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08.05.2017  11:48

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

NATO military aircraft in Baltics scrambled once last week over Russian aircraft
NATO military aircraft serving in the Alliance’s air-policing mission in the Baltic countries were scrambled once last week to escort Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday. Last Friday, the NATO military aircraft escorted a Tu-134 passenger plane, as well as two Su-27 military aircraft flying with their on-board transponder off. NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Lithuanian army's special operators exercising in Vilnius
On 5 May, Special Operations Forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces are conducting training in Vilnius. By participation in the national exercise Lightning Strike, the special operators are getting ready for the traditional exercise Lightning Sword, the Armed Forces said. “Exercise Lightning Strike 2017 of the Lithuanian army is currently held in Vilkaviskis and Marijampole, and the Special Operations Forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces are also involved. During the training, soldiers of the Special Operations Forces are gradually readying for tasks of another training of special operators, Lightning Sword 2017, which will follow the Lightning Strike 2017,” reads a statement to BNS. “In order to properly prepare for the training of the Special Operations Forces, communication and coordination is held with municipalities of different regions and institutions to be involved in the exercise,” the Armed Forces said. Representatives of the Armed Forces confirmed to BNS that Vilnius was among the venues of the training of the special operators. On Friday, Lithuanian residents received messages to their mobile phones, saying that military exercise would be held in Vilnius on 5-7 and 15-17 May, as well as specifying it would involve training military simulation gear and aviation.

 

LITHUANIA

Lithuanian president, King Philippe to visit Belgian troops in Rukla
On 4 May, President Dalia Grybauskaite and King Philippe of Belgium visited Belgian soldiers serving in the NATO forward presence battalion in Rukla, in central Lithuania. Around 100 Belgian troops are stationed in Lithuania as part of the German-led NATO battalion. Also, Belgium has several times contributed to the Alliance’s Baltic air-policing mission. Before the trip to Rukla, Grybauskaite and King Philippe met in Vilnius to discuss bilateral relations, as well as cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic countries and the Benelux, the president’s press office said. “The King’s arrival is also a great commitment of the country to help us and be present in the region. It is a great honour to meet with the Belgian king […]," Grybauskaite said on LRT Radio on the eve of the king’s visit. Belgium is Lithuania's 10th largest economic partner in terms of trade.

Lithuanian team finds illegal shipment of weapons as part of EU operation Sophia
On 4 May, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry informed that Lithuanian soldiers taking part in the EU’s anti-migrant smuggling operation Sophia have found an illegal shipment of weapons. The shipment of weapons that was found on the El Mukhtar motor vessel was seized. “Let’s be proud of our soldiers: Operation Sophia is the EU’s most important security operation. A vessel inspection is a complicated and risky task. Thus, its successful implementation not only shows a high level of preparedness of Lithuanian soldiers and their professionalism, but also marks a strong and tangible contribution by Lithuania to international security,” Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said in a press release. The Lithuanian boarding team found several types of weapons and ammunition, including machine guns, AK47 rifles, grenade launchers, mortars, grenades, and explosives, on the vessel headed for Libya. All weapons were transferred to the German ship, Rhein, to be checked and disposed of. “This case shows that when participating in international operations, Lithuanian soldiers carry out their tasks professionally and decisively,” Chief of Defence Lieutenant General, Jonas Vytautas Zukas, was quoted as saying in the press release. Any evidence related to the transportation of items prohibited under the arms embargo on Libya will be sent to the relevant authorities of EU member states and their findings will be submitted to the UN Sanctions Committee, the ministry said. Lithuania has been contributing to Operation Sophia since 2015. Fifteen Lithuanian soldiers are currently taking part in it.

Poland taking over NATO air-policing mission at Lithuanian air base from the Netherlands
On 2 May, the Polish Air Force is taking over NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission from the Royal Netherlands Air Force in a ceremony at the Siauliai air base in Lithuania. Four Polish F-16 military aircraft will replace the Netherlands’ four F-16s that have safeguarded the Baltic skies for four months. Poland is contributing to the Baltic air-policing mission for the seventh time after 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and two rotations in 2014. Previously, it used MiG-29 Fulcum military aircraft to police the Baltic skies. The rotation ceremony at the Siauliai air base was attended by Lithuanian Deputy Defence Minister, Vytautas Umbrasas, and other guests. NATO launched the Baltic air-policing mission in 2004 after Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined the Alliance. Seventeen NATO allies have since taken turns policing the airspace. The rotation Poland is taking over will be the 44th since 2004.

