Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:21AM
French military tanks and vehicles, part of a NATO mission, are unloaded at the Tapa military base, in Estonia, March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
French military tanks and vehicles, part of a NATO mission, are unloaded at the Tapa military base, in Estonia, March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A new batch of French military hardware and vehicles has arrived in Estonia as part of a massive military buildup by NATO in Eastern Europe to deter “Russian aggression.”

According to a statement released by Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, more than 30 units of military equipment of the French contingent, including four Leclerc tanks, 13 infantry fighting vehicles, and dozens of armored carriers and all-terrain vehicles, arrived in the railway station of the Estonian mid-northern town of Tapa on Wednesday.

Last Saturday, the Estonian military had announced that the first French contingent of the international NATO battalion had reached the training base in Tapa, where the French will be based.

Fifty French soldiers have also been stationed in Estonia, with another 250 troops due to arrive in April.

British soldiers have also been deployed to Estonia. Britain sent its first group of troops to the Baltic country on Friday. The 120 British soldiers are part of a total of 800 troopers to be sent from the UK to Estonia.

In July 2016, the US-led military alliance decided to deploy a so-called Enhanced Forward Presence force to three Baltic states — Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia — as well as Poland.

The military alliance has been particularly boosting its military presence in Eastern Europe since the outburst of the Ukrainian crisis some three years ago, claiming that Russia’s alleged interference in that conflict has been the reason behind the military buildup.

Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014, and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum. Its subsequent integration with Russia has been perceived by the US and other Western countries as an “annexation,” and, since then, the West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Moscow to force it to return control of the peninsula to Ukraine. The Western countries also accuse Russia of having been involved in an armed conflict in Ukraine’s east, which broke out when Kiev launched military operations to crack down on pro-Russia demonstrations there. Moscow denies the accusations.

British tanks and other military vehicles are unloaded at the Estonian port of Paldiski, March 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has described the deployment of NATO forces near its borders as a threat and has on numerous occasions warned against NATO’s eastward expansion. Moscow says deploying an expected 4,000 troops plus many types of military hardware in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland would only lead to a security imbalance in Europe.

Earlier this month, military chiefs from Russia and the Western alliance held their first high-level contact after NATO unilaterally froze ties with Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.