MP: UK brigade could come to Estonia if the security situation worsens

Raimond Kaljulaid.
Raimond Kaljulaid. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

If the security situation worsens then the British brigade allocated to Estonia could be sent here on a permanent basis but wider discussions about the NATO-Russia border would be needed, said Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE), a member of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee.

Approximately a year ago, both Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) made efforts to extend the presence of UK troops sent to Estonia on a temporary basis after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The government line later switched to a focus on weapons and "firepower" rather than additional troops. At the time, the UK agreed to send helicopters and fighter jets to Estonia instead.

But last week, Germany and Canada confirmed they would send brigades to each country on a permanent basis. Now the discussion has hit the headlines again in Estonia. The UK has said it is not planning on permanently stationing more troops in Estonia.

Both Pevkur and the Chief of the Estonian Defense Forces Gen. Martin Herem said significant infrastructure would need to be developed and this could be better spent on weapons and equipment.

UK's Royal Artillery on exercise in Estonia. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Kaljulaid outlined the situation, the discussion around it, and if Estonia should ask for the same commitment.

He explained that the Lithuanian government had spent the last year arguing with Germany about its commitments and the wording of the agreement it signed before the last NATO summit.

"This actually caused quite a big row in Lithuania between the parliament and the government, as well as between Lithuania and Germany. The German ambassador in Lithuania made a very sharp statement towards the Lithuanians. And now Germany has indeed announced that this unit will be permanently stationed in Lithuania, but this is conditional on Lithuania of course having to put in place all the necessary infrastructure for German soldiers to be able to stay permanently on Lithuanian territory and to train there," he said.

"So in that sense, the Estonian defense minister is absolutely right that if we talk about it as a theoretical possibility, then Estonia would essentially be obliged to develop another military complex and training field, or in any case to significantly expand the training conditions, which is really expensive and very complicated," he added.

UK troops in Estonia, November 2022. Source: Minister of Defense

"But yes, the Lithuanian position is that Lithuania's defense can only be organized effectively if the troops and equipment are in Lithuania," said Kaljulaid. "Because if the enemy knows that these additional troops need to be brought in, it may try to prevent this in any way it can."

He said that calling for the British brigade to be stationed in Estonia permanently is "populism". However, he also questioned whether the UK could provide the manpower.

"But actually it is also sensible to ask whether Britain would have such a readiness today. It is very hard to believe, considering that Britain feels that they themselves need to increase both the number of troops and weapons. And this would mean an important challenge for Estonia, " said Kaljulaid.

If the situation gets worse, then the decision can be revisited, he said.

"It is not such a black-and-white question as to whether this particular UK unit will be brought permanently to Estonia in this case. I think that if the security situation deteriorates further, it is in fact once again a broader question at NATO level of how to further strengthen the border between NATO and Russia. After all, it has to be looked at as a whole, starting in the far north, coming down through Norway and Finland, and going all the way south. Then there's a broader discussion, but yes, I wouldn't rule it out that we will get there," Kaljulaid added.

Estonia has approximately 900 soldiers in Estonia as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup that it leads. At NATO's Madrid summit last year, it pledged a 3,000-strong brigade to Estonia which is positioned in the UK on high readiness.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Helen Wright

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