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Estonians in support of the French from Barkhane to Gao

The Estonians had already taken part in the EUFOR RCA operation alongside the French (credit: MOD estonie)

(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 in 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 on Thursday. The Riigikogu (the Estonian assembly) still has 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. Will participate, according to our information, an infantry unit, a transport unit and the support element. The duration of the assignment 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 reactive Estonia

For the Minister of Defence, Juri Luik, there are two additional reasons for this participation. A strategic objective first. « By participating in an operation aimed at creating stability for the Southern zone and the European Union, we are supporting our powerful ally in Europe ". Second, it is " to affirm the image of Estonia as a country ready to contribute to ensuring security wherever there are major security threats for Europe ».

Estonians, supporters of first entry

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 its formal approval.

In addition to Estonia, the UK has also announced its planned contribution to the operation. And Spain is already participating, in 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 quite the calmest... The risk is certain. The Estonians know it (1), measure it and are ready to assume it. This commitment, which is important for a country of this size, must therefore be commended in its due measure.

A well-established tradition...

We can also specify that the small Baltic country was one of the first to respond 'present' to set up permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), in a spirit no doubt closer to French ambition than some 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 neighbour, Latvia (read: Estonia confirms notable participation in EUFOR RCA Bangui).

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


Comment: One can add to all the arguments indicated by Tallinn to this deployment another, undoubtedly more local. By showing that they are capable of deploying in a difficult zone, where the risk is proven, and the fight probable, the Estonians are showing their large Russian neighbor that they are ready to fight. This is undoubtedly worth all the beautiful 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 probably not entirely unrelated to the support given 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).