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Across Baltic From Trump-Putin Summit, NATO Troops Train for Battle


British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson visits United Kingdom troops of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle group at the military base in Tapa, Estonia, March 25, 2018.

It would take less than three hours by tank from the Russian border across the flat Baltic grasslands and birch forests to reach the Tapa military base in Estonia.

Once a Soviet army base and airfield, Tapa now hosts a thousand-strong NATO force, made up of 800 British troops and 200 Danish soldiers, alongside tanks, armored vehicles and artillery.

The NATO troops are officially part of the alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence program, agreed to in 2016 and aimed at deterring any Russian incursions into the Baltic states. Informally, their presence is often referred to as a ‘tripwire’ force: Any engagement from Russia would trigger a full NATO intervention to defend Estonia. U.S. forces are deployed in a similar role in Poland, and there are further battle groups stationed in Latvia and Lithuania.

WATCH: Across Baltic From Trump-Putin Summit, NATO Troops Train for Battle

Across Baltic From Trump-Putin Summit, NATO Troops Train for Battle
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VOA joined troops from Britain’s 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment as they began a six-month tour at Tapa earlier this month.

“We’re here to deliver against NATO’s core business, which is collective defense. We’re here defensively, but we’re here to fight and defend should the need arise,” said commanding officer Lt. Col. Jim Kennedy.

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine rattled NATO member states, and Estonia has welcomed the deployment.

“The Estonians have spent a huge amount of money, above and beyond their own defense budget, to enable this NATO deployment,” Kennedy said. “So, we’ve got everything that we need. And of course, NATO’s strategy when dealing with Russia is a twin-track approach. It’s showing strength and being prepared to enact our collective defense. But it’s dialogue, at the same time. So, we, like everybody else, await the outcomes of what happens in Helsinki.”

The Helsinki summit is being viewed with considerable nervousness in Tallinn, two hours by ferry from the Finnish capital.

Denmark's troops for NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle group arrive at Amari, Estonia, Jan. 10, 2018. The soldiers join British troops alongside tanks, armored vehicles and artillery.
Denmark's troops for NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle group arrive at Amari, Estonia, Jan. 10, 2018. The soldiers join British troops alongside tanks, armored vehicles and artillery.

“Because there is always the element of unpredictability there, the monopoly of which belonged some time ago to Putin, but now it certainly belongs to Trump. The Russian expectations could be higher than from the American side. Surely they are expecting a propaganda victory,” said Kalev Stoicescu of Estonia’s International Center For Defense and Security.

President Trump said the Helsinki summit could reset relations with Moscow. Just across the Baltic Sea, NATO troops are sending a clear message: The alliance is prepared for any outcome.

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