Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas met with Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the deployment of a NATO battle group to Estonia and an upcoming meeting of allied heads of state and government.
According to the prime minister, one of Estonia's priorities as the next holder of the presidency of the Council of the European Union is strengthening EU-NATO cooperation, a government press release read.
On the subject of allied forces arriving in Estonia, Ratas said that the purpose of the allied forces in Estonia, Norway, Germany, Turkey and Romania is the protection of people's well-being and way of life. "The presence of NATO troops on the territories of NATO countries is not a threat, but a deterrence," said Ratas. "This is why there is strong support among the public in Estonia for the presence of British, French and Danish troops on Estonian territory."
Ratas assured Stoltenberg that Estonia stands firm in its commitment to NATO. "Freedom can never be taken for granted and always has a price," he said. "Estonia's defense spending makes up 2.17 percent of the GDP. Last week, I proposed to the Riigikogu to maintain the target of at least 2 percent of GDP spending over the next four years." He noted that the costs of hosting the incoming allied forces and a €60 million investment in the country's defense program were in addition to current defense spending.
"The need to support peace and stability outside of the alliance could not be clearer," Ratas continued, commenting on the major challenges facing NATO. "NATO needs to be ambitious in enhancing its cyber defense capability. It is also essential to continue the fight against terrorism."
According to the Estonian prime minister, by occupying Crimea and brinigng war to Eastern Ukraine, Russia has undermined European security and violated international law. "We must be open to dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council," he stressed. "However, the dialogue must focus on full restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine — as well as of Georgia and Moldova."
Stoltenberg: NATO doing much more than sending battle groups
Asked by a BNS journalist whether the allied battle groups might not be enough to protect the Baltic states and Poland and the alliance should take additional security measures in the region ahead of Russia's large-scale Zapad 2017 military exercise, Stoltenberg replied that he thought it was important to remember that battle groups are not the only thing that NATO does.
"We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force so we can reinforce if needed, and part of that is that we have established a new Spearhead Force where the lead elements are able to move in within a couple of days," explained NATO's secretary general. "So we can, if needed, reinforce the Baltic countries, Poland and other parts of the alliance quickly. We have also established eight new small head quarters in the Baltic states and some other countries in the eastern part of the alliance, which are important for linking national forces with NATO forces."
NATO is also increasing its investments in infrastructure and there will be more prepositioned supplies and equipment in the eastern part of the alliance. "So we are doing much more than only the four battle groups, which are a very important element, but only one element," Stoltenberg clarified.
"Let me add that, for NATO, it is important that we respond in a measured and proportionate way," he continued. "What we do is defensive; we don't want a new Cold War. We don't seek confrontation with Russia and we don't want a new arms race. And that's exactly why we are seeking a balance between sending a clear signal of NATO solidarity, providing credible deterrence with international presence and at the same time being proportionate and measured in order to avoid escalating international tensions."
The Estonian prime minister said that Estonia is keeping a close eye on Russian maneuvers and that it was important for the country that allies will have boots on the ground in Estonia while Russia's annual military exercise takes place.
Editor: Aili Vahtla