirements.
Pevkur referenced the current, tense security situation in Europe, adding that as a consequence, the Ministry of Defense must ensure that the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) get all the resources they need to adequately defend Estonia.
Speaking to Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" show Friday, Pevkur said: "This also includes creating a training ground for the 2nd Infantry Brigade, as soon as possible.
The 2nd Infantry Brigade corresponds to South Estonia and is in the process of becoming a mechanized infantry force, as is the 1st Brigade.
Pevkur was also keen to stress that the planned Nursipalu enlargement, which would see an existing training area triple in size to around 9,000 ha, is being done with the EDF and Estonia's defense in mind, rather than specifically for NATO allies.
"All these tales about a NATO base being built there etc. are, in my opinion, malicious information diversions from the main point, the needs of our own EDF and the fact that the 2nd Infantry Brigade, which will also be armored (ie. a mechanized, heavy infantry brigade – ed.), will make it necessary to be able to go on exercise in similar conditions as the 1st Brigade can, at its central training area [in Harju County]," the minister said.
"For this reason, the faster we can get the training area set up, the better the EDF can be ready to repel all and any possible threats," Pevkur added.
As to the project going ahead, Pevkur said that fresh analysis on the legal framework the government has drawn up by the ministry, while the government received it this week.
"In order for the government to be able make an adequate decision, it must have adequate supporting documents and analysis, if necessary also the legal aspects."
"As I said, we received a very significant legal analysis, the day before yesterday (Wednesday-ed.)."
The ministry is preparing three possible scenarios for moving forward with the project, in planning terms, he added. "We plan to write up what the impact of these three different scenarios will be: One where we use a national defense exemption, one in which we go for a special state plan, and third, if we use the normal planning process.
One of these options would be likely he said, but was not able to say at this point which one.
This will also not be decided ahead of the Riigikogu election on March 5, Pevkur added, though noted that the election will not hold up the planning process and other aspects of the Nursipalu enlargement – including the purchase of properties inside the enlarged area.
Pevkur also noted that the EDF commander, Gen. Martin Herem, is also keen for the area to be ready as soon as is possible, while at the same time the necessary impact studies to go ahead, including those covering environmental aspects, and with local residents also in mind.
News that the training area, in use since the 2000s in its current form, would be enlarged was met with pushback from local residents inside and outside the zone to be expanded.
Those with properties in the zone, a little over 20 households, will receive compensation, with one option being a like-for-like exchange of land elsewhere in the country.
Some local residents, including a US expat who renovated a nearby property, complained they had been kept in the dark about the issue and had not been properly involved in the consultation process.
Editor: Andrew Whyte