Estonia calls on Nato to double troops in country to deter Russia

Former Soviet state is a member of alliance that leans to West

The Ukrainian embassy's entrance in Tallinn is decorated with flowers, Ukrainian flags and placards. Reuters
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Senior members of Estonia's military want more Nato troops to be deployed there as a deterrent to Russia.

Kusti Salm, permanent secretary for the Estonian Ministry of Defence, said Nato forces needed to increase their presence in the Baltic states to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against more wars.

“The threat [to Estonia] from Russia is as clear as anything can be. Russia has revealed itself to be a historic-level murderer. They have made no secret about their intent to eventually dismantle Nato,” Mr Salm said.

Estonia is one of Nato’s smallest members with an area of 45,339 square kilometres, but it sits at the heart of the geopolitical fires stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It is a former Soviet Union state that shares a border with Russia, has Nato membership, and is looking west rather than east. The capital, Tallinn, is 200km from the Russian border by road.

Mr Salm urged Nato member states to double the troops in his country, a request that if granted would bring the total number of Nato soldiers there to about 4,000.

“I think this is what Nato needs to do to in order to face the threat coming from Russia,” he said.

“As the heads of states agreed in Brussels, the plan is to significantly increase the force presence of the eastern flank.

“On the eve of a war, Nato would be able to come up with a divisional level land force, air superiority and also maritime command. This is the credible level of war fighting at a minimum that would deter the Russians not to come.

“It would be ridiculous to state that somehow [Russia], the second biggest non-commissioned military in the world, one of the top three military forces in the world, would somehow be deterred by a lesser-manned force than a division.”

Estonia, a country with a population of 1.3 million, has a reservist military of 25,000, but its regular military numbers 3,500 soldiers.

Estonian President Alar Karis visited Ukraine on Wednesday, where he said: “President Putin must lose this war or there will be no peace in Europe.”

The deputy commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, backed Mr Salm's request and emphasised the need for Nato allies to be ready to quickly send units to the Baltic States and supply long-range missile equipment.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Els, with the Danish contingent who are in Estonia with their Viking Company battle group, said he believed Mr Putin would not dare attack a Nato country because “he knows he cannot win”.

He said: “I don't think that Putin has the will nor the desire to engage Nato. He knows he cannot win and he knows the only outcome would be nuclear war.”

Since the war in Ukraine began, Britain has doubled the number of its soldiers in Estonia as part of the Nato Enhanced Forward Presence in the country, bringing the total to 1,650.

The UK's Royal Welsh Battalion is leading the 1,200-strong Nato battle group, which includes French and Danish forces and is based in Tapa.

Another 800 troops from the Royal Tank Regiment have remained in the country to provide additional support.

Estonia has sent Ukraine €200 million ($216m) worth of military aid, roughly a third of the country's defence budget last year.

The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia were with President Karis in Ukraine on Wednesday, when they met Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and visited Borodyanka, a town near Kyiv.

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda said: “The future of Ukraine will be decided on the battlefield … Ukraine must win.”

Updated: April 14, 2022, 2:11 PM