The war in Ukraine is not only Ukraine’s war – they are fighting for a rules-based world order and, essentially, for all those states who abide by the same values. That is why we all support Ukraine as much as we can, and we will continue to do so as long as is needed. Of course, in Estonia, we also have our own historical reasons. We were occupied by our eastern neighbour for 51 years; we know what life is like under Russian occupation. That is why we cannot let Russia gain anything from this war.

Since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, Estonia has committed approximately €255 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which is also counted as part of the European Union’s contributions through the European Peace Facility (EPF). This amounts to one third of our defence budget. It includes both lethal and non-lethal equipment, but also two field hospitals donated in cooperation with Germany. Including humanitarian assistance, all aid from Estonia amounts to €263 million, or 0.7% of GDP.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine was a wake-up call for Europe and highlighted the critical defence capability gaps. The acute threat of Russia is imminent, and Member States have started to think more about strengthening their capabilities. Member States have started to invest and spend more. It is important that this continues in the long-term. Whether, and when, we will reach the same level of production capacity and diversity of defence products that the United States today owns and offers, is another question.

‘Best bang for your buck’

The most important aspect for now is that all Member States continue to direct more funding into their national defence, reaching at least 2% of GDP. This in general does not matter if it’s done within the EU framework or at the individual level. Yes, we must move towards more defence development cooperation at the EU level. But first Member States need to do their homework in defence spending.

As a small nation and on the EU’s eastern border, we cannot always invest money and time into longer term research and development (R&D) projects and expect to have deliveries of equipment, custommade purely for us. So, from the Estonian perspective, if the equipment complies with our military requirements, then the fact that it is of U.S. or EU origin doesn’t have much impact.

Particularly over the past few years, our motto has been to receive the “best bang for your buck” – we always look to see how we can get the best defence from each euro spent. If market research, dialogue with the industry and later procurement shows that we should buy off-the-shelf, then that is the approach that we’re willing to take.

Still, the war in Ukraine has ignited a shift in the EU. We have never seen joint decisions – such as economic sanctions on Russia – taken in such a rapid manner. Member States have come together to jointly identify capability gaps and develop solutions. All this in order to enhance our common European security space while considering the lessons identified in the war in Ukraine. I believe this has given Member States even more drive to establish EU projects channelled in the critical capability areas.

European Defence Agency (EDA) support

When it comes to military aid, Member States have given away a significant amount of their stocks as help to Ukraine. One main opportunity in the short-term is ammunition. To ensure the sustainable aid as long as necessary – until Ukraine has won this war – and maintain defence capabilities, it is critical now to deal with replenishing these stocks.

The new initiatives proposed by the European Commission to boost joint procurements, such as the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA) and the European Defence Investment Programme (EDIP) regulation, can have a credible effect to support this. We would like to see rapid progress.

EU-level collaborative formats such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) are working very well. In Estonia, for example, our own budget does not allow for such extensive investments into R&D. It is heartening to see that Estonian defence companies have been very successful and have secured €30 million through the EDF in the areas of robotics, cyber security technologies, data protection, surveillance, radar development, digitalisation, artificial intelligence applications, and virtual medicine training solutions.

Yet we must be honest and accept that multinational collaboration can be very challenging and takes time. I believe participation in joint projects must also always directly contribute to national capability plans. The more there are different Member States, the more layers of alignment there are: budget cycles, timelines, requirements, standards and expectations, which is a precondition to initiate joint development projects or procurements. So, when starting collaborative projects, the first step is the agreement of Member States to make it work. The EDA and PESCO can help to support us.

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