Federal President Steinmeier in Estonia: protection, solidarity and Eurofighter
The Federal President visits Estonia. He is greeted by Eurofighters, meets their crew and assures the Estonians of German support.
AMARI/TALLIN taz | Frank-Walter Steinmeier is not often greeted in this way either. As the Federal President’s Airbus A319 approaches the Ämari military airport in northern Estonia on Wednesday morning, two Eurofighters suddenly appear on the right-hand side and escort the aircraft to landing. One fighter jet is from the Bundeswehr, the other from the British Royal Airforce – this is how international cooperation within NATO is being demonstrated here.
The Federal President visits Estonia for two days. He wants to get an idea of the work of the Bundeswehr soldiers on NATO’s eastern flank – and show that Germany is on the side of the Baltic States. Almost all countries on the eastern NATO border has visited Steinmeier since the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, he has also been to Latvia and Lithuania. was missing so far Estonia, which shares a nearly 300-kilometer border with Russia.
“Here in Estonia, people live just a few kilometers from the Russian border,” says Steinmeier at noon as he stands in a hangar in front of a Eurofighter that is being serviced. “We have to understand that there is great fear that the Baltic states will also fall victim to a Russian attack.” His message is very clear: “NATO is ready to defend every square centimeter of the alliance’s territory.” You can rely on Germany. Together with the USA and Great Britain, Germany is now the largest provider of troops on NATO’s eastern flank.
150 German soldiers are stationed in Ämari, about a dozen of them are women. Since last week, the Germans have been responsible for air policing, i.e. for protecting the airspace, together with their British colleagues. One Eurofighter each from the Luftwaffe and one from the Royal Air Force are available around the clock. They are intended to “intercept” unknown aircraft that are in the Baltic airspace without radio contact or transponder signal, says press officer Alexander Feja. This does not mean pushing away, as one might think, but “visual identification”. After that, the planes would be escorted. If an alarm is triggered, the Eurofighters have fifteen minutes before they have to be in the air.
Alarm squads working together for the first time
According to Feja, the cooperation with the British does not only exist with pilots and technicians, but also in other areas such as property protection. Steinmeier stays on the military base for four hours, two Eurofighters are rehearsing a mission for him, a German-British team of technicians explains the fighter jets to him, and over lunch he tries to talk to German and British soldiers. “I’m also here to say my heartfelt thanks to the servicewomen and men for the commitment they are making,” said the Federal President.
On Tuesday, the “Alarmrotte” was deployed together for the first time. Since the air force came to Ämari in August, it has taken off a total of 28 times due to an alarm. “We have not seen any increase in airspace border violations in recent years,” says the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, Eberhard Zorn, who came to Estonia with the Federal President. It’s a kind of graduation trip for Zorn. Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) removed him from office, it will be over by the end of the week. “This is a clear political decision, which I fully support,” says Zorn. The reason for his dismissal is the new start of the Bundeswehr. He had a good conversation with the minister on Monday and is now retiring.
Christoph Hachmeister, the contingent leader of the Germans in Ämari, emphasizes that the Bundeswehr in Estonia is well equipped. The military commissioner Eva Högel had in her report on Tuesday criticizes that there are shortages in every corner and that the “turning point” has not yet arrived in the Bundeswehr, Hachmeister wants nothing to do with that, at least here with his Eurofighters. “We’re doing our job,” he says.
Germans and Brits will fly missions together in Estonia for a month. At the end of April, the Air Force takes over completely, then the Germans withdraw. Since 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the NATO countries that have Eurofighters have shared the mission in Estonia.
Estonia and Germany emphasize close ties
Security policy will be the focus of the afternoon talks with Estonian President Alar Karis. Karis thanks Germany for supporting Ukraine. “The importance of Germany for European security cannot be overestimated,” he said in a short press conference. Germany and Estonia are close allies in the EU and NATO.
That was not always so. For a long time, the Baltic states first critically eyed the pro-Russian course of the Germans and then the initially hesitant change of direction. The Federal President leaves no doubt that this has changed. “Germany stands by its responsibility in the EU and in NATO,” he says. “Estonia can rely on that.” Steinmeier has a conversation on Thursday with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas planned.