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26.05.2017  11:59


Defence committees of Nordic, Baltic, Polish parliaments to discuss security
On May 22-23, the national defence committees of the parliaments of the Baltic countries, Nordic countries, and Poland met in Bergen, Norway to hold the annual security forum in the format of parliamentary standing committees. The focus of the discussions was NATO-Nordic cooperation and the Nordic-Baltic security framework. The chairman of the Estonian Parliament National Defence Committee, Hannes Hanso, said he has no doubts about the value of Nordic-Baltic defence cooperation. “Regardless of whether a country is a member of the NATO or not, we need to cooperate because we all value the security of our region,” the former defence minister of Estonia said. “We have a similar view of the threats, so there should be no artificial obstacles to joint activities.” As the host nation, Norway presented to the guests the gender neutral conscription service. Hanso said that other countries have a lot to learn from the experiences of Norway, because including women into conscription is a topical theme in the other countries of the Baltic Sea region as well, including most certainly in Estonia. The guests visited the Haakonsvern navy base, where the special operations force of the Royal Norwegian Navy demonstrated their capabilities.



NATO military aircraft in Baltics scrambled 4 times last week over Russian military aircraft
Last week, NATO military aircraft serving in the Alliance’s air policing mission in the Baltic countries were scrambled four times to intercept Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. The NATO military aircraft identified and escorted a Russian military aircraft and three reconnaissance aircraft. All of them had their on-board transponders off. The NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.



Combat activity ends at Estonia’s Spring Storm exercise
On 24 May, the last shots were fired at the Spring Storm large scale military training exercise in Estonia and the exercise that started three weeks ago will end with a line-up of troops at the defence forces’ central training ground on 25 May. In the final stage of the exercise the role of enemy to the 1st Infantry Brigade and the NATO battle group was played by the 2nd Infantry Brigade, which during the training exercise included company size units from the armed forces of Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as Finnish and Dutch pioneers, in addition to the Kuperjanov infantry battalion. “Soldiers from different nations were able to quickly form a united team and perform complex tasks in a rapidly changing learning environment,” said the commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, Col. Eero Rebo. “We had at our disposal helicopters, tanks, armoured vehicles and mobile bridge equipment, which the 2nd Infantry Brigade normally does not have. We learned to know at Spring Storm how to better fight against them.” In the course of the three-week exercise, the defence forces evaluated the performance of an infantry battalion made up of conscripts in different kinds of battle and their level of training before assignment to the reserve. Also evaluated is interoperability between the infantry and different branches of the armed forces, headquarters, units and allies.

Over 2.000 troops will participate in Saber Strike exercise in June
On 22 May, the Defence Ministry announced, that over 2.000 troops from Latvia and seven other countries will participate in the international military exercise Saber Strike this June. Latvia will be hosting the event this year, and allied soldiers and military vehicles will start arriving in Latvia for the annual exercise organized by the US Army Europe. Two critical themes during Saber Strike 17 are interoperability and expeditionary sustainment.

NATO communications exercise gets underway in Lithuania
On 21 May, communications units exercise Steadfast Cobalt officially got underway in Lithuania. The exercise, which will last until 2 June “will put to test the ability of NATO communications units to ensure information exchange and communication among combat units of the NATO Response Force, joint and component headquarters worldwide,” the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. The exercise command and control centre with infrastructure has been deployed to the Vytautas the Great Jaeger Battalion in Lithuania’s second-biggest city of Kaunas. Approximately 1,200 troops from 25 NATO member states are taking part in the exercise, which is hosted by Lithuania for the second time.

Baltic, Belgian naval personnel hold exercise in receiving allies
On 21 May, a maritime warfare exercise titled Baltic Fortress began in Hara Bay on Estonia’s North Coast in the course of which naval personnel from the Baltic countries and Belgium checked their readiness for the reception of allied troops arriving by sea. In addition to checking the shipping lanes and anchorage areas necessary for the arrival of allied troops and equipment, the more than 300 naval personnel taking part in the exercise will hone their skills in clearing shipping lanes of naval mines. The vessels taking part in the training exercise are the Lithuanian staff ship LNS Jotvingis, minehunter LNS Kursis and patrol boat LNS Dzukas. Latvia has sent the staff vessel LVNS Varonis to the exercise, whereas from Estonia the minehunters Admiral Cowan and Sakala, the headquarters of the naval task group and a mobile diver task unit including Belgian personnel equipped with unmanned underwater robots is taking part. The exercise will end on 26 May.


