Estonia’s PM calls for greater US presence in Baltics

Estonia’s prime minister called for a greater US presence in the Baltics to deter Russia as she made a plea for the west to remain united and not give even the smallest concession to Moscow.

Kaja Kallas told the Financial Times that Nato should strengthen its eastern flank in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania irrespective of whether Russia invades Ukraine, something many western experts increasingly fear after Moscow stationed more than 100,000 troops on the border.

She added that Estonia would like to see “the big allies present in our region”, an indirect call for US troops to be based in the Baltics as it is the only large Nato country without a presence in the region.

“The biggest deterrence there is that you have big friends. If you are bullied at school, the bully doesn’t bully you if you have strong and big friends, and it’s the same with deterrence . . . The biggest deterrence to Russia is an American flag,” she added.

Tensions in the Baltics and elsewhere have increased over Russia’s intentions in Ukraine and Belarus as well as Moscow’s demand that Nato return to its 1997 borders, before Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the military alliance.

Kallas called Russia’s request “clearly outrageous”, and part of a pattern of negotiations in line with the doctrine of longtime Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko — demand the maximum, give ultimatums and not give an inch.

“Russia has created a problem, and has now threatened to solve this through outrageous demands. The big question is: what is the western response? The west, Nato, the European Union have been very united. It has come as a bad surprise to the Russians. We have to keep this line together,” she added.

Kallas said that some compromises with Russia could sound like “small things” such as limiting military exercises or arms control, but that Nato should resist.

“What should the west and Nato offer Russia to de-escalate? This question is already a trap. Nato has not created this situation. The only one who can de-escalate is Russia,” she said.

She insisted that she saw no “cracks in the unity”, despite recent concerns over French president Emmanuel Macron’s call for European dialogue with Russia. “We might have different ideas on tactics,” said Kallas, but Macron was “a true European” and in general Europe was “united” towards Moscow.

Nato has reinforced its eastern flank since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, stepping up its Baltic air-policing mission and placing multinational battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

The current deployment in Estonia is led by British forces with Danish and French troops also present; Canada leads the battalion in Latvia, Germany in Lithuania, and the US in Poland.

“We would like to see this anyway, the strengthening of the eastern flank of Nato. Not just if they invade Ukraine. We have been pushing this for a long time,” Kallas said.

Estonia, one of the few Nato countries to meet the alliance’s 2 per cent defence spending target, last week announced a large increase in military expenditure, boosting it by €380m up until 2025. It also said it would send anti-tank missiles to help Ukraine defend itself from potential Russian aggression.

Kallas said Estonia would bring forward procurement plans already made, lifting spending to about 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product. She urged other European countries to lift their defence spending too, a long-held demand of US presidents, especially Donald Trump.

“The important part of it is that we do our share, and we also expect our allies to do their shares . . . For the bigger allies, it’s always a question that we’re not depending on you, we are doing our share. Other European countries should also increase to 2 per cent,” Kallas added.

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