Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid has called for the installment of US Patriot missiles and the deployment of American ground troops in her small Baltic country, saying the measures are necessary to make deterrence “believable” to Russia.
The conservative Estonian leader made the comments in an interview in Washington on Wednesday, during a visit to the White House.
She claimed that the deployment of American personnel and materiel would boost existing NATO troop deployments in Eastern Europe, which were launched in response to what Western countries and a number of Baltic countries perceive as a threat from Russia.
“We want to be sure that both NATO’s territory and NATO soldiers are well protected,” Kaljulaid said, adding, “We need to make sure that there is the air defense and the air support for these forces, in case that is necessary. We need our deterrence to be believable.”
She also said that the proposed deployments had not come up during a meeting on Tuesday with US President Donald Trump, who seems to be reluctant about the use of US military assets abroad. But she said “permanent” negotiations between the governments of the two countries were ongoing, listing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence as key interlocutors.
Kaljulaid’s proposal came a week after Poland, another NATO member state, inked a $4.75-billion deal with the US to purchase a Patriot missile system amid Moscow’s opposition to any deployment of the US-made system in Eastern Europe and near Russia’s borders.
Reports said that the deal was for four Patriot fire units, with Warsaw negotiating with Washington to buy more Patriot systems, a new 360-degree radar, and a low-cost interceptor missile as part of a second phase of development.
The deal between Washington and Warsaw comes as the US has also been operating its land-based missile system in Romania.
The Patriot is a mobile missile system designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, low-flying cruise missiles and aircraft.
Moscow has complained time and again about the prospect of the deployment of Patriot missile systems in Poland and Romania, arguing that it goes against the 1987 INF Treaty.
The treaty was signed between the US and the former Soviet Union on December 8, 1987. The accord covered deployed and non-deployed ground-based short-range missiles and intermediate-range missiles. The former Soviet Union eliminated 1,846 such missiles, while the US destroyed 846, under the treaty.
‘To calm the jittery nerves’
NATO has already dispatched a battle group to Estonia, comprising soldiers from the UK, France, and Denmark, but President Kaljulaid, elsewhere in her remarks, said that the deployment of American ground troops would bring another dimension to the project.
American ground soldiers are already participating in NATO’s so-called “Enhanced Forward Presence” mission but are based in nearby Poland.
"We’d rather see that bilaterally we could agree to have some boots on the ground on a permanent rotational basis,” she said. “This is very useful to calm the jittery nerves. Some people might think that NATO takes a long time to act, but the US could be quicker. There is some rationale in this thinking.”
Moscow considers such deployments as attempts to encircle Russia.
Kaljulaid’s comments also coincided with a live-fire military exercise in the Baltic Sea by the Russian army just outside of NATO waters. A top Latvian defense official branded that drill a “show of force.”
Early last month, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Washington was planning to deploy some 400 anti-ballistic missiles on Russia’s doorstep as part of its military buildup in Eastern Europe.
Last year, the US for the first time deployed Patriot long-range anti-aircraft missiles to the Baltics to be used in large-scale NATO military drills in Lithuania, near the Russian border.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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