'What we joined the army to do': Royal Welsh soldiers on deployment in Estonia to deter Russia

Soldiers from The Royal Welsh took part in Exercise Bold Dragon, a NATO training exercise in Estonia designed to deter Russian aggression Credit: PA Images

Welsh soldiers on deployment in Estonia say they are prepared for the threat of any Russian invasion, amid continuing tensions along Europe's eastern flank.

Troops led by the UK's 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh took part in a large-scale exercise on Tapa military base, only 70 miles from the Russian border, on Thursday as NATO forces look to reinforce Europe's border defences.

Lance Corporal Rhydian Stephens, from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, who is attached to the Royal Welsh as a B-company medic said: "We heard the news about the [Ukraine] war when we were out doing training exercises in Germany and obviously people got excited. It's what we joined the army to do.

"We joined the army to help.

"But for now we’re just watching what’s happening at the moment on the news and doing what we need to do here in Estonia first."

A British military commander has said his troops stand "100% ready" to defend Europe in the event of any Russian incursion Credit: PA Image

Lieutenant Colonel Ru Streatfeild, who is leading NATO's battlegroup in Estonia, said British troops were "buzzing" and "immensely proud" to be helping reinforce the country's eastern border with Russia.

Around 2,300 soldiers from UK, French, Danish and Estonian ranks took part in a training exercise to shore up Nato's war readiness and capabilities.

Exercise Bold Dragon included the use of British Challenger 2 tanks, armoured infantry, engineers, artillery and logistics.

It saw the allied forces go head-to-head against the Estonians in the mud, snow and boggy conditions.

Speaking during the exercise Lt Col Streatfeild said the war in Ukraine had given his soldiers "a razor-like focus".

"We are literally under NATO command right now," he said.

"There are NATO plans in place, and whatever orders we are given under a NATO structure, we will execute them," he said.

Soldiers from The Royal Welsh were amongst NATO troops taking part in Exercise Bold Dragon Credit: PA Images

Asked if Nato forces were prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, he said: "100 per cent. There is swagger. They are on their game and they are ready.

"It is not that people revel in this. But soldiers want to do a job. They want to put their tradecraft into practice.

"This is what they join the Army to do."

He added: “Our soldiers are immensely proud to be here. It is an immense privilege. But it is also an immense responsibility.”

He said Nato forces were not just in place to protect the security of the eastern flank but also the “freedoms we often take for granted”.

“It’s those western liberal values; it’s free speech, it’s the ability to be able to buy your own house or car, all those western norms, they’re underpinned by security and that’s what Nato is here for.”

Heavy armour has been used in training exercises as NATO troops reinforce Estonia's eastern border Credit: PA Images

The battle group commander said he “absolutely” knows how he would counter a Russian attack, adding: “We are getting to know this terrain really well.

“And for the Estonians, this is their terrain. They’ve defended it before and they will defend it again.”

There are currently around 2,000 Nato troops in Estonia, including the Royal Danish Army Viking Company and the French 7th Alpine Hunter Battalion.

On Wednesday Estonian officials called for Nato member states to double the number of soldiers in the country in order to deter Russia from advancing further into Europe.