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Dempsey Reaffirms Collective Defense Commitment to Estonia

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, September 15, 2015 — Russia has violated a sovereign nation's borders by force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today in Tallinn, Estonia.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey was in the capital city for two days of discussions with military and political leaders on the response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the collective defense of Estonia. He also met with U.S. rotational forces and Estonian troops who are training together about 60 miles east of Tallinn.

The rotational presence is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which calls for U.S. forces to train with NATO partners in the alliance's eastern flank. The forces were deployed after Russia's aggression in Ukraine last year.

The Russian violations are what caused NATO allies to become "unsettled," Dempsey said Tuesday in a press conference alongside Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, the Estonian chief of defense,

The question, Dempsey said, is whether Russia would again violate a nation's sovereignty, taking into account the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 and then last year's intervention in Ukraine.

The United States stands with Estonia, and there is no "greater symbol of commitment" than the presence of U.S. troops on the ground, the chairman said.

Strong Partner in Estonia

The chairman's trip was part of a number of visits he has made to countries that are "stalwart allies," contributing people and hardware to missions around the world.

Dempsey thanked Estonia for its strong partnership and the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Estonian Defense Forces who have served alongside the U.S. in missions including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United States is a strong ally that took swift action after Russia's intervention in Ukraine, Terras said, noting U.S. planes arrived just 20 hours later in the Baltic states, with boots on the ground in Estonia a month later.

About 5,000 U.S. troops have rotated through Estonia since April 2014, as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

"I believe we have a very close and mutual understanding concerning the threats that aggressive Russia is posing toward the eastern flank of NATO," Terras said.

Important Visit to Baltic Ally

The chairman also met Monday with Terras, Prime Minister Taavi Roivas and outgoing minister of Defense Sven Mikser. The discussions focused on the U.S. trans-Atlantic bond and long-term plans for the region emphasizing Estonia is a strong partner to the United States and NATO.

"The U.S. is, without a doubt, the most important ally for Estonia," Roivas told Dempsey.

Concerns they shared focused on Russian capabilities, and how quickly Russia can move military equipment in the interior lines and conduct snap exercises.

The United States has shown a "very strong resolve," Terras said. "We are grateful for the lead that the U.S. has taken in that area."

Grateful Nation

The situation in Ukraine and Russia is "quite worrying" for the small nation, according to Estonian 2nd Lt. Simmo Saar, who spoke Monday in a media briefing at the Estonian Defense Forces Headquarters.

"When you ask, 'Are we satisfied with the help from U.S. and NATO?' Then the answer is, 'Positively yes,'" he said. In sending the rotational forces to Estonia, the United States "was actually the first who had the courage to make the first step and we are really grateful for that," Saar added.

"It gives us assurance that we are not alone and that our allies are actually here to help us if needed," he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)