Finland, Estonia call for increased defence spending to ward off Russia

By Thomson Reuters May 31, 2024 | 6:54 AM

By Tom Westbrook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Russia’s small neighbours on Friday lobbied the West at the Shangri-La Dialogue for arms production, spending and military planning to protect against Russian aggression, a challenge a senior Finland official said was too much to bear alone.

“Being a new member in NATO … it is of paramount importance that we make progress in terms of the military planning, to really look deeper at Finnish defence as a part of the NATO’s defence,” Finland’s deputy defence minister Esa Pulkkinen said at the security summit in Singapore.

Washington will host the annual summit of NATO’s 32-member states in July, where aid for Ukraine will top the agenda, along with integration of its two newest members, Sweden and Finland.

Pulkkinen said NATO decisions on command and control arrangements taken at the July summit in Washington would be “of crucial importance” as Russia’s capabilities increased.

“We saw that Russia is capable and willing to wage a full-scale war on its neighbour,” Pulkkinen added. “It became clear that no small state could cope by themselves when brutally attacked by a much bigger enemy.”

Estonia has been a NATO member since 2004 and is pressing member states to increase defence spending.

“(Regarding) our role in NATO, yes, we are very vocal,” said Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur.

“Going to Washington, we are advocating for the ACDC initiative,” he said, referring to Baltic states’ proposal for an Allied Capability Development Commitment, which calls for NATO members’ spending plans to rise from 2% of GDP to 2.5%.

“We clearly see there are shortages and challenges for the NATO countries in order to be ready to defend our alliance and this is why we need to increase rapidly our defence spending,” he said.

Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2022, has become increasingly reliant on Western arms and ammunition as its stockpiles of Soviet-era equipment dwindle. Its Western allies have promised tens of billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance this year.

Russia has not attended the Shangri-La Dialogue since before the invasion. The Kremlin has repeatedly warned that arms buildups and shipments to Ukraine posed dangerous escalation risks.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, held annually in Singapore by the International Institute of Strategic Studies for the last 21 years, ends on June 2.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook. Editing by Gerry Doyle)