Trump hails Lithuania’s commitment to boost defence spending
The US President, Donald Trump, has applauded the Lithuanian commitment to raise defence spending and reach the NATO-prescribed margin of 2 % of GDP. “I greatly value Lithuania’s commitment to spend at least 2 % of GDP on defence by 2018, which sets an important example of burden-sharing among Allies, as does your advocacy for a stronger NATO role in fighting terrorism,” Trump said in a letter to Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite. In February, the Lithuanian State Defence Council proposed earmarking 2.07 % of GDP in 2018, with the final decision yet to be made by the parliament. Lithuania has been raising defence spending since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014. The Lithuanian President’s Office said Trump stated firm commitment to NATO and bilateral defence cooperation with Lithuania, thanking the country for its contribution to security operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

LATVIA

New generation lacks understanding about various types of threats - MEP Pabriks
The new generation, which is growing up quite fast at the moment, does not have a proper knowledge of the true military and other threats which society might face, European Parliament Member Artis Pabriks (Unity) told BNS. He believes that the planned military training classes in schools will be useful, and allow students to gain at least a minimal knowledge of the military sphere, while at the same time making it easier for them to make a decision to join the Youth Guard or Home Guard. “If I were defence minister, I would try to urge schools to voluntarily join these defence training courses. I would not make them obligatory, but make them voluntary and something interesting for participating schools,” Pabriks said. The MEP said that when he served as defence minister, one of his ideas was to train the Youth Guards in cyber-security, which is something he believes is not being taught enough in schools. “Such classes would certainly help students understand the possible threats facing global security, so that they do not live in an illusion that we are living in a green, peaceful field with blue skies over us, and that nothing is threatening us,” Pabriks said. The Defence Ministry and Education and Science Ministry are currently assessing the possibility of introducing defence training classes for students as a voluntary subject.

Permanent military presence of the US crucial to Baltic region - Murniece to Ryan
On 28 April, Parliament Chairwoman, Inara Murniece, met with the US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington. Murniece stated that permanent military presence of the US in the Baltics is crucial for the region’s security. The presence of the allies in Latvia is the cornerstone of the deterrence policy, she said, thanking the US for unwavering support for the Baltic countries’ security. Latvia has a very high opinion of NATO forces in the Baltic countries and deployment of NATO battle groups to the region, but permanent military presence of the US in Latvia is of crucial importance in view of the Kremlin’s aggressive actions, emphasized Murniece. Murniece also met with John Shimkus, chairman of the House Baltic Caucus, to tell him that security was a priority to the Baltic countries, and underscore the importance of cooperation in strategic communication and cyber defence.

 

ESTONIA

Estonian Defence Minister to NATO chief: Action is the best deterrence
On 4 May, Estonian Minister of Defence, Margus Tsahkna, who met with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, in Brussels, said that the alliance’s battle group that reached Estonia recently is a clear sign of NATO’s vitality and noted that the best deterrence is action. “The best means to communicate NATO’s deterrence capabilities is the continuous action by the allies. The alliance’s battle group that reached Estonia is the best sign of that active deterrence,” Tsahkna said. “NATO has proven that it is ready to act quickly and effectively. The allies’ presence in Estonia is an excellent example of NATO being ready to communicate in powerful messages,” the minister added. Tsahkna told Stoltenberg that the lately increased cooperation between the EU and NATO will also be continuing through concrete actions during Estonia’s EU presidency. “Estonia is interested in continuing the strong cooperation between EU and NATO to keep issues like sharing costs between allies and sufficient investments into national defence on the agenda,” Tsahkna said. “As one stage of developing defence cooperation, the government in Brussels on Wednesday decided to join the EU Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defence initiative,” he said. Stipulated by the Lisbon treaty, PESCO is an EU defence cooperation model in which a core group of countries assumes more binding commitments. The two main commitments include developing national capabilities and participating in EU battle units. In addition, there are five sectoral commitments, including joint procurements, congruence of capabilities, troop building, eliminating capability gaps according to the EU capability development plan, and capability development. Topics discussed at the meeting between Tsahkna and Stoltenberg also included the fight against terrorism. “NATO’s mission is to contribute to fighting terrorism more than ever,” Tsahkna said and highlighted that the Estonian government in Brussels on Wednesday decided to support the participation in the training program to support the building of Iraq’s defence capabilities. “All missions of the defence forces of Estonia have been aimed south lately,” the minister admitted. Tsahkna also said that in many ways, Estonia is in a unique position in NATO. He said that in NATO, Estonia is the spokesperson on topics regarding cyber security, and Estonia is also one of the few countries to meet the 2 % criteria. The defence minister also said that NATO has adopted Estonia’s evaluation about Russia. “NATO now understands, what we have been saying for a long time,” Tsahkna said.

