By Susan Shand
13 July, 2018

The drive from the Russian border to the Tapa military base in Estonia is only three hours by tank. And that concerns the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO.

The military base once belonged to the Soviet Union. Now, it has 1,000 NATO soldiers as well as millions of dollars' worth of military equipment.

The soldiers are officially part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence program, which began in 2016. It was set up to stop any Russian intervention in the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. The three countries joined the Atlantic alliance in 2004.

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson visits United Kingdom troops of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle group at the military base in Tapa, Estonia, March 25, 2018.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson visits United Kingdom troops of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle group at the military base in Tapa, Estonia, March 25, 2018.

The NATO troops are considered a tripwire force. That means any military action by Russia into the Baltic States would lead to a NATO reaction. The alliance has promised to defend its members.

Two times in the past week Russian aircraft violated Estonian airspace in the Gulf of Finland, said an official for the Estonian defense forces. Each time, he said, a Russian airplane entered the airspace for less than one minute and failed to answer radio calls from Estonia's Air Navigation Services. The Estonian Foreign Ministry requested talks with the Russian Ambassador and gave him a diplomatic note each time, The Baltic Times reported.

VOA joined troops from Britain's 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment as they began a six month deployment at the Tapa military base in early July.

"We're here defensively, but we're here to fight and defend should the need arise," said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Kennedy.

Russia's 2014 takeover of the Crimean peninsula and invasion of eastern Ukraine worried the Baltic States, especially Estonia. Just 10 years ago, Russian forces invaded Georgia, which is not a full member of the alliance. The Russian government continues to support two breakaway provinces there.

The Estonian government has spent a lot of money to enable the NATO deployment and welcomed the troops.

In Tallinn, Estonia's capital, all eyes are on the July 16 Helsinki meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.

"NATO's strategy when dealing with Russia...it's showing strength and being prepared to enact our collective defense, but it is dialogue at the same time. We...await the outcome of Helsinki," said Kennedy.

Kalev Stoicescu is with Estonia's International Center for Defense and Security. He says Trump adds a new unpredictability to the talks in Helsinki, but the Russians know what they want from the meeting.

"The Russian expectations could be higher than from the American side. Surely, they are expecting a propaganda victory," he said.

President Trump said the Helsinki summit could reset relations with Russia. But the NATO message from Estonia is clear: we are prepared for Russian aggression.

I'm Susan Shand.

Henry Ridgwell reported this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

enhancev. to improve something

tripwire n. a wire placed close to the ground which trips people, sets off an alarm

navigation n. the act, activity, or process of finding the way to get to a place when you are traveling in a ship, airplane

dialogue n. discussions; contacts

strategy n. a plan of action