LONDON — Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has called for NATO to send more troops to his country to counter the threat posed by increasingly assertive neighbor Russia, a report said on Sunday.
Ilves told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that Estonia was "part of a group of countries who are mentioned in a threatening way" by Russia and that the military alliance, which Estonia joined 11 years ago, should set up permanent combat units in his country.
Tensions between NATO and Russia have spiked to Cold War-era levels since Moscow's March 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia rebels and the government.
Russian military maneuvers on Estonia's border have triggered concern in Europe that Moscow could attempt to destabilize countries that were in its orbit during Soviet times.
As a result, NATO is boosting defenses on Europe's eastern flank with a "readiness" task force of 5,000 troops and command centers in six formerly communist members of the alliance, including one in Estonia.
But a US infantry company numbering 150 soldiers is currently NATO's sole presence in Estonia, and they are not permanent.
Ilves highlighted Russia's recent exercises as evidence that only permanent NATO units would be effective.
"One hundred and fifty soldiers is not a lot, so we do think that further stationing of troops at a higher number is only reasonable.
"It (the NATO 'readiness' force) would get here in, what, a week? Five days?" he said. "But if you look at the exercises that are done by our neighbor, they're basically instantaneous. They're here and it's over in four hours."
NATO and Russia signed a "founding act" in 1997 that agreed no combat troops would be permanently stationed east of Germany.
However, Ilves insisted that the "security environment" had changed since 1997, justifying the posting of more troops.
Estonia's pro-NATO Prime Minister Taavi Roivas last week formed a ruling coalition after a March re-election.
The new government is expected to strengthen Estonia's pro-Western orientation, its commitment to the EU, eurozone and NATO.
Estonia has only 5,300 soldiers and does not possess any jet fighters, relying solely on NATO to defend its airspace.