Nato forces ‘100% ready’ to defend Europe’s borders, says UK commander

Troops have taken part in large-scale exercise about 110km from Russian border

British soldiers take part in a military exercise in Estonia. PA.

Nato forces are “100 per cent ready” to defend Europe should Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to invade, a British military commander has said.

Lt Col Ru Streatfeild, who is leading the organisation’s battle group in Estonia, said British troops were “buzzing” and immensely proud” to be helping to reinforce the country’s eastern border with Russia.

Troops led by the UK’s 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, which he commands and have recently been stationed in the Baltic State, took part in a large-scale exercise at Tapa military base, about 112 kilometres (70 miles) from the Russian border, on Thursday.

Exercise Bold Dragon involved about 2,300 soldiers from the UK, French, Danish and Estonian ranks using tanks, including the British Challenger 2 tanks, armoured infantry, engineers, artillery and logistics.

The allied forces went head-to-head against the Estonians in the mud, snow and boggy conditions to further hone Nato’s war capabilities and tactics, and ensure the smooth running of working together.

Speaking during the exercise, Lt Col Streatfeild said the war in Ukraine had given his soldiers “a razor-like focus”.

“We are literally under Nato command right now. There are Nato plans in place, and whatever orders we are given under a Nato structure, we will execute them,” he said.

Asked if Nato forces were prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, he said: “100 per cent. There is swagger. They are on their game and they are ready.

“It is not that people revel in this. But soldiers want to do a job. They want to put their tradecraft into practice. This is what they join the army to do.

Lieutenant Colonel Ru Streatfeild says British troops are proud to be deployed to Estonia. PA.

“Our soldiers are immensely proud to be here. It is an immense privilege. But it is also an immense responsibility,” he said.

He said Nato forces were not only in place to protect the security of the eastern flank but also the “freedoms we often take for granted”.

“It’s those western liberal values; it’s free speech, it’s the ability to be able to buy your own house or car, all those western norms, they are underpinned by security and that is what Nato is here for.”

The battle group commander said he “absolutely” knows how he would counter a Russian attack.

“We are getting to know this terrain really well. And for the Estonians, this is their terrain. They have defended it before and they will defend it again,” he said.

There are currently about 2,000 Nato troops in Estonia, including the Royal Danish Army Viking Company and the French 7th Alpine Hunter Battalion.

On Wednesday, Estonian officials called for Nato member states to double the number of soldiers in the country in order to deter Russia from advancing further into Europe.

Gunner Joe Watson, 19, from Wakefield said he is not concerned about the prospect of war.

“It doesn’t really concern me. We did join the army for a reason. You have always got to be prepared for it,” he said.

“And as a gunner, you don’t really think about it. You just do your job and try to do it well.

“Everyone understands that if we do go, it will be big. But we are focusing on defending Estonia. That is exactly what this is.

“I am proud to be here. I think a lot of the Estonians are very grateful that lots of the British Army are here, especially the armoured units. And this makes you quite proud to be in this job.

“I have got quite a small family, they are dealing with it quite well. My dad is obviously proud. They are all quite proud to be fair.”

Lance Cpl Rhydian Stephens, from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, who is attached to the Royal Welsh as a B-company medic said: “We heard the news about the war when we were out doing training exercises in Germany and obviously people got excited. It is what we joined the army to do.

“We joined the army to help. But, for now, we are just watching what is happening at the moment on the news and doing what we need to do here in Estonia first.”

Updated: April 15, 2022, 8:29 AM