Russia could restore its military capabilities in the coming years in a "test" for NATO's collective defense, Estonia's Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna has said.

A former defense minister, Tsahkna said that between 2015 and 2017, Estonia saw the massing of nearly 120,000 Russian troops close to its border, capable of launching an attack within 48 hours.

The troops have now been "sent to Ukraine," he said in a recent interview with Kyodo News ahead of his planned visit to Japan in early March.

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna gives an interview in Tallinn on Feb. 26, 2024. (Kyodo)

As Russia has concentrated its offensive resources on invading Ukraine over the past two years, Kyiv now fights "not only for our freedom altogether and our democracies but also instead of us," he added.

Speaking on the same day as Hungary became the final NATO member state to approve Sweden's bid to join the transatlantic military alliance, the foreign minister said Swedish accession will make the Baltic Sea akin to a NATO "internal lake."

He was referring to the fact that once Sweden officially enters NATO, the Baltic Sea will be bordered almost entirely by member countries, with the exception of Russia.

"This is strategically for us very important," he said.

Tsahkna said he expects talks in Japan will include discussion of cooperation in supporting Ukraine. He hailed "very close relations" between Japan and Estonia that are becoming "more and more practical."

While Tsahkna warned Russia could regroup its forces to test NATO in the coming years, he believes there is no imminent military threat to member states from Moscow due to the deterrent effect of the alliance's Article 5 collective defense clause.

Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that "whatever he commits in the future against NATO," the response will be "very critical" and "rapid," Tsahkna said, adding, "The price must be very high."

Anti-Russia sentiment is strong in Estonia, which was occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1940s and regained its independence in 1991 ahead of the communist bloc's collapse. The country, which borders Russia, is one of the three Baltic states along with Latvia and Lithuania.

Over 1.4 percent of Estonia's gross domestic product is being spent on supporting Ukraine's fight against Russia, and the invasion has spurred the country to raise its defense spending to a projected 3.2 percent of GDP this year.

"We have increased taxes for that, and people understand that this is needed," Tsahkna said.

Underlining the need to overcome fatigue in supporting Ukraine, the foreign minister said that were Russia to win, it would "harm our democracies."

Not backing Kyiv means "we later will pay a higher price, all of us," he said.

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