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Estonia calls for EU to spend more for defense in border states

MUNICH (Reuters) - Estonia, worried about a continued Russian military buildup, on Sunday called for the European Union to spend more on the defense of its external borders.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid speaks during the NATO Baltic air-policing mission handover to Italian Air Force ceremony in Amari, Estonia January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said her country was already spending 2.2 percent of economic output on the military and could not afford to spend more, although there were additional military needs.

“Our little country cannot do more than it is already doing,” she told Reuters in an interview at the Munich Security Conference. “But more needs to be done in our region.”

Kaljulaid said the EU functioned as a redistribution mechanism, with money to be spent in those areas where it made the most sense.

In the case of security, that would clearly be the border areas, she said, calling for a “true defense union” that included a mechanism to help all members meet security needs.

Kaljulaid also called for all NATO members to increase defense spending to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on the military by 2024.

Germany, whose spending now totals around 1.2 percent of GDP, will not meet the target by 2024, NATO officials have said.

“All alliance partners made the same commitments,” she said. “The important thing is that there’s movement.”

Kaljulaid said increasing prices for military equipment were complicating the effort by eroding countries’ buying power. In Estonia’s case, that affected even the purchases of ammunition.

“Even if we spent 2.5 percent, we would not be in a position to build up a sufficient deterrent,” she said.

She said Russia had proven unpredictable, particularly after its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, but it was important to maintain dialogue with Moscow.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Graff