Estonian president calls for more NATO troops to defend against Russia threat – POLITICO

Estonia’s president has called for an increase in NATO troop numbers in the country, amid heightened Russian aggression on Europe’s eastern flank.

Speaking to POLITICO following talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, President Alar Karis said that Vladimir Putin’s deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border is a cause for concern and that NATO should waste no time in upping its defenses.

“We want more NATO troops in Estonia,” Karis said, adding that he welcomed a recent decision by Denmark to increase its military presence in Lithuania, with fighters being deployed this month under the NATO banner.

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

When pressed on the likelihood of Moscow invading Estonia, Karis struck a cautious tone.

“You never know. If you look back at history there are surprises,” he said. “Every time a situation like this emerges — like now in Ukraine — questions like this come up.”

The Estonian president also confirmed that a high-level trip to Ukraine has been penciled in for March, but that he currently has no plans to sit down with Putin. His predecessor Kersti Kaljulaid was criticized by Baltic partners for holding talks with the Russian leader in Moscow.

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

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO personnel were deployed to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Poland, with each country hosting around 1,000 troops.

Moscow has demanded that NATO reduce its presence across Europe’s eastern borders and wants guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never join the alliance.

Stoltenberg said Wednesday that should Putin embark on an invasion of Ukraine, then NATO won’t hesitate to bolster its defenses.

“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,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO defense ministers are set to review tensions with Russia in a meeting planned for mid-February.

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