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Estonians in support of the French from Barkhane to Gao

The Estonians had already participated in Operation EUFOR RCA alongside the French (credit: MOD estonia)

(B2) The Estonian government decided today (March 22) to deploy a detachment of 50 soldiers alongside the French, in Gao, as part of Operation Barkhane. It has become a tradition for the northernmost Baltic country of Europe, which does not hesitate to show solidarity where other, larger, better-endowed countries prefer to remain in their slippers.

This proposed mandate was approved by the government this Thursday. The Riigikogu (the Estonian assembly) has yet to give its approval.

Responsible for the protection of the Gao base

In Operation Barkhane, the Estonian contingent will be responsible, under French command, for ensuring the security of the base and its immediate surroundings. According to our information, an infantry unit, a transport unit and the support element will participate. The duration of the mission will be one year.

An example of mutual solidarity

For Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, this decision to contribute to a terrorist operation is a " for another "example of the" very good cooperation » between Estonia and France. “ Countries do not take decisions to send their troops lightly. The fact that France and Estonia, on several occasions, in recent years, have found ways to have practical cooperation between the two countries is undoubtedly a sign of a very close relationship ", did he declare.

Affirm the image of a responsive Estonia

For the Minister of Defence, Juri Luik, there are two additional reasons for this participation. First of all, a strategic objective. « By participating in an operation aimed at creating stability for the South zone and the European Union, we support our powerful ally in Europe ". Secondly, it is “ to assert Estonia's image as a country ready to help ensure security wherever there are major security threats to Europe ».

Estonians, supporters of entry first

Estonia is one of the first partner countries invited by France to participate in Operation Barkhane. This participation responds, in fact, to a French invitation. French Defense Minister Florence Parly invited Estonia to participate in January. The Malian government then gave formal approval.

In addition to Estonia, the United Kingdom also announced its planned contribution to the operation. And Spain is already participating, providing air logistics support, from Senegal.

The Estonians are, however, the first European country to have men engaged on the ground, in a region – Gao – which is not exactly the calmest… The risk is certain. The Estonians know it (1), measure it and are ready to take it on. This commitment, important for a country of this size, must therefore be duly commended.

A well-established tradition…

We can also point out that the small Baltic country was one of the first to respond 'present' to set up permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), in a spirit undoubtedly closer to the French ambition than certain countries.

... made of reciprocal solidarity

In 2014, Estonia participated with a 50-member infantry unit in the EU stabilization operation in the Central African Republic (EUFOR RCA). An operation largely initiated by France. Tallinn was even one of the first countries to formalize this participation (2), then followed by its neighbor, Latvia (read: Estonia confirms notable participation in EUFOR RCA Bangui).

In 2017, reciprocity played a role, France decided to send to Tapa (Estonia) a detachment of 300 men and armored vehicles (infantry fighting vehicles and tanks) in the NATO battle group present in Estonia in the framework of the reinforced presence of the Alliance on the Russian borders (read: Tapa: reassuring Estonia… and a great training ground). A presence that will be renewed in 2019.


Comment: We can add to all the arguments indicated by Tallinn for this deployment another, undoubtedly more local. By showing that they are capable of deploying in a difficult area, where the risk is proven, and combat is likely, the Estonians are showing their large Russian neighbor that they are ready to fight. This is undoubtedly worth all the nice declarations of robustness. It’s strategic…and smart.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) The Estonians already have a few soldiers in Mali, four as part of the Malian army training mission (EUTM Mali) and three as part of Minusma.

(2) A participation which was undoubtedly not completely unrelated to the support provided by France to the release of Estonian hostages in Lebanon

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).