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UK troops to boost NATO defences in Estonia
© U.S. Army Europe

UK troops to boost NATO defences in Estonia

20/03/17Defence

The first of 800 UK troops being sent to boost NATO defences in the Baltic have arrived in Estonia.

The 120 soldiers from the 5th Battalion, the Rifles, will set up a UK headquarters in the country before the remaining troops arrive in April.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the troops would deter “Russian aggression”.

The UK is taking a leading role in NATO’s ‘enhanced forward presence’ operation, aimed at reinforcing the alliance’s eastern border.

Tensions between Estonia and Russia increased as a result of the Ukraine conflict, which resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.

Commander of the battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wilson, said the UK force would “integrate into the Estonian defence force and bolster their capabilities”.

He added that it was important for the UK to show solidarity with its NATO allies.

Fallon said it was the biggest UK military deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War and formed part of a long-term, open-ended commitment to deter Russia.

He said deploying troops was necessary “because of the increased Russian aggression that we’ve seen and the need to reassure our allies on the eastern side of NATO”.

However, he insisted it was a “defensive deployment” and was not “designed to provoke or escalate”.

Captain Gav Dunlop added that he felt the troops were trained for every eventuality.

He said: “There’s obviously a credible threat just over the border but I think we’re a credible deterrent so it just brings everything more to life.”

The UK-led Estonia battlegroup is one of four NATO multinational deployments to eastern Europe, which were agreed to at the 2016 Warsaw summit.