TAPA, Estonia - Soldiers of the United Kingdom, France and Denmark raised the national flags of these countries during a ceremony at the Tapa army base on Thursday to mark the start of the service of NATO's enhanced forward presence battalion battle group in Estonia.
In his speech, Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna said that the arrival of the allied battle group marks a clear assurance that Estonia is not alone and must never again stand up against threats alone, spokespeople for the Ministry of Defense said.
"Today's ceremony symbolises the resolve and unity of NATO. Our allies' troops standing here is a powerful signal that when we say 'All for one, one for all,' we mean that. The free world is united, and the values and principles we are here to defend, are eternal. We know we can count on allies and allies know that they can always count on us. By standing together, we are strong," said Tsahkna.
After the ceremony, Tsahkna, UK Secretary of Defense Michael Fallon, Denmark's Minister of Defense Claus Hjort Frederiksen, and the ambassador of France to Estonia, Claudia Delmas-Scherer, signed a declaration about the establishment of an enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia. By the declaration, the NATO battalion battle group will operate in concert with the Estonian defence forces as a defensive but combat-capable force.
About 1,200 troops from the UK, France, Denmark, and Estonia participated in the flag-raising ceremony. Also present were the president of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, chairman of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor, Prime Minister Juri Ratas, chief of defence Gen. Riho Terras, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. James Everard, and the commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, Gen. Salvatore Farina.
At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016, 28 leaders of NATO member nations decided to establish an enhanced forward presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland due to changed security situation. The NATO battalion battle group in Estonia strengthens the deterrence and collective defence and also reinforces Estonian self-defence capability.
The 1,200-strong NATO battalion battle group is part of the 1st Estonian Infantry Brigade, stationed in Tapa. The framework nation UK is contributing more than 800 troops, armed with Challenger 2 tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles Warrior, and AS90 self-propelled howitzers. France is contributing 300 troops armed with Leclerc tanks, VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, and VAB armoured vehicles. The French unit will serve at Tapa for eight months, after which it will be replaced by a Danish unit.