British and American soldiers paraded through the streets of an eastern Estonian town yesterday in a show of Western unity just 300 yards from the Russian border.
The parade, featuring the US Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment alongside British and Estonian troops, officially marked Estonia’s Independence Day - but the choice of location in the Estonia-Russian border city of Narva is highly symbolic, especially given Michael Fallon's remarks today confirming the deployment of 75 British military trainers to Ukraine.
Earlier today the Defence Secretary said that the UK should "come to the aid of a friend in need," but emphasised that the government would not deploy combat troops to Ukraine. Mr Fallon also said the deployment was a British initiative, separate from any action by Nato.
Narva, a vulnerable Estonian border town located on the eastern tip of the country, has been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin should it wish to escalate its aggressive stance towards the West.
The parade, in a city where the majority of the 60,000 residents are ethnically Russian, comes amid rising Western fears over the Kremlin’s meddling in the Ukrainian war.
Mr Fallon's remarks follow on from last week, when he claimed there was a “real and present danger” to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia with the rise of Russian belligerence.
Kiev alleges that pro-Russian rebels to the east are funded and backed by the Kremlin, a charge strongly denied by Russia.
Despite an agreed ceasefire between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government on 12 February, pockets of resistance have continued in the country as both sides claim violations by the other.
More than 5,400 people are thought to have been killed in the bitter conflict.
"The events in Ukraine that have kept the entire world awake, demonstrate very clearly that we ourselves must maintain security," Estonia's chief of staff General Riho Teras said at the parade.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
"History has taught us that if we do not defend ourselves, nobody else will," General Teras told the Daily Telegraph.
Estonia, which joined Nato in 2004 along with Latvia and Lithuania, currently has compulsory military service for eight or 11 months from the age of 18.
Lithuania president recent reinstated military conscription – discontinued in 2008 – citing growing concerns of Russian assertiveness in the Baltic region.
Troops in the parade, which also consisted of roughly 100 Spanish, Dutch, Lithuanian and Latvian soldiers alongside British and US forces, may form part of Nato's planned expansion.
Earlier this month, Nato’s general secretary announced the decision to set up six new command posts on its eastern borders, and create a 5,000 strong rapid response force.Reuse content