TANKS and armoured vehicles from the Royal Welsh regiment have been arriving in Estonia as part of Nato moves to strengthen its eastern flank after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The UK's Ministry of Defence said Challenger 2 tanks and armoured vehicles from the Royal Welsh battlegroup have reached the Baltic state from Germany.

Today Ukraine said it has regained control of its second city Kharkiv after Russian troops entered it.

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James Heappey, under-secretary of state for the armed forces, had said the UK would send “earlier than planned” The Royal Welsh Battlegroup.  

Roughly 850 personnel from 1 The Royal Welsh, armoured infantry battalion, have mostly been heading from Sennelager training area in Germany, where they had been based up until now.  

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Warrior tracked armoured vehicles used by The Royal Welsh were loaded on transport trucks ahead of the roughly 1,600-km journey to join The Royal tank Regiment. 

Around 1,000 troops and more equipment are due in the coming days in a doubling of the British military presence in the country, where the UK leads a Nato battlegroup.

Lieutenant Colonel Ru Streatfield commander 1 Royal Welsh Battlegroup speaking on Forces News said: “There is excitement and a little bit of intrepidation.

"It’s a young battlegroup eighteen to nineteen percent of those serving were not born at the time of the end of the Cold War, so a lot don’t understand the context. They get the excitement and the sense of importance of what their doing.”      

The Royal Welsh will be based at Tapa, joining the existing NATO British led Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup and effectively doubling the size of the number of British troops on the ground in Estonia. 

The country is a NATO member and the alliance has a "collective defence" pact which means any attack against one member state is considered an attack on all.

Ukraine has had an ambition to join the alliance, first formed in 1949 to counter the potential military power of the former USSR, but isn't currently a member.

How long the Royal Welsh, who have been on a previous tour with Operation Cabrit, the British Army designation for deployment to Estonia, will remain at Tapa, is unclear but likely to depend onhow the current security situation in the region pans out. 

Captain Lucas Colley said: “There’s no change to our NATO mission we are there (in Estonia) in a defensive context only to defend the security and integrity of the Baltic States."

The existing eFP battlegroup at Tapa has been in existence for five years now and is mirrored by similar battlegroups in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

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The postings illustrate the increasing tensions in the region in the years since the end of the cold war, and the collapse of the old Eastern Bloc, amid NATO expansion and a more assertive Russia.

British Army personnel were due to leave the Sennelager training area, in North Rhine-Westphalia, from 2020, but again the deteriorating security situation regarding Russia led to their return. 

RAF Typhoon fighter jets based at Akrotiri in Cyprus, supported by Voyager air-to-air refuelling aircraft, have completed their first air policing missions alongside Nato allies over Poland and Romania.

The Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel HMS Trent has been taking part in Nato exercises in the eastern Mediterranean with Merlin helicopters and RAF P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

They are due to be joined by HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, which set sail from Portsmouth on Friday.

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The moves came after a virtual summit of Nato leaders on Friday agreed to deploy elements of the alliance’s 40,000-strong response force to eastern member states amid fears they could be the next target for President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Alongside our Nato allies, these deployments constitute a credible deterrent to stop Russian aggression threatening the territorial sovereignty of member states.”

Additional reporting: Gavin Cordon, PA and Twm Owen

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