British troops began a long-term deployment to Estonia on Saturday as Germany’s intelligence chief warned Russia had doubled its military presence on its Western border.
An advanced contingent of 120 British soldiers landed at Estonia’s Amari airbase late on Friday night as part of a new Nato deployment designed to deter Russia from attempting a repeat of its invasions of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the Baltic.
Eight hundred British troops with Challenger 2 tanks, AS90 self-propelled guns, and Warrior armoured vehicles, will be based in the town of Tapa, 80 miles from the Russian border, from next month.
A British Army AS90 self propelled gun arrives in the port of Emden, Germany to be loaded and transported to Estonia Credit: Dominic King/Army press office Germany
The force, made up of one armoured infantry support group based on 5th Battalion The Rifles Battlegroup and tanks from the Queens Royal Hussars, will be joined by an armoured infantry company and artillery elements from the French Marines.
A Danish contingent will replace the French in 2018. The deployment is part of what Nato is calling an “enhanced forward presence,” designed to reassure eastern allies and deter potential Russian aggression.
“In the face of an increasingly assertive Russia, Nato is stepping up its commitment to collective defence,” said Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, as the first British troops deployed.
Soldiers from the 5th Battalion The Rifles Battlegroup (5 RIFLES) arrive at Amari airbase in EstoniaCredit: Estonian Defence Ministry
They will take part in a series of exercises alongside the Estonian armed forces and in larger, regional drills coordinated with other Nato contingents deployed to Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The UK is also contributing 150 troops to the US-battle group in Poland.
Troops have been warned Russian agents may try to disrupt the deployment by luring them into compromising positions when off duty.
Mikk Marran, the head of Estonia’s intelligence agency, told the Times last month troops could be targeted by “honey traps” or drawn into staged pub brawls, or see their social media accounts hacked for blackmail in an effort to discredit British soldiers.
Their arrival came as Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND), warned of a major Russian military build up in the region.
“The Russian threat has intensified,” Mr Kahl said in an interview with Der Speigel on Saturday. “Russia has doubled its fighting power on its Western border, which cannot be considered as defensive against the West,” he said.