Lithuania to increase its contribution to Middle East missions
On 25 May, Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, said that Lithuania will increase its contribution in international missions and operations in the Middle East. “We now participate in both Afghanistan and Mali, and Iraq, and, no doubt, we will increase our contribution according to our capabilities,” she said. The president did not elaborate on how Lithuania would increase its contribution to these missions and operations. In Mali, seven Lithuanian troops are serving in the EU’s training mission and the UN mission MINUSMA. Twenty-one Lithuanian troops are serving in NATO’s training mission Resolute Support in Afghanistan. As a member of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group, Lithuania has sent six military instructors to Iraq. On 25 May, President Grybauskaite is attending NATO’s summit in Brussels, which is expected to focus on defence funding and the Alliance’s role in the fight against terrorism.

Lieutenant Colonel Dainius Guzas appointed Lithuania’s new air force commander
On 24 May, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, has appointed Lieutenant Colonel Dainius Guzas as the new commander of the Lithuanian Air Force. Guzas served as the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations before his new appointment. Guzas began his service in the national defence system in 1992 and rose through the ranks of the Air Force to become the commander. His predecessor, Audronis Navickas, lost the post of the Air Force commander, over plans to send Lithuanian military helicopters to Russia for an overhaul. Navickas has later taken the Defence Ministry to court over his dismissal. According to the Defence Ministry, the process of sending the Mi-8 helicopters to Russia was cleared by high-ranking defence officials before it was stopped at the last stage in 2016. The Foreign Ministry says that helicopter repairs in Russia would have run counter to the European Union’s decisions on sanctions against Moscow and to Lithuania’s foreign policy.

Norwegian military vehicles arrive in Lithuania as part of NATO deployment
On 24 May, Leopard tanks and other military vehicles of a Norwegian contingent being deployed to Lithuania as part of NATO’s multinational battalion arrived in the seaport of Klaipeda on Wednesday. A ferry with the Norwegian military vehicles aboard was accompanied by the ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group One, which provides maritime support for the Lithuania-based NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battlegroup. According to the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, this marks the first time that NATO’s naval forces have contributed to the deployment of such forward presence capabilities. From Klaipeda, the Norwegian military vehicles were transported to Rukla, in central Lithuania, where the battlegroup is stationed. The entire Norwegian contingent is expected to come to Lithuania next week. “I am more than happy to welcome today the Norwegian colleagues. With the deployment of the Norwegian contingent, the deployment phase of the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup is finished,” Lieutenant Colonel Christoph Huber, the commander of the NATO battlegroup, said. “We have conducted a lot of training in recent months and we will continue now with the entire battlegroup, including our Norwegian friends and partners. We are looking forward to conducting the exercise Iron Wolf in June,” he said. Around 200 troops from the Norwegian Army’s Telemark Battalion and Northern Brigade units will serve in the German-led multinational battalion. Over 450 German, 100 Belgian, and 250 Dutch troops have already been stationed in Lithuania.

Georgian president asks for Lithuanian president’s support ahead of NATO summit
Georgian President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, has asked for Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite’s support in raising issues of importance to Tbilisi at this week’s NATO summit in Brussels. “The conversation took place in the run-up to the NATO summit in Brussels on 25 May. President Margvelashvili requested Lithuania’s support for issues of importance to Georgia at the upcoming meeting,” it said in a press release. Grybauskaite said that “it is very important for NATO to maintain its open door policy and not to let Georgia and Ukraine, both seeking membership in the Alliance, slip from the memory of the international community”.  According to the Lithuanian president, Georgia, which has experienced Russia’s direct military aggression, “spares no effort to create a safe future for its people, defend and protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Russia recognized independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the 2008 war and maintains a permanent military presence in the regions, which are regarded by the international community as occupied territories of Georgia.

