Estonia's Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur met with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) on Wednesday to present the candidacy of Commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade Col. Andrus Merilo for the post of Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander.
Pevkur said he had met with members of the EDF in recent weeks and made his proposal to the president, prime minister, coalition party leaders, and the chairman of the Riigikou's National Defence Committee on Wednesday. "As a result of these meetings, I am convinced that I can propose Col. Merilo," he said in a statement.
"Col. Merilo's more than 30 years of service confirms that he is a man who knows the EDF inside and out and whose word carries weight both inside and outside the EDF," the minister said. "I am convinced that the EDF will have a very strong leader whom the troops will be ready to follow and whom the public will be ready to listen to".
Merilo said that the position is a great responsibility and it is a great honor to be presented as a candidate, but stressed a final decision has not been made.
"I don't think it's wise to rush ahead of events – the decision must be made by the minister of defense, the government and the National Defense Commission. If they want to appoint me to the position of head of the defense forces, I'm ready to fulfill this task with full dedication," he said.
One potential issue with Merilo's candidacy is that he is a colonel and would need to be promoted to brigadier general before Independence Day on February 24.
Pevkur said he had discussed this with Gen. Martin Herem, who will step down in June. It was suggested Merilo become deputy head of the defense forces as brigadier general for the transition period.
Merilo (50) has been in active service with the EDF since 1994. He has served in various roles in the Baltic Battalion and headed the Scouts Battalion.
Col. Merilo has participated in a mission in Iraq as commander of ESTPLA-10 and as head of ESTCOY-4 in Afghanistan. He has also served as deputy commander of the Baltsquadron-7 intelligence squad in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Merilo took over running the 1st Infantry Brigade from Vahur Karus in June 2021.
Other candidates whom experts suggested could replace Herem were commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) are Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus, head of the Defense Forces Academy, and Commander of the Estonian Division Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm.
Herem has said he will leave active service on June 30, approximately 18 months before the end of his extended term.
He was appointed EDF chief on December 5, 2018. His term was extended following a corresponding proposal from the defense minister in October 2022.
The EDF commander has a standard term of five years, which the government and parliament can extend by two years.
Karis: I believe the government will make the right choice
President Alar Karis met with Pevkur in Kadriorg on Wednesday evening.
"My wish is that the next head of the Estonian Defense Forces will be a respected and competent officer among the defense forces, who has a modern strategic perspective and has experience in leading various units and working together with allies. He must become an important military advisor to the Prime Minister, the government, and also to me, just as it has been General Herem. I believe that the government will make the right choice here," he said.
Karis said the candidate must have the support of the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee.
At the meeting, Pevkur laid out his choice of candidate and the next steps. The government will then be asked to make decision.
Editor: Marcus Turovski, Helen Wright