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It seems that Britain has withdrawn from its plans to send medium-range rockets to Estonia, over the backdrop of concern about how the Kremlin would react.
The official army press release published online last week to announce the move has been withdrawn and rewritten to remove all reference to the missiles, according to the Sunday Times. The Ministry of Defense said the deployment was on hold, and was not yet confirmed.
In mid-November, Britain announced that it will deploy Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) on Russia’s border for the first time since the Cold War. The rockets were supposed to be moved to Estonia next year, in part of a huge military build-up by NATO countries in order to defend the Baltic States, amid fears Russian President Vladimir Putin could be planning to invade the country.
It was Moscow’s decision to move Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania that raised NATO concern.
Around 800 UK troops were to deploy to Estonia next year as part of a 15-nation force, including soldiers from the US, France and Denmark.
The rocket systems are capable of firing up to 12 missiles per minute and blowing up Russian tanks over a range of up to 45 miles. They were used with devastating results in Afghanistan from 2007 to blast open Taliban bunkers, 410 missiles were fired.
It was reported that Britain’s systems would be complemented in Estonia by a UK force of drones, jets and tanks.
According to dailymail.co.uk, concerns for the security of Estonia and other Baltic States have grown following the US Presidential Election. During the campaign, Donald Trump challenged a NATO principle that says the alliance will defend any members from military aggression.
Recently, former British Army commander General Sir Richard Shirreff, an expert on Russian affairs, said that he believed that it would be necessary for hundreds of UK troops to remain in Estonia for the foreseeable future in a bid to thwart Russian aggression: ‘Unless it is a permanent force then it is not credible. The 800-strong UK deployment is a start, but just that. I would also like to see Britain taking the lead in the protection of the Baltic States, in particular after the Brexit. NATO as a whole must make a statement that it is willing and capable of defending these countries. I fear that unless President Trump reaffirms the US’s commitment, Russia will exploit this situation‘.
However, meanwhile Britain has backtracked on the plans to deploy the missiles.