Estonia joins EU defence cooperation initiative
On 3 May, during a meeting held in Brussels, the Estonian government decided that Estonia will join the European Union framework for permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) in the field of defence. “Estonia today decided that should PESCO materialize, Estonia definitely wishes to be a part of that cooperation,” Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, said at a press conference after the government meeting in Brussels. He said that it’s time now to decide whether we wish closer cooperation still in the field of defence policy in the European Union, and if we do, “PESCO is the word we should be using.” Estonia’s Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, described PESCO as a structure to be established by the EU that will seek to increase military capabilities, military investments, defence industry, and innovation. “This is a topic that will be on the table during our presidency, and the government today decided clearly to join that initiative and to support it,” Tsahkna. According to the minister of defence, NATO and the EU are both guarantors of the security and sovereignty of Estonia. Permanent structured cooperation in the field of defence within the EU has been set out also under the Lisbon treaties, in accordance with which one would be moving from existing bilateral and multilateral agreements on military cooperation gradually toward coordinated cooperation between all the countries that express the wish to engage in such cooperation.

Estonian minister: EU defence initiative will not create parallel system to NATO
On 3 May, the Estonian government decided to join the EU Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defence initiative, which according to the Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna does not mean creating a parallel system to NATO. Tsahkna told BNS that when the defence cooperation initiative has been discussed at meetings of EU defence ministers, one of the main topics has been the question of how to avoid the emergence of a parallel system. “We have NATO, clearly a military defence organization to which NATO member states as well as partners, like Finland and Sweden, are making their contribution” Tsahkna said. The minister added that the EU defence cooperation initiative will not be a rival structure to NATO. “Everything will be done in very close cooperation,” the minister said. “I can confirm that at the moment, cooperation between EU and NATO is stronger than ever before,” Tsahkna said. Tsahkna said that PESCO will first and foremost mean merging the military capabilities of EU member states. “The creation of a European investment fund for defence is definitely something that Estonia’s military capability will benefit from,” Tsahkna said. “We will also be contributing to the fund, but will definitely be receiving much more from it.” “This fund will have two outputs. One of them is contributing to the development of capabilities and innovation, like topics linked to cyber security. Estonia has a lot to offer in that regard,” Tsahkna said. The second output is investing in development of real military capabilities, Tsahkna said, naming the EU battle groups as an example of that. “EU battle groups exist now as well. Figuratively speaking, those groups are like very expensive and innovative fire engines which will be sitting in the garage until there is a fire,” Tsahkna said. “It is a military capability that we would actually have, but that the EU has not been able to use so far,” the minister said. “The financing model of the battle groups and the political readiness to use them will come under discussion during the Estonian EU presidency.” The minister said he hopes that at least the joint financing of battle groups will be decided this year.

Spain took over NATO's air policing mission in Estonia
On 3 May, Spain took over the Baltic air policing duties performed out of the Amari air base in Estonia from the German Air Force. The deployment will mark the first time ever that F-18 Hornet military aircraft are deployed to Amari. The takeover and handover ceremony took place at the Amari base at noon. Until now, no F-18 military aircraft have been used as the NATO allies performing the Baltic air policing mission out of Amari have used either F-16 or Eurofighter military aircraft. Originally created for the US Navy and the Marine Corps, F/A-18 Hornet is a carrier-capable multirole combat military aircraft, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft. It is currently used by the armed forces of Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia, aside from the US Navy and the US Marine Corps. The multiple roles that F-18 Hornet can perform include those of a fighter, attack aircraft, and a reconnaissance aircraft. The NATO air policing mission was launched when the three Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined NATO in March of 2004. The air policing mission was extended indefinitely by NATO at the 2012 Chicago summit.

