Tri-Service

British Estonia Deployment 'Protecting Security Of Berlin, Paris and London'

The British Ambassador to Estonia says the deployment of 800 British troops is as crucial to the security of Berlin, Paris and London as it...

The British Ambassador to Estonia has warned that the deployment of 800 British troops to the country as part of a NATO force is as crucial to the security of Berlin, London and Paris as it is to the security of the Baltics.

Soldiers from 5 RIFLES, along with tanks and armoured vehicles, will be based just 80 miles from the Russian border when they head to the region next month.

The five-year NATO mission will be Britain’s first long-term deployment to one of Russia’s neighbours since the end of the Cold War. 

Russia has described the deployment as “provocative”, while Estonia says it needs NATO more than ever because it fears Russian aggression.

The British Ambassador to Estonia, Theresa Bubbear, said "we should all care enormously about this":

Since Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine in 2014, when it annexed Crimea, the Baltic states neighbouring Russia have been preparing for what they see as a growing threat to their sovereignty.

The increasing hostilities from the country's eastern neighbour has led ordinary civilians to volunteer for an official paramilitary force, known as the Estonian Defence League (EDL). 

The EDL has members all over the country, who are training to rise up and form a resistance, if the country was attacked.

The volunteer group has drawn on tactical lessons from insurgent groups around the world, including the Taliban. 

EDL training Estonia
Estonia Defence League practice defending a forest from potential invaders

One member said he was willing to defend his country at all costs:

"I couldn't just stay at home and do nothing because we are Estonians and are patriotic. It's what we do."

Estonia does have a professional military, the Estonian Defence Force, but with just 6,000 soldiers the EDL plays a vital role in bulking up the country's armed forces numbers. 

On the eastern point of Estonia, is the border city of Narva, where 90% of people speak Russian.  

The Narva river currently divides the two country's but many Estonian's fear this border could be moved by force. 

Narva river, Estonia
Estonia and Russia: neighbours separated by the Narva river

Many of the city's inhabitants feel culturally Russian, but the editor of its Russian language newspaper does not think people would rather be ruled from Moscow;

"People cross the border, they can see Russia, and they love Russia, but they live here, and I think no one, or hardly anyone would wish that Russia occupies these territories. There is no such desire, no."

The Estonian government does not share that confidence and has asked NATO for help to deter Russia from stepping foot across its border.

The Americans already have almost 200 soldiers in the country, who are equipped with heavy armour, including Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks.

US tanks arrive in Estonia
US tanks arrive in Estonia

The British-led battlegroup will join them, supported by Danish and French soldiers, and together will operate closely with the Estonian Defence Forces.

The Secretary of State for Defence, MIchael Fallon, told the House of Commons he is "proud" of Britain's deployment in Estonia:

NATO’s Article 5 says that if Estonia is attacked, the UK and every NATO country must go to war to defend the alliance.

For the west, it’s a difficult balance - how to place a deterrent force on NATO’s eastern flank, while avoiding the idea of a military threat to Russia.  

Perhaps the very thing which angers Moscow, being part of NATO and part of Europe, could be what keeps Estonia safe.

But many people here still believe freedom is only assured if Estonia and its allies are ready to fight for it.