Lithuania extends professional military service length by 5 years
On 23 May, the Lithuanian parliament passed the legislative amendments, which means that professional military servicemen and servicewomen will be able to serve in the Lithuanian Armed Forces for five years longer than they do now, with 96 votes in favour, none against and one abstention. The amendments raise the age limit at which a member of the Armed Forces is transferred to the reserve to 56 for non-commissioned officers and junior grade and senior grade officers, to 60 years for military specialists, and to 65 years for military chaplains. “The national defence system now faces a large personnel shortage. The military was short of over 300 military officers as of Oct. 25 last year," Conservative MP Rasa Jukneviciene, a former defence minister, said. Social Democratic MP Juozas Olekas, another former defence minister, said that it is unreasonable to send experienced military officers into the reserve so early, noting that it costs a considerable amount of money for the state to train an officer. “Our officer corps and soldiers are younger than their foreign counterparts,” he said.

Lithuanian government to set up national security commission
On 22 May, Lithuanian government officials confirmed plans to establish a National Security Commission to help deal with crises. “The commission is part of the crisis management mechanism. The commission is designed both for preparation and coordination of rapid response when a crisis situation develops,” Arnoldas Pikzirnis, internal policy and national security advisor to the Lithuanian prime minister, said. The establishment of a National Security Commission still needs to be approved by the Cabinet before being a reality. Lithuania will draw on the experience of foreign countries in setting up the commission, Pikzirnis said. The commission will look at threats to national security at least once a month and will make proposals to the government regarding key national security issues. It should be made up of the prime minister and the defence, economy, foreign, and interior ministers, as well as the director of the State Security Department, a presidential advisor, and the chancellor of the government’s office. Pikzirnis said that a Crisis Management Office would also be established at the government’s office. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis promised to set up a crisis management centre under the government last winter, shortly after his appointment as the head of government. He said that the absence of such a body in Lithuania sometimes prevented decision-makers from receiving timely information and proposals from specialists on the necessary decisions.



Latvia needs confirmation that NATO will remain the most important guarantee of security
On 25 May, ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis, said that the most important thing for Latvia is to receive a strong confirmation that NATO remains the most important guarantee of security on the European continent. The president said that raising defence spending of NATO member states, as well as closer involvement in the fight against terror is very important. “At the same time, it is also important to make sure that all of the decisions which are made to improve regional security are implemented,” Vejonis said. He said that is why the matter of raising defence spending is very important. The president said that Latvia will increase its defence spending to two percent of GDP next year, in accordance with the decisions made during the NATO Summit in Wales. “It is important to hear unanimity among our European and North American allies regarding the strengthening of the alliance’s defensive capabilities. These capabilities must be in accordance with 21st century challenges, and include cyber defence and the strengthening of strategic communications,” the president believes. Vejonis also expressed for greater NATO involvement in the fight against terrorism, adding that Latvia already participates in anti-terrorism and stability operation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali, and de-mining operations in Syria.

Residents can be banned from leaving if they plan to participate in armed conflicts abroad
On 25 May, The Latvian Parliament passed amendments to the National Security Law, which stipulates that persons who may potentially become combatants, terrorists, or otherwise pose threat to national security, can be banned from leaving Latvia. The main objective of the amendments is to prevent residents of Latvia from participating in armed conflicts abroad. The interior minister will have the right to ban a person from leaving Latvia for up to one year if the authorities suspect that the person is planning to get involved in an armed conflict, terrorist or other such activity abroad. The provision will apply to citizens, non-citizens, persons who are granted asylum or alternative status in Latvia. The amendments are to come into force on 1 September.

The President’s visit to Denmark strengthens cooperation in security
From 22-23 May, the Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis, was on an official visit to Denmark. He met with Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen. During the meeting with Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the officials discussed the security situation in the region, joint efforts to reduce risks of hybrid threat and Denmark’s contribution to the Baltic security through implementation of the decisions taken at the NATO Warsaw Summit. “Latvia appreciates the contribution of Denmark to the multinational NATO forces in the Baltic States and the air patrolling,” said the President of Latvia. While paying a visit, Raimonds Vējonis visited the Antvorskov Army Barracks and met with the Latvian soldiers, who were preparing to participate integrated into the Danish contingent in the international military operation in Iraq targeted at terrorist organisation Daesh.

Three Russian warships and a submarine detected near Latvian border
On 22 May, the Latvian Armed Forces reported, that three Russian warships and a submarine were detected near the Latvian border the day before. A submarine tender, a corvette, a frigate, and a submarine were detected in the Latvian exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea six nautical miles away from the Latvian territorial waters. Furthermore, a Russian military transport airplane, An-26, was spotted above the neutral waters in the Baltic Sea near the Latvian border.

