Finland, Estonia Talk Joint Coastal, Air Defense, Plans to Turn Baltic Into 'Internal NATO Sea'
Helsinki formally completed NATO accession talks last month, with alliance leaders agreeing to invite the Nordic nation and its neighbor Sweden into the bloc. The matter is now up for ratification by alliance countries' parliaments, with lawmakers from 23 of the alliance's 30 members approving the applications to date. Estonia joined NATO in 2004.
Estonia and Finland are discussing the possibility of joint coastal and air defenses, with the Baltic Sea to become the 'internal' waters of NATO once Helsinki and Stockholm join the bloc, Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur has said.
"We need to integrate our coastal defenses. The flight range of Estonian and Finnish missiles is greater than the width of the Gulf of Finland. This means that we can connect our missile defenses and share all our information with each other," Pevkur said, speaking to Finnish media on Friday during a working visit to the country.
Estonia ordered Blue Spear sea-skimming anti-ship missiles from Israel last year. Manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, the missiles have a 290 km range. Finland, for its part, uses Swedish-made MTO 85M anti-ship missiles with a range of over 150 km as the backbone of its coastal defenses.
Pevkur also hinted at the need for a joint air defense between the Gulf neighbors. "Finnish airspace cannot be protected if Estonian airspace is not protected at the same time, and vice versa. Fighter jets cross the 80-kilometer-wide Gulf of Finland in minutes," he said.
On this point, Pevkur congratulated his Finnish hosts over Helsinki's recent decision to purchase Lockheed Martin F-35s.
"We are acquiring anti-tank missiles, new coastal defense missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers from the United States, and so on. Next week, the government will discuss the acquisition of a new medium-range missile system and new anti-aircraft missiles. There must be equipment for the troops," Pevkur said, referring to Estonia's own defense spending activities.
The minister expressed confidence that ultimately, once Finland and Sweden join the Western alliance, the Baltic Sea "will be NATO's internal sea."
Finland and Sweden moved to apply for NATO membership in May on the heels of the escalating of the crisis in Russia-West relations over Ukraine. The matter is now before the parliaments of the alliance's 30 members. Lawmakers from 23 countries have rubberstamped the motion, with Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary yet to do so.
Last week, the Atlantic Council indicated that Turkey could postpone ratifying Finland and Sweden's bids for NATO membership until after elections in June 2023, plus proof from Helsinki and Stockholm of substantive steps by the countries to halt cooperation with the Kurdistan Workers' Party and other organizations deemed "terrorist" by Ankara.
Russian officials have indicated repeatedly that Moscow has no qualms with Finland or Sweden. However, in late June, President Putin warned that if NATO infrastructure is deployed in the Nordic nations, Russia will respond in kind "and create the same threats in the territories from which they threaten us."
Russia shares a 1,340 land border with Finland, and its commercial and military ship traverse international waters in the Gulf of Finland to get too and from the exclave of Kaliningrad, as well as the exit into the Atlantic Ocean via the Danish straits.
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