This year brought US troops into Estonia, possibly for long term. Estonian World takes a look back at the US presence in Estonia in 2014.
In the beginning of the year, Estonian Defence Minister Urmas Reinsalu indicated in a speech given at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, that a permanent American base in Estonia would be the best security guarantee for the country. He was criticised for his words at home by the politicians of the Social Democrat Party, as well as by the former Chief of Defence, Ants Laaneots, now planning to run for parliament for the Reform Party. Opponents said that by stationing US troops in Estonia, it would send out a “hostile signal” to Russia, and that Reinsalu had been “provocative”.
Less than two months later, Russia invaded Crimea. The security situation in the region had changed and no one would anymore object to the idea of having allied boots on the ground in Estonia. The country asked its NATO allies for security assurances and received them.
On 6 March, the US sent six F-15 fighter jets to step up NATO’s air policing over the Baltic states, based at the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. On 8 March, US President Barack Obama spoke with his counterparts in the Baltic states and reaffirmed the American commitment to defend the Baltic states under the NATO collective defence article.
In late April, 150 soldiers from the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team arrived in Estonia. Originally destined for bilateral infantry exercises, the growing concerns about the Russian Federation’s behaviour brought a decision to rotate the US troops in Estonia for as long as necessary. The permanent presence of American forces on the Estonian soil became a reality.
On 30 April, NATO opened its second air base in the Baltics, at Ämari in Estonia, hosting four Danish F-16 jets.
On 3 September, Barack Obama visited Tallinn, ahead of the NATO Summit in Wales. The US President reiterated that “the defence of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London”.
“We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again,” he said.
In October, 150 soldiers from the US Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division replaced the paratroopers of US Army Europe’s 173rd Airborne Brigade in Estonia. The new troops arrived also with infantry vehicles.
The same month, the US State Department approved the sale of the Javelin anti-tank missile system to Estonia and the deal to buy 80 systems was signed in November.
Credit: Estonian Defence Forces.