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Tapa: reassuring Estonia… and a great training ground

© NGV/B2

(B2 in Tapa) Several hundred British, French and Danish soldiers are present in Estonia. To do what ? What is the interest of this deployment not only at the political but also military level?

A reassurance measure against Russia

The reason for the deployment of “battlegroups” from all the countries of the Atlantic Alliance in the three Baltic countries and in Poland is known. This is to “reassure” the countries concerned of the Alliance’s determination to ensure the defense of their territory against Russia. A measure taken after the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014. “ Any attack on one of us is an attack on all of us » NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reminded Tapa.

A political warning...

A defensive deployment to prevent conflict » and in no case for « provoke " he added, emphasizing that everything is happening " in transparency » with the Russians. In fact, with some 4000 men and women spread across the four countries on the north-eastern edge of the NATO border, this deployment has more of a political warning value than a gathering of forces. On the other side of the border, in Russia, the forces are counted with one more “0”. “ What matters is the signal we send of solidarity, of deterrence, if the Russians really wanted to cross the border » confirms Colonel Olivier Waché who comes from the Eurocorps headquarters in Strasbourg and commands the French detachment. This Russian possibility remains (for the moment) within the realm of theory in the opinion of all the officials, military and diplomats on site. “ We really can't imagine the Russians having fun with this kind of adventure in an Alliance member country. » one of them told us. “ Our posture is non-aggressive and dissuasive” indicates Colonel Waché following in the footsteps of the NATO sec.gen (To be continued: Zapad: a Russian exercise that does not scare Estonians).

An unexpected moment of training

This presence is also a wonderful time for the troop to form and train. “ Four months in training is unexpected. At the rate of operations, internal (= Sentinel) or external, we cannot have such length and such training capacity if we were in France » adds his deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Frédéric *. Thus for the 5th company of the 2nd REI of the Legion (based in Nîmes), composed mainly of new recruits, it is a field of choice both for technical training, but also for group osmosis, all in A " new and multinational environment ". On the program: first acclimatization to the terrain, shooting training, learning the topo, combat in an urban environment (in a few reconstructed houses)… and sport (the British Fifteen who trains every days doesn't seem bad, seeing the guys training).

multinational exercises

All accompanied by different, larger exercises at the joint and multinational level. Several major exercises are thus organized during the period. This week the exercise is going like this Northern Frog (of a monster devouring opposing armed forces, in Estonian mythology). Then it will be the exercise Onion (1) organized by the Estonians, in which NATO troops will participate. And, at the end of October, it will be the turn of the exercise Steel Shield, in Latvia. " We are looking to make the most of our presence here to train with our allies summarizes Colonel Waché.

A great shooting range

Former Soviet base (housing units of the 6th army), the base of Tapa, quite extensive, indeed offers possibilities that not all French installations allow. It allows units to fire over a long range, large caliber, 120 mm or 155 mm. In France, only certain camps (Canjuers in the Var, Suippes in the Marne) offer equivalent possibilities. And again subject to certain conditions.

An original land

Estonia also offers the military specific terrain, with unusual conditions. Which is interesting in itself. Vast areas, heavily wooded, waterlogged, marshy. This terrain is for the soldiers, like the equipment, a real challenge. The forests are so dense and extensive “ that there is really a way to get lost » swears our interlocutor. Topographic recognition therefore takes on its full meaning here. And spongy terrain is a real test for vehicles. Apparently successful for the VBCIs which, with their eight-wheel drive, fare almost better than the tracked vehicles. The Leclerc tank survives above all thanks to its strong engine which allows it to pull itself out of the mud. “ It is mobile even in a meter or a meter 50 of mud says Lt Col Frédéric.

A flat country… but fungus

The country does not seem to present any major difficulties along the way. But you shouldn't trust it. “ The flatness of the country is deceiving » confirms Colonel Waché (who commands the detachment). The country would perhaps not be so easy to take if the Russians decided to attack Estonia... except in winter when the ground is frozen. Recent history confirms this. The general staff also engaged in a staff ride (NB: an exercise which allows through the battlefields of the past tostudy the terrain and understand military strategy). And what he learns is interesting: “ during the Second World War, the Germans managed to stop the Russians for six months”.

Avoid any misunderstanding

To avoid any misunderstanding, any incomprehension by their big neighbor, the French (like the British, it seems) have imposed a rule on themselves, very clear to their men, including during periods of relaxation: no uniform in a radius of 5 km from the Russian border. Whether on official mission or during leave.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

French and British together

In Estonia, it is the British who assume the role of framework nation. Quite logically, they are the ones who provide the greatest number of men (around 800), provide command and structure this battalion with an engineering company, an armored company, an infantry company, and a command and support unit. . The French form the second component, with 300 men: 200 men forming a sub-GTIA with a company from the 2nd REI + 100 people in logistical support. To this we must add 113 vehicles, including 4 imposing Leclerc tanks (from the 501st combat tank regiment of Mourmelon), and the new VBCI. The French succession, present since August, will remain in Estonia until mid-December, and the first frosts of winter (which should arrive quickly, from October). The French will then switch, in 2018, under German command in Lithuania, “ according to a similar system, in men, in materials, as on mission, for a period of two times four months said Colonel Waché.

* To preserve a certain security, without falling into anonymity, soldiers and officers in operation, even in high positions, are now designated only by their rank and a first name.

(1) An ironic code, this is the nickname given to Russians by Estonians.

Report carried out on September 6 as part of the visit organized by the Estonian EU Presidency on the occasion of the informal meeting of defense ministers

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).