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Britain pledges to send artillery and helicopters to Estonia

WASHINGTON — British and Estonian officials have signed a roadmap to strengthen their military ties that will bolster the remaining British contingent in the Baltic nation with short-range air defense weapons and multiple rocket launcher systems, the US announced Tuesday. two governments.

The agreement, signed in London by the British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and his Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, aim to implement NATO plans approved in Madrid, Spain, over the summer to strengthen the alliance’s eastern front.

The deal also includes promises from Britain to rotate “additional capabilities and tools”, including attack and cargo helicopters, in Estonia throughout 2023, according to a joint statement. .

“In January, Chinook helicopters will arrive in Estonia, in March Apache helicopters, in April Typhoon fighters, and in May an additional battle group will be deployed to Estonia for the large-scale exercise Spring Storm,” Pevkur said in a statement. communicated on the agreement. of the Estonian Ministry of Defence. “The UK will maintain the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), brought to Estonia in the summer of 2022 to reinforce the Allied Battlegroup, and the Stormer short-range air defense systems.”

Britain is Estonia’s so-called framework, or lead, nation under NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence program, with a battlegroup of around 900 troops in the country at any one time. in six-month rotations. Danish and French forces are also part of the Allied force structure alongside host nation troops.

The UK sent a second battlegroup to the Baltic nation in February as war loomed on the horizon in Ukraine. Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24. This second battle group, described as a temporary deployment by British defense officials, is due to return home in December.

According to an article in the Times at the end of September, which described initial planning in London to reduce the footprint of British personnel in Estonia, the government of Tallinn had hoped to permanently keep the equivalent of two battle groups in the country.

The combination of removing one battle group and reinforcing the other with division-level weapons would serve to “enhance the effectiveness” of the remaining British troops, the joint statement said.

“The UK’s commitment to Estonia and to European defense and security is unwavering,” Wallace said in the statement. “The deployment of assets such as Apache and Chinook helicopters to exercise in Estonia is a clear example of the strength of our relationship and the importance we place on our ability to operate effectively side by side.”

Under the new bilateral roadmap, Estonia will build additional accommodation infrastructure for foreign troops at the Tapa military base by May 2023 and will complete the construction of a new management center next year. reception logistics of the allied forces.

The country will also work in 2023 to create and certify a divisional headquarters capable of commanding all Allied forces in Estonia, as agreed at the Madrid summit.

The NATO gathering in June sparked a flurry of activity across Eastern Europe that collectively aims to shift the continent’s posture towards what NATO officials call “forward defence.” The concept involves calling off a hypothetical Russian invasion of a NATO member on the border, instead of allowing troops from Moscow to invade for a few days before Allied reinforcements arrive to repel them.