Finland state

Estonian Defense Minister: Baltic can become “NATO’s inland sea” with Sweden and Finland in the Alliance

US Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to board a landing craft, air cushion in light armored vehicles during BALTOPS 22 in Ventspils, Latvia, June 12, 2022 US Marine corps photo

When Turkey dropped its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the transatlantic alliance this week, it paved the way for transforming the “Baltic [into an] NATO’s inland sea,” Estonia’s top defense official said on Wednesday.

Kalle Laanet, Estonian Defense Minister, said the deal “is very good news for us”. To forum sponsored by a think tank on the future of NATOhe also welcomed NATO’s plan to increase the size of its rapid reaction force to 300,000 from 400,000, to introduce at least brigade-sized forces for rotational tours in the three Baltic States and to establish a US Corps Headquarters in Poland.

Other increases the United States include the base of two other destroyers in Rota, Spain, and the stationing of two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighters in the United Kingdom.

“The Allies are committed to deploying additional robust and combat-ready forces to our eastern flank, expanding from existing battle groups to brigade-sized units where and when needed, backed up by credible reinforcements quickly. available, pre-positioned equipment and improved command and control,” NATO leaders agreed in their statement at the summit in Madrid this week.

The changes mean “we can defend immediately,” Laanet said. “We are taking quick decisions to strengthen our defences” by building up ammunition stocks and upgrading equipment and systems.

“Putin only accepts power; we must empower Ukraine” to end the Kremlin’s aggression, he said.

For months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Baltic leaders were in Washington and Brussels saying their region needed more than “tripwire” defenses to deter Russian military attacks.

NATO enlargement was also a challenge the alliance had to overcome before the Madrid summit; and it had to be a unanimous decision to develop NATO. This is “how we agree to solve problems”, Admiral Rob Bauer of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the chairman of NATO’s military committee told the forum.

It was not an easy path for Sweden and Finland after the two Nordic countries saw how much Moscow’s attitude towards its neighbors had changed late last year.

Beginning with bullying the Kremlin over any NATO expansion and demanding a sphere of influence at a meeting on European security in December, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Swedish government officials will not more believed that its 200 years of neutrality would protect them against Russian aggression.

“It raised alarm bells” in Stockholm, she told forum attendees. Yet many Swedes and other Europeans, including Ukrainian leaders, still did not believe that Moscow would launch an all-out military attack on a neighboring country until it did on Feb. 24 in Ukraine.

“We came to the conclusion that we were no longer safe,” Linde said.

She added that 85% of parliament agreed with the move from neutrality and partnership with NATO to full membership. Sixty percent of the population supported the candidacy.

Linde said there was a similar shift in opinion in Finland at the same time.

But Turkey has opposed the admission of the two Nordic countries, saying they harbor Kurdish terrorists and have imposed controls on arms sales to Ankara in retaliation for its treatment of Kurds.

“We had to take [Turkish objections] very seriously “in what turned out to be a four-and-a-half-hour meeting between two presidents, a prime minister, three foreign ministers and other senior officials before reaching a memorandum of understanding,” he said. she declared.

The three countries came to the meeting with the intention of resolving the issue, she said.

“The atmosphere was respectful of each other,” she said.

Pekka Haavisto, his Finnish counterpart, said: “We had quite a sweat for two hours” before there was a break. After the parties returned, the agreement was reached and Turkey withdrew its objection. As he walked in, he said it was “very important that we [the Nordic nations] do it together” in the application for admission and the resolution of Turkish objections.

“The most important issue is unity,” Bauer said.

Asked if former Warsaw Pact countries that sent Soviet-era weapons to Ukraine were weakening their own defenses, Bauer said it really allowed for a move to more modern Western systems over the course of the year. of the next 10 years.

The catch is that “production is slower than we would like” as demand increases, he said. “This is an important subject that must be addressed” in the coming months.

Speaking on the eve of Sweden and Finland’s admission to the 30-member transatlantic alliance, Linde said the Russians had committed ‘war crimes from the start’ which caught the attention of the West. She cited the attack on a red-roofed theater in Mariupol which housed a thousand civilians and was deliberately destroyed during the long siege of this port city. About 600 civilians were reportedly killed in the attack.

She and others said public support for Kyiv could decline as a result of rising goods and energy prices and a return of priorities to day-to-day concerns.

Kajsa Ollogren, Dutch Defense Minister, said the sanctions “cost us something” to impose. But it was “important to have this debate with our audience” about why they are important to Ukraine’s defence.

“You can already see in the media” a decline in interest in coverage of Ukraine, Linde said. “We’ve seen this so many times, it just slips.”