FACT CHECK: Did Estonia Donate Strelas To Ukraine And Purchase Stingers?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

An anonymous European diplomat told Politico European Union (EU) that Estonia donated Soviet-era Strela man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to Ukraine and purchased newer Stinger missiles with EU funds.

Verdict: False

Estonia has not donated Strela MANPADS to Ukraine, nor has it purchased Stingers, according to the Estonian Defense Ministry and an independent database.

Fact Check:

European Union countries that have donated military equipment to Ukraine are able to be reimbursed a part of the value from the European Peace Facility (EPF), according to Politico. The plan is expected to cost up to 2 billion Euros, the outlet reported.

Several European officials and diplomats have accused Estonia of taking advantage of the EPF to give old stocks to Ukraine and purchase new equipment, Politico EU reported.

“What the Estonians do is, they send old material, which is no longer in production, and then ask for reimbursement [based on the price of] modern alternativesn” one diplomat told Politico. “For example, they have sent Strelas [old Soviet shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles] to Ukraine, but claimed reimbursement for modern Stingers, which of course have more capabilities and command a much higher price. This is also why Estonia’s military support appears to be so much higher per capita than that of other countries in the statistics everybody cites.”

The claim that Estonia donated Strelas to Ukraine and then purchased Stingers is false. The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists all military equipment donated to Ukraine. This list includes Javelin anti-tank missiles, Carl Gustav recoilless rifles, 155mm and 122mm howitzers, among weapons. It does not list Strela missiles. (RELATED: Does This Image Show Russian Helicopters Over A Ukrainian Town?)

“Estonia has never possessed nor sent Strelas to Ukraine and neither possessed nor acquired Stingers, as claimed by Politico,” the Estonian Ministry of Defense said in a March 28 press release.

Check Your Fact reviewed the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Arms Transfer Database. This database, which contains information on all transfers of major conventional weapons, does not list Strelas going from Estonia to Ukraine, nor does it show Stingers going from the U.S. to Estonia. The air defense missiles that Estonia has purchased in the past three years include Mistral missiles from France and Piorun missiles from Poland, according to the SIPRI database.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told Check Your Fact in an email that “we have not seen any information about Estonia sending Strela to Ukraine” though cautioned that “we may have missed information or such aid may have taken place in secrecy.”

“We have also not seen any information about Estonia acquiring Stingers. If this would have happened the chance we would have missed it is small, as especially the USA as supplier is usually rather open about such arms exports. However, Estonia has ordered in 2022 Piorun man-portable air defence system (MANPADS) from a Polish company. The Piorun is similar in function to the Stinger. And ’stinger’ is sometimes used as a generic term for MANPADS,” Wezeman said.

Check Your Fact also reviewed the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s website, which lists all the major arms sales approved by the State Department.

While the State Department has approved the sale of Stinger missiles to countries such as Finland in the past year, it has not approved any such sale to Estonia. The State Department did approve a possible sale of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Estonia in July 2022, according to a Defense Security Cooperation Agency July 2022 press release.

A Estonian Ministry of Defense spokesperson told Check Your Fact in an email that the ministry did “not wish to add anything to what has been already said in the statement we released.” Check Your Fact also reached out to Raytheon Technologies –which manufactures Stingers– and will update this article if a response is provided.

Update (4/3/23): This article has been updated with a comment from Wezeman. The rating remains unchanged. 

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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