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U.S., Estonia Defense Leaders Pledge to Do More for Ukraine

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III pledged to do even more to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia's invasion today.

U.S. and foreign soldiers pose for a photo while holding their nations’ flags.
Group Photo
Estonian and U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, pose with the U.S. Army’s new Maneuver Short Range Air Defense Stryker under both the Estonian and U.S. flags after a successful live fire training event on the Gulf of Finland during Exercise Saber Strike 22 on March 10, 2022.
Photo By: Army Maj. Robert Fellingham
VIRIN: 220310-A-KM584-387N

The men met at the Pentagon to discuss the Russian invasion, NATO defensive efforts and bilateral defense relations.

Estonia is a NATO frontline state sharing a 183-mile border with Russia. In fact, Estonia was one of the "captive nations" of the Soviet Union — annexed by Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin as part of his deal with German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler that started World War II in Europe. 

Austin said the meeting comes at a timely moment. Russian President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war of choice is eight months old and while the Ukrainian military has more than held its own against the far larger foe, more needs to be done.  

Putin has turned his weapons on the civilian population of Ukraine seeking to terrorize men, women and children in the cities of the nation. "We've seen renewed and cruel Russian attacks and nations of goodwill everywhere have spoken out against Putin's atrocities, his irresponsible rhetoric and sham attempts to annex parts of sovereign Ukraine territory," Austin said.  

That unity against Russian aggression is real. Austin pointed to the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting last week in Brussels as an example. "At that meeting, you and I saw firsthand the deep commitment and resolve of our allies and partners who are standing up for Ukraine's right to defend itself," the secretary said. "We are deeply grateful to Estonia, Mr. Minister, and our other NATO allies for their contributions to Ukraine's fight to defend itself. We can all see the differences that these efforts are making on the ground and the progress that the Ukrainians have made in their counter offensive." 

Estonia is a NATO ally and Austin reiterated the U.S. resolve to defend every inch of NATO territory. U.S. troops along with other NATO forces have deployed to the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The United States enhanced rotational deployments to the region with a mix of armored, aviation, air defense and special operations forces.

A large ship pulls into a harbor.
USS Kearsarge
The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge approaches the port in Tallinn, Estonia for a port visit after exercise Siil (Hedgehog) 22, May 27, 2022.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Dylan Chagnon
VIRIN: 220527-M-HU496-343N

Austin thanked the minister for being such a good host to U.S. forces. "I understand that you have plans to increase your ability to host our forces," he said. "So let me thank you for those steps as well." 

Minister Pevkur told the secretary that Estonia is committed to do all it needs to support Ukraine and build up its own military. He noted that Estonia is increasing its defense budget next year by 42 percent, committing 3 percent of gross domestic product to defense. A full percentage point higher than the NATO goal. 

"We are extremely grateful for the long-term U.S. security assistance that has helped us to accelerate the development of our military capability," Pevkur said. Estonia is investing in HIMARS systems, medium-range air defense capability, new anti-tank and anti-vessel systems and more. The country is also investing in new ranges and building up ammunition stocks. 

"I would like to thank the U.S. for its leadership in supporting Ukraine, to fight for the country and for the freedom," the minister said. "Of course, we will stand united with all of our allies today to make sure that, in the future, we will not look back and think we could have done more."

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