Estonian president calls for increased NATO presence to deter Russia

As Russia’s military activities are ramped up, Estonia’s President Alar Karis calls for NATO troops to be beefed up in the country.

In the wake of talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, President Alar Karis told POLITICO that Vladimir Putin’s deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border was a cause for concern and that NATO should waste no time and boost its defences.

“We want more NATO troops in Estonia,” President Karis stressed and went on to say that he welcomed a recent decision by Denmark to increase its military presence in Lithuania, with fighters being deployed this month as part of the NATO forces.

“We need a strong presence to make sure we are not going to be attacked,” he said, adding: “only for defence purposes.”

When asked about the likelihood of Moscow invading Estonia, President Karis replied: “You never know.”

“If you look back at history there are surprises. Every time a situation like this emerges — like now in Ukraine — questions like this come up,” he added.

Having revealed that a high-level trip to Ukraine is scheduled for March, the president said that for the time being he had no plans to meet Putin at a discussion table. As POLITICO noted, President Karis’ predecessor Kersti Kaljulaid was criticized by Baltic partners for flying to Moscow to talk with Putin.

“The state of relations [with Russia] at the moment is frozen,” President Karis said, adding: “It’s not just Estonia but the whole of Europe. The first step is through NATO, to start some sort of a discussion.”

In the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Poland and the Baltic States, i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, were pushing for greater NATO presence on their territory that constitutes NATO’s eastern flank. This and the Alliance’s growing involvement in Ukraine has been like a red rag to Russia’s Putin who explicitly demanded guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.

So far the Alliance’s Secretary-General has been sparing no words of warning addressed to Moscow. “If Russia once again uses force against Ukraine and further invades Ukraine, then we have to seriously look into the need to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” Mr Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.