Renewed: 13.05.2017, 17:37

07 March 2017 10:25

It’s not possible to take over our country in just a couple of hours

Article appeared in Dagens Nyheter; March 7, 2017
By Mikael Malmström

In Estonia, we’re not afraid of Russia, but it´s better to be prepared to defend ourselves. This is the message coming from Riho Terras, the Estonian defence chief, who will be receiving allied troops in April. “Our main task is to get Putin to believe in NATO,” he says.

DN meets General Riho Terras at the Estonian Embassy in Stockholm. In Sweden, he has been speaking with Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist (Social Democrats). Along with Commander Micael Bydén, last Friday, General Terras also visited Gotland, which Sweden began to militarily re-equip last year.

“Gotland is a strategically important area for the entire Baltic Sea region. We got the opportunity to drive tanks, see Gripen aircraft from an incident preparedness perspective and talk with local authorities about how they view the military's return and the total defence capability. I liked driving a tank on Gotland, which reminds me very much of our own Saaremaa,” says Terras.

Saaremaa – known in Swedish as Ösel – is Estonia's largest island. Defence League units from there will be taking part in the Swedish major exercise Aurora 17 on the island of Gotland in September. There are other spots where they see eye-to-eye. Both countries are observing increased threats from the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

“The western media often claim that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are afraid of Russia. No, we’re not afraid, but we need to be prepared. Today we are much better prepared to defend our country than ever before in history. It’s not possible to take over our country in just a couple of hours. Full Stop!” says General Terras, firmly.

He has been the defence chief for five years and recently received an extension for a further two years.

Estonia is one of the five NATO countries that have reached the goal of investing two per cent of GDP in defence. This year, the figure is 2.17 per cent (Sweden which is not part of NATO is at 1 per cent, the lowest of the Baltic countries).

When General Terras is asked whether he believes that Russia plans to attack Estonia, he replies:

“I don’t know. But I believe in NATO. And our main task is to ensure that Putin believes in NATO.”

Estonia joined the alliance in 2004. At that time, there was détente and during the initial years, NATO had no defence plans for the Baltic States. But Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and warfare in Ukraine brought about a decision at NATO’s summit in Warsaw last summer to fortify defences in the east.

And so, for this reason April 7, a battalion of 1,200 troops from Great Britain and France will be on stand-by in Estonia. This spring, NATO reinforcements in the three Baltic countries will total 3,600 allied troops and 1,000 armoured vehicles.

“It is not that the British are coming to defend Estonia. Rather, it’s the 28 allied countries that have decided to defend NATO’s eastern front – which happens to be Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It has value as a deterrent. In Estonia's case, we have taken on board the two nuclear powers: Great Britain and France.”

In Sweden the debate is whether NATO is hostile toward and trying to encircle Russia?

“NATO has never been an aggressive organisation. But I have seen Estonia practicing attacking Moscow in a Russian video. They showed pictures of Estonians in our forests and compared them with the forests near Moscow, “they’re training in the same type of terrain.” Yes, sorry, but Estonia has the same type of terrain. But, that’s propaganda,” says General Terras.

“If we’re going to compare military exercises, the Russian Zapad (West) manoeuvres in 2013 entailed more than 100,000 soldiers while NATO’s Steadfast Jazz exercise had only 7,000,” says Terras and turns the perspective around:

“If someone is saying we’re being provocative, I believe, on the contrary, that we should provoke Russia by not doing anything. Leaving a vacuum – as in the Crimea in Ukraine – is provocative enough for them to take the first step. So let’s not provoke Russia. If there’s a vacuum, we’d prefer to fill it with our own security and we’re on track in doing that.”

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at]mil.ee, Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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