EDF commander Gen. Martin Herem said that Martin Helme (EKRE), leader of the right-wing Conservative People's Party and former finance minister, made false statements in the daily Postimees about Estonia's defense capabilities. Herem said that he and the deputy commander of the defense forces, Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, had to repeatedly dispute false claims, and yet they have been accused of meddling in politics.
Herem said in a social media post that the accusation of meddling in politics are baseless and a distraction from the problem.
"My views have always been a reaction to derogatory remarks made by politicians against the Estonian Defense Forces and our military capability. In my remarks, I have never addressed the worldviews or perspectives of politicians on other subjects; rather, I have limited and centered my responses on the politician's misleading statements. I apply the same standard to all political parties and daily situations," Herem said.
"The fact that my commentary ends up in politics is a circumstance created by the politician," Herem added.
Herem said that the problem begins with a politician who lies. "Not erroneous, but dishonest politician was most certainly aware that the presented information was inaccurate, yet he disseminated it anyhow."
Herem said that his and Veiko-Vello Palm's public statements are not political meddling but corrections of inaccurate information supplied to the public.
Herem reacts to three issues that Helme mentioned in the daily Postimees interview. ERR includes here this portion of Herem's reaction in its entirety.
Martin Helme: Our government has eliminated all heavy weapons from Estonia. Within a year, we had given away three-quarters of our artillery. We had four artillery units just before the war [in Ukraine] broke out, the more correct term is probably howitzers, whether self-propelled or towed, it makes no difference - we have one left. We will have a replacement in two or three years.
Herem's reaction: There is no shortage, but the amount of weaponry has indeed reduced. We had two battalions and we will have two battalions by the start of 2024. We will make every effort to have them before the end of 2023.
Four artillery battalions are out of the question, as the number of weapons does not necessarily equal to the number of battalions. There were two battalions and there will be two battalions within a year's time. Quite a difference.
In addition, the presence of allied armament in Estonia influenced the decision. Estonia has heavy weaponry.
Helme: Martin Herem said air defense was not one of his priorities; these people do not understand or do not wish to understand anything.
Herem's reaction: Martin Helme is revisiting an old topic from his own point of view. In fact, EKRE advised the Defense Forces years ago that they would spend €300 million on specific anti-aircraft and anti-ship weaponry from a specific supplier.
It is important to remember that at the same time, the then-finance minister requested a €50 million reduction in armed forces maintenance expenditures. The Defense Forces wanted to spend the €300 million on additional anti-ship and short-range air defense systems at the time, but EKRE MPs were opposed.
However, medium-range air defense was on the list of Defense Forces wishes provided to the finance minister at the time, but they were unwilling to provide such a large sum of money.
Helme: There was a claim that there are certain servicemen who no longer wear Estonian colors, but Ukrainian ones.
Herem's reaction: I do not know of a single member of the Estonian Defense Forces who wears Ukrainian colors instead of Estonian ones. This is also prohibited. The emblem of support for Ukraine is permitted, but not obligatory. It is governed by the commander of the defense forces' order.
"Overall, this is a false smear campaign; this happens not the first time", Herem summarizes the interview.
The division commander, Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, also disputed Martin Helme's scathing criticism of the Defense Forces in an interview with the Postimees on Thursday.
Väli: The security issue is being exploited by both EKRE and the Reform Party in the election campaign
Major General (Reserve) Neeme Väli, the Center Party's candidate for defense minister, said that security should not be used as an election excuse and that the war of words between politicians and high-ranking military personnel has gone too far and is harmful to Estonia.
Väli said that the security issue is being exploited in the election campaign not only by EKRE but also by the Reform Party, which has been unable to own its faults in the defense sector over the years.
"The dispute, which has been used as a campaign tool by the two parties, is being forced on all of society. One side is using political hyperbole to magnify the situation, while the other side is silencing inquiries that require uncomfortable answers."
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Kristina Kersa