Today, while standing in formation at the Tapa armed forces campus, Minister of Defence Jüri Luik and Commander of the Defence Forces General Riho Terras presented medals for participation in international operations to French soldiers serving in the NATO battle group.
Minister of Defence Jüri Luik thanked the solders for their service and contribution to Estonia's defence capability.
“Multinational NATO combat groups are a clear sign of the solidarity between Allies and the readiness to stand for one’s freedom,” said Luik, according to whom the Allies are prepared for deterrence as well as defence. “There are deep traditions when it comes to defence cooperation between Estonia and France, extending to several continents. We have stood shoulder to shoulder in the name of NATO collective defence here in Estonia and fought in peace-building operations in Mali and the Central African Republic,” added Luik.
Commander of the Defence Forces General Riho Terras noted in his speech, given in French, that the Alliance perceives threats and challenges in a similar way. “For NATO, the most important thing is organisational unity, since this makes us invincible,” said Terras, according to whom the professionalism of the French soldiers and their attitude towards the performance of their duties is a credit to France as well as Estonians.
France is contributing a subunit comprised of 300 servicemen to the NATO battle group serving at Tapa, whose armaments include Leclerc tanks, VBCI infantry fighting vehicles and VAB armoured vehicles.
The 1200 member NATO battle group, comprised of British, French and Danish soldiers, began serving at Tapa at the beginning of April as part of the 1st Infantry Brigade. In addition to the British and the French, Iceland is also contributing with one serviceman.
The French Ambassador to Estonia, Claudia Delmas-Scherer; Brigadier General Brice Houdet, French military representative to NATO Allied Command Europe; and members of the French parliament also participated in the formation at Tapa.
The French subunit will be replaced next year by Danish soldiers. The French contingent will then begin serving in Lithuania, while French fighter aircraft will begin participating next year as part of the NATO air-policing mission at Ämari. The Estonian Defence Forces have prior experience working with the French, as part of the operation in the Central African Republic, and the anti-piracy operation Atalanta.
As a result of the changed security situation, the leaders of all 28 NATO member countries decided at the Warsaw Summit last summer to station battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, for the purposes of deterrence and collective defence.
Photos from the event can be viewed here.