US, UK parade metres from Russia
If we don't defend ourselves, nobody else will - general
US army vehicles and British soldiers paraded through the streets of an Estonian city less than 300 metres from the Russian border yesterday.
The parade was a deliberate display of Western unity against the encroaching threat from Moscow.
Armoured vehicles from the US Army's Second Cavalry Regiment and British troops were officially taking part in a military parade marking Estonia's Independence Day, but the choice of location was deeply symbolic.
The city of Narva sits in the easternmost part of Estonia, where the country's border juts out into Russia, and has been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it should turn its attention from Ukraine to the Baltic states.
A majority of the city's 60,000 residents are ethnically Russian.
The Nato-led parade comes as Russian-backed separatists continue to battle Kiev government troops in eastern Ukraine, with fears rising of a separatist assault on the key coastal city of Mariupol.
"History has taught us that if we do not defend ourselves, nobody else will," General Riho Teras, Estonia's chief of staff, said at the parade.
"The events in Ukraine that have kept the entire world awake, demonstrate very clearly that we ourselves must maintain security," he added.
Around 100 Dutch, Spanish, Latvian and Lithuanian troops also marched in the snow alongside some 1,300 Estonian soldiers to mark the independence of the formerly Soviet-ruled republic.
Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, joined Nato in 2004, to Moscow's chagrin.
Fear of Ukraine also joining the Western military alliance is thought to have prompted Russia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis, including its annexation of Crimea last year.
There are renewed fears that the same resentment could drive Russian President Vladimir Putin to expand Russian interests in the Baltic states.
British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said that there would be "deeply damaging" consequences for all of Europe if the EU fails to stand up to Mr Putin in Ukraine, predicting that the Russian president could turn against the Baltic states or Moldova if he is not reined in now.
General Adrian Bradshaw, Nato's deputy supreme allied commander for Europe, said last week that Russia could try to seize territory from the alliance's states off the back of fighting in Ukraine.
Michael Fallon, the British defence secretary, also told journalists last week that there was a "real and present danger" to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Lithuania yesterday announced it would restore compulsory military service for young men amid fears of growing Russian aggression. But, few ethnic-Russian Narva locals who came to the parade seemed to echo fears of a Russian intervention.
"In my opinion national security is blown up by the press, it's nothing serious, everything is okay, no one is going to attack anyone," 55-year-old Yuri Melnikov said.
Elvira Neimann (77), said she's been living in Narva since the end of the Second World War in 1945. "I feel part of Estonia, not Russia. We're all tolerant people, Russia is our friendly neighbour," she said.
Next month, up to 75 British military personnel will deploy to Ukraine to provide advice and training to government forces, Mr Cameron has announced.
The UK servicemen will be based well away from the areas of conflict in the east of the country, and will offer support with medical, intelligence, logistics and infantry training.
There has been no decision to move to supplying lethal weaponry to the Kiev government.
Last night, a former Conservative Cabinet minister said that Mr Cameron's pledge to send British troops to train Ukrainian soldiers will not "solve anything".
Ken Clarke, the former Justice Secretary, said that "no matter how well trained" the Ukrainian army is, Mr Putin's forces could defeat them "by the end of the week". (© Daily Telegraph, London)