Estonia must double defence spending to counter Russia, military chief says

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 6:44 AM

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – The head of Estonia’s military said on Thursday that his country needs to double defence spending over the next two years to stockpile enough munitions to inflict a decisive defeat on any Russian invasion force.

General Martin Herem said neither the threat of a nuclear response nor the prospect of significant casualties would deter President Vladimir Putin if he chose to attack Russia’s small Baltic neighbour, which would be devastated unless he was driven back fast.

“If you show your face over my border, the decisive victory must come very quickly: not by months and years, but days and weeks,” Herem said in an interview in Japan, where he was meeting defence officials. “If we really believe that it may come in three years, then we have to make decisions today.”

Putin on Wednesday explicitly denied that Russia had designs on any NATO member, but his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has made Western countries nervous that he could seek to restore Moscow’s control of much of the former Soviet Union, or go even further.

Estonia, once a Soviet republic, has already increased its defence budget to around 3% of gross domestic product, a leader among members of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Its Foreign Intelligence Service said last month that Russia was preparing for a military confrontation with the West within the next decade and was set to double the number of forces stationed along its border with the Baltic states and Finland.

Other NATO countries are reinforcing their presence in the Baltic states; Germany plans to have 4,800 combat-ready troops in the region by 2027, its first permanent foreign deployment since World War Two.

Herem said he had spoken to Japanese defence ministry officials in Tokyo about acquiring components that could help Estonia build defence equipment more cheaply.

Although pacifist Japan has strict curbs on defence exports, it has fewer restrictions on commercially available components that can also be used in military equipment. That, said Herem, could include earthquake sensors being used to detect approaching Russian tanks.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Kevin Liffey)