Prime Minister introduces Estonia’s updated security policy principles in parliament
On 2 May, Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, introduced the new version of Estonia’s security policy principles in the parliament and stressed that security is stronger in a cohesive society. Ratas said that the bill emphasizes more than before everyone’s role in guaranteeing our security and pays attention to the connections between regional and global events and Estonia’s well-being, spokespeople for the government said. According to Ratas, a consensus among parties has prevailed in main issues concerning Estonia’s security and defence. “I thank and recognize members of the previous government as well as Prime Minister, Taavi Roivas. Their personal dedication and attention enabled my government to accept the work previously done as a symbolic baton,” he said. “Estonia’s security is mainly affected by the vitality of the transatlantic security system, the relations between countries in our neighbouring region, and Russia’s growing military activity and aggressiveness which has a direct impact on it,” Ratas said. “Estonia’s membership of the EU and NATO have strengthened our security,” Ratas said. He added that Estonia has received practical as well as political support through both organizations to reach its security policy goals and increase well-being. “The security environment is not only influenced by tanks and planes, but also dependence on the cyber space as well as famine and shortage of water in different places in the world. Standing against such factors requires a contribution from all of us -- cooperation of the whole society,” the head of government said. According to Ratas, the new security policy principles are based on strong civil activity and civil society. An important update in the new version of the security policy principles is the government-as-a-whole approach and the society-as-a-whole approach, as following these principles ties together the cooperation and coordinated activities of different parts of government and society better by reducing the focus on administration in managing and realization of processes, it is written in the covering letter. In addition, cyber space is to be included as a new security environment dimension. According to the bill, Estonia’s main security risks are the deepening of global security problems, the declining of the impact of the Euro-Atlantic region and of a value space based on democracy, market economy and law-governed state, as well as the weakening of integration based on the EU principles, and Russia’s provocatively aggressive behaviour, including using force near its borders as well as elsewhere in the world. These risks are connected with each other and if the first three trends continue, it might result in an amplification of the fourth trend – Russia’s aggressive behaviour. A new element being used against Estonia is the so-called hybrid method, in which military and non-military means are functioning in symbiosis, it is written in the draft. Possible domestic risks are inconsistent regional development, groups of society that have not adapted well, the manifestations of intolerance as well as polarization of the society based on values and notions, it is written in the draft. Risks with a long-term perspective are the aging and declining population. The previous time the security policy principles were updates was May 2010, and the present draft is the fourth version of the document.

Kortunov: Russia must share information on exercises at NATO-Russian Council
On 2 May, Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, said in an interview with BNS that Moscow has to share information with NATO about the upcoming Zapad-2017 and other exercises in the NATO-Russian Council, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council. “I tend to believe that the top leadership is willing to deescalate the tensions between Russia and the West, but they are sceptical about the intentions of the other side,” Kortunov, who will participate in the Lennart Meri Conference in the middle of May in Tallinn, said referring to Kremlin. According to Kortunov, a lot depends on the common ability of Moscow and the West to reenergize the NATO-Russian Council. “Moscow has to share information with NATO about Zapad-2017 and other exercises. The current situation presents a challenge not only to Moscow, but to Brussels as well,” Kortunov said in answer to the question on whether Zapad-2017 is going to be a transparent and defensive exercise or rather a demonstration of force meant to frighten NATO’s eastern members. “On the one hand, NATO needs more interaction with Russia to reduce the risks of an accidental clash, an inadvertent escalation, and so on. On the other hand, NATO does not want to get back to ‘business as usual,” Kortunov said. He added that the proper balance between defence, deterrence, and dialogue is hard to find. He recalled that the Russian leadership is not monolithic. “There are various competing institutional interests, personal ambitions, and political aspirations at play in Moscow. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot have the same priorities as the Ministry of Defence has,” Kortunov told BNS.

Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)