The deployment of British troops to Estonia in a bid to deter Russian aggression shows Nato is a “very capable force” that is ready to deal with a raft of threats, a senior UK officer has said.
More than 800 British personnel are currently stationed in the Baltic state as part of Nato’s enhanced forward presence (eFP) alongside Danish, Canadian and Estonian forces.
Established to deter potential aggression from the Kremlin, The British Army is providing the bulk of the numbers through the armoured infantry task force of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh.
Taking a central role in the eFP and based more than 80 miles from the Russian border in the town of Tapa, the Senior Major of The Royal Welsh, Darren Hughes, said his troops are aware of why they are in Estonia.
Asked whether the threat from Russia is a credible one, the 43-year-old from Rhyl, North Wales said: “In as much as is Russia a potent military force? Absolutely.
“They are a very professional organisation. Are they a threat to us day to day? No, they are not,” he told the Press Association.
“Plus are we showing the fact that should situations worsen, then an armoured infantry battlegroup is a very credible fighting force.”
A Challenger 2 tank passes a pair of Warrior tracked armoured vehicles at a training area near Tapa in Estonia (Joe Giddens/PA)
He added: “We are here to show to any potential aggressor that as a force, Nato is very capable and is prepared to deal with a whole raft of threats.”
Maj Hughes who has been in the Army for 20 years said as far as his soldiers are concerned, they are just doing “really good training in a European country with a partner nation”.
“It is not an issue which weighs on us every day, because the threat is not manifested in that way. All we are doing is showing a Nato approach to a slightly changed political situation,” he added.
“There is no existential threat from the Russians, but they have been a bit more aggressive in some of the areas which border them. We are here just to show there is a Nato presence here, and to integrate with other Nato partners.”
Currently undertaking the eight month deployment called Operation Cabrit, The Royal Welsh who took over from 5th Battalion The Rifles in October, will hand over to 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment at the beginning of July.
Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh and the Estonian Defence League take a break during Exercise Winter Camp (Joe Giddens/PA)
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in Estonia it is evident that the UK is “taking the lead on the global stage and crucial role in keeping us safe and protecting our national interests from those who wish to harm us”.
“We live in a world where the threats and dangers we face to our way of life are constantly evolving and increasingly challenging,” he added.
“We have to be deeply committed to counter the intensifying aggression aimed at Britain and our allies from the Russian State.
“This threat is real and it is on our doorstep. We should not underestimate the damage Russia could do.”
At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016 the creation of the ePF was decided amid concerns about Russian activity after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The eFP is a deployment of defensive, but combat-capable forces in countries which includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
There are four multinational battlegroups across the region, led by Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States which aim to deter any potential Russian aggression.
Second Lieutenant Sander Saarik of the Scouts Battalion in the Estonian Defence Force said the eFP shows that Nato is active in the region and is concerned for the the security of their country.
Pressed on how concerned he is that Estonia could come under attack from Russia, the 29-year-old who is serving with the Alpha Mechanised Company, added: “I don’t think we are concerned so far that they will attack us tomorrow.
“But the dangers of situation in Ukraine shows it is a possibility or an eventuality that we have to practice and prepare for.”
Oliver Joesaar, a 19-year-old cadet sergeant also with the Scouts Battalion, mirrored this sentiment and said the eFP presence in Estonia is “very good” because it sends out the signal that they are ready.
Pressed on whether people in his country are worried about a possible attack or invasion, he said they are not, and added “everything is good”.