British PM announces 20,000 troops to be sent to Northern Europe, including Estonia

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday told participants during a Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) meeting that the country will be dispatching 20,000 troops to Northern Europe, including Estonia, next year.

The prime minister vowed to step up the U.K.’s presence in Northern Europe, deepen cooperation on tackling hybrid threats and protect critical infrastructure, the press release reads.

“More than 20,000 British troops will be deployed to the region next year, which is vital for the protection of Critical National Infrastructure, as the exploitation of hybrid activities and strategic competition in the area accelerates.”

The U.K. will also be stationing eight Royal Navy ships, 25 jets and attack helicopters in the region which will take part in large-scale, multi-country exercises, as well as carrying out air policing and cold weather training

The U.K. Government said that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be overseeing the country’s contribution in NATO’s Steadfast Defender exercise next year. The operation will span almost six months and see 16,000 U.K. soldiers deploy to Estonia and Norway. 

Sunak warned, meeting with JEF partners on the island of Gotland, that the allies must not be complacent after Putin’s embarrassing failures in Ukraine embolden his disruptive behavior elsewhere.

He told leaders that while Putin had lost significant ground in Ukraine since he launched his barbaric invasion, allies and partners should not be lulled into a false sense of security. The Kremlin was reinvesting in military capability and turning to a diminishing number of malevolent and marginalized partners to try and rebuild its strength and undermine global stability.

The partners agreed on Gotland to deploy JEF resources to protect critical marine infrastructure in the Baltic should the need arise.

The Estonian government said Friday that partners also expressed support for Estonia and Finland following damage caused to the Balticconnector natural gas pipeline and a communications cable in the Gulf of Finland.

The JEF is a U.K.-led defense cooperation format to which Estonia, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland also belong.

On Wednesday, Estonia’s Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur and his British counterpart Grant Shapps signed a new long-term cooperation agreement between the two countries in which they pledge to bring cooperation in line with new NATO defense plans over the next decade.

“We also confirmed our ambition to align our cooperation to the new NATO regional plans, over the next decade. That means, for example, the allocation of a brigade to Estonia, the deployment exercise of that brigade in 2025, staff officers within the Estonian division, as well as the support of the U.K. towards the creation of the new division,” Pevkur said.

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