Last week, NATO defence ministers convened in Brussels to discuss situation in Ukraine. According to Urmas Reinsalu, holder of said portfolio in government of Estonia, another important private meeting happened with Dutch colleague Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. The topic: Estonia’s desire to buy, from Holland, CV90 combat vehicles and PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers.
Actually, this wasn’t the first time the defence ministers talked about this – according to Mr Reinsalu, Estonia has entered into negotiations with Holland. Last week, another Estonian official was in the Netherlands to hold talks – Ingvar Pärnamäe, vice chancellor at Ministry of Defence.
At the start of this year, talks were underway about purchasing the US Bradley combat vehicles. At the beginning of January, Mr Reinsalu paid a visit to the USA and though not covered by the news at the time, they did also talk about the combat machines buy.
Bradleys, however, were set aside: firstly, they are older than the CV90; secondly, their procurement would take a lot longer. And, lastly and not least, Mr Reinsalu admits: «The price level wasn’t acceptable.»
Thus, they are now talking about the CV90, used by the Dutch army – a world top vehicle in its class. Actually, CV90 is of Swedish production. The Swedes themselves use a version with 40 mm automatic gun; to the Dutch, however, they sold the 35 mm gun version.
CV90 has been used in Afghani battles, both by the Danes and the Dutch. Its team is a trio: commander, gunner, and driver. In addition to these, the vehicle can carry up to eight soldiers.
The defence ministry is unwilling, at this point, to reveal details of talks with Holland. However, we are talking about the purchase of 40–50 combat vehicles. Regarding the price, the ministry also remains tongue-tied. Certainly, however, the bill would be bigger than €100m. «Probably, the biggest defence procurement in Estonian history,» confirms Mr Reinsalu.
In addition to combat vehicles, Estonia wants to get some Dutch PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers. Whether these would be purchased together or separately – combat vehicles first, howitzers later – is undecided as yet. Probably, that is up to definite options, prices, and how the talks go.
The events of these past few weeks, however, have endangered the procurement. The inevitable change of government, now ahead of Estonia, disturbs that kind of talks. No-one – neither politicians nor definite ministry officials doing their job – haven’t any idea what the weeks to come may hold: what will be the new policies, what will the new minister want. For instance: in recent years, the soc dems have publicly criticised rapid increase of defence budget.
And even if the new coalition – be the new minister a soc dem, a «reformer» or an IRL guy – opts to keep Estonian’s national defence on current course, still another governmental change looms as early as 2015, and with the elections in view the government might not want to deal with costly, complex and controversial decisions. With defence equipment, for instance, this might not mean change of decisions; rather, things may just be delayed.
The same wait-and-see mode has set in at other ministries, with the complicated and controversial decisions on hold. In economy ministry, ferry procurement is shelved; as is the cutting of renewable energy fees – a policy by Juhan Parts, one that soc dems don’t agree with.
We need tanks
It’s another matter how development of national defence is going to be impacted by Russian aggression in Ukraine. On the one hand, it should make Estonia try harder.
«Actually, we ought to increase defence budget and set as our new goal to have a complete mechanized brigade ready by 2018,» said the IRL chairman Mr Reinsalu.
This means that, in addition to combat vehicles and self-propelled howitzers, Estonia should buy tanks. For the latter, however, the current budget limits for near-future will definitely hold no money.
Recalling the Russian-Georgian war – back then, also, big words were uttered about this being Estonia’s lesson and that Estonia need quickly and principally ratchet up its defence development. Even so, after a few months, the same old same old set in again. Possibly, that’s what will happen again, in wake of the Ukrainian crisis.