NATO forces are “100% ready” to defend Europe should Putin decide to invade, a British military commander has told PA news agency.
Lieutenant Colonel Ru Streatfeild, who is leading the organisation’s battlegroup in Estonia, said British troops were “buzzing” and immensely proud” to be helping reinforce the country’s eastern border with Russia.
Troops led by the UK’s 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, which he commands and have recently been deployed to the Baltic State, took part in a large-scale exercise on Tapa military base, only 70 miles from the Russian border, on Thursday.
Exercise Bold Dragon involved around 2,300 soldiers from UK, French, Danish and Estonian ranks using tanks, including the British Challenger 2 tanks, armoured infantry, engineers, artillery and logistics.
NATO troops in Estonia Ben Birchall
It saw the allied forces go head-to-head against the Estonians in the mud, snow and boggy conditions to further hone Nato’s war capabilities and tactics and ensure the smooth running of working together.
Speaking during the exercise Lt Col Streatfeild said the war in Ukraine had given his soldiers “a razor-like focus”.
“We are literally under NATO command right now. There are NATO plans in place, and whatever orders we are given under a NATO structure, we will execute them,” he said.
Asked if Nato forces were prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, he said: “100 per cent. There is swagger. They are on their game and they are ready.
“It is not that people revel in this. But soldiers want to do a job. They want to put their tradecraft into practice.
“This is what they join the Army to do.”
He added: “Our soldiers are immensely proud to be here. It is an immense privilege. But it is also an immense responsibility.”
British soldiers mount armoured vehicles on manoeuvres in the Tapa central military training area in Estonia on NATO exercise Bold Dragon alongside Estonian, Danish and French forces Ben Birchall
He said Nato forces were not just in place to protect the security of the eastern flank but also the “freedoms we often take for granted”.
“It’s those western liberal values; it’s free speech, it’s the ability to be able to buy your own house or car, all those western norms, they’re underpinned by security and that’s what Nato is here for.”
The battle group commander said he “absolutely” knows how he would counter a Russian attack, adding: “We are getting to know this terrain really well.
“And for the Estonians, this is their terrain. They’ve defended it before and they will defend it again.”
There are currently around 2,000 Nato troops in Estonia, including the Royal Danish Army Viking Company and the French 7th Alpine Hunter Battalion.
On Wednesday Estonian officials called for Nato member states to double the number of soldiers in the country in order to deter Russia from advancing further into Europe.
Gunner Joe Watson, 19, from Wakefield said he is not concerned about the prospect of war.
“It doesn’t really concern me. We did join the Army for a reason. You have always got to be prepared for it,” he said.
“And as a gunner, you don’t really think about it. You just do your job and try to do it well.
“Everyone understands that if we do go, it will be big.
“But we are focusing on defending Estonia. That is exactly what this is.”
He added: “I am proud to be here. I think a lot of the Estonians are very grateful that lots of the British Army are here, especially the armoured units. And this makes you quite proud to be in this job.
“I’ve got quite a small family, they are dealing with it quite well. My dad is obviously proud. They are all quite proud to be fair.”
Lance Corporal Rhydian Stephens, from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, who is attached to the Royal Welsh as a B-company medic said: “We heard the news about the war when we were out doing training exercises in Germany and obviously people got excited. It’s what we joined the army to do.
“We joined the army to help.
“But for now we’re just watching what’s happening at the moment on the news and doing what we need to do here in Estonia first.”