Speaking to ERR News' Aili Vahtla during a visit to the Estonian Defence Forces' annual multinational Spring Storm military exercise on Wednesday, British Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster highlighted how impressed he was by the quality of the EDF, and expressed hope that British-Estonian defense cooperation would continue for many years to come.
Aili Vahtla: Spring Storm involves nearly ten thousand troops from more than a dozen countries. Estonians are quite used to having allied troops around. What do typical U.K. residents know about the British troops serving in Estonia?
Mark Lancaster: I think they're quite well informed. I mean, my U.K. constituents absolutely understand that NATO is the cornerstone of our national defense, and that's why they are very keen and enthusiastic that we should come and work with our NATO allies here in Estonia. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to train alongside our allies and practice those interoperability skills.
AV: This annual exercise has been going on in Estonia for quite some time. Has its role or importance changed, however, since Russia began demonstrating aggression in the neighborhood?
ML: Well as you quite rightly say, this is a well established exercise. We've now been involved for several years. Our enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup that we lead here has been here for a number of years. But I can only reiterate that NATO is very much a defensive organization and this exercise is part of that deterrence.
AV: British-Estonian cooperation and the U.K.'s support of Estonia dates back more than a century. What direction do you see it taking in the future?
ML: Well I hope that it continues to go from strength to strength. You quite rightly highlight the long association that the U.K. and Estonia has had. We have been incredibly well received here. I must say I've been very impressed by the quality of the EDF and I know that our own troops have really enjoyed exercising with them. And I hope that this will continue for many years to come.
During his visit to the exercise, Col. Lancaster took the opportunity to speak directly to some of the British troops participating in the more than two-week-long exercise, which wraps up Thursday.
The U.K. is the leading partner in NATO Battlegroup Estonia, the establishment of which was decided at the 2016 Warsaw Summit within the framework of the alliance's eFP posture.
Editor: Aili Vahtla