The elements of NATO’s battalion in Latvia is now known
On 20 May, the elements of the multinational NATO battalion led by Canada, which will be based in Latvia, were made known by the Defence Ministry. The Canadian armed forces will send 450 soldiers from the mechanized infantry battalion, armoured vehicles, reconnaissance and support elements to Latvia. Albania will send 18 un-exploded munitions engineers. Italy will send a mechanized infantry unit of 160 soldiers. Poland will send a tank unit with 160 soldiers, and Slovenia will also send 50 soldiers to Latvia. Meanwhile, Spain will send 300 mechanized infantry soldiers, armoured vehicles, tanks, as well as engineers and support elements.

Vejonis: Best medicine should be found against fake news
On 19 May, Latvia’s President, Raimonds Vejonis, participated in a discussion called “Latvia’s Security in the 21st Century. Fake News - Smouldering Threat”. It is important to find the best medicine against fake news in order to protect reasoning and be ready to make decision on decisive moments, Vejonis said. In his words, people should be aware that we are now facing new challenges in information space. Potential enemies are challenging us so that we are not ready to make decisions at decisive moments, the president said, adding that we need to discover the best medicine against fake news. Vejonis said that this is a matter of security of reasoning. Latvian residents should be able to distinguish fake news and become wiser.

Influence of fake news on Latvian society could be quite considerable
On 19 May, the head of SKDS, Anis Kaktins, pointed out that according to a study commissioned by the Presidential Chancery and conducted by SKDS, there is basis to believe that the influence of fake news on the Latvian society could be quite considerable. A majority of the respondents believe that fake news is having considerable influence on Latvian society. According to the study, a large portion of the country’s residents say that they have encountered fake news. Arnis Kaktins pointed out that this means that most people at least are capable of identifying fake news. 44 percent of respondents said that they are capable of differentiating fake news with real news, while 35 percent admitted that they have problems or are not capable of identifying fake news. Considerable differences could be detected among the respondents based on their educational level.



Estonian delegation attending spring session of NATO Parliamentary Assembly
From 26-29 May, the Estonian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is taking part in the spring session of the assembly in Tbilisi, Georgia, where the participants will discuss matters related to ensuring world security. Marko Mihkelson, head of the Estonian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said that the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly taking place in Georgia is symbolic. “As we know, Georgia is not a member of NATO. At the same time, as a strong partner it is a country which takes its responsibilities and aims seriously. This is why it is entirely fitting that the assembly of the alliance gather namely in Tbilisi in support of Georgia.” Mihkelson said. Member of the delegation, Hannes Hanso, said that Georgia wants to join NATO and continues to carry out the necessary reforms. He added that Estonia supports Georgia's aspirations. Georgia currently holds the status of NATO partner country but is already fulfilling the 2 percent requirement by contributing 2.2 percent of GDP to national defence. The meeting in Tbilisi will include a discussion in NATO Parliamentary Assembly committees of questions regarding Georgia. The economics and security committee will assess Georgia’s economic reforms, while the political committee will handle Georgia’s priorities in foreign and security policy. The committee on the civil dimension of security will discuss Georgia’s experience in occupied areas, the development of democracy and state of law and ensuring stability in the Black Sea region. Other topics to be discussed in Tbilisi include the use of ballistic missiles on the battlefield, NATO and EU cooperation, and the options to strengthen the defence industries of NATO member states. Separate presentations will deal with Russia and the modernization of the Russian army in the Black Sea region.

PM: Trump clearly stated that Russia is a threat
On 25 May, after the NATO summit in Brussels, Estonia’s Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, said that the message of US President Donald Trump regarding the threat originating from Russia was very clear. “Trump said that NATO needs to fight against two big threats -- terrorism and Russia. I think that was very concrete,” Ratas said. The prime minister said that the US president did not explicitly state that he supports the principle of collective defence prescribed in NATO’s Article 5, but expressed indirect support of the principle. “Trump said at the dinner table that the US will definitely back NATO, that he personally as well as his country is dedicated to the alliance. I can read from this that the US is the kind of member of NATO who will be there and help if necessary,” Ratas said. He said that by vehemently emphasizing the need to contribute 2 percent of GDP to national defence, Trump imparted the right message. “He had to say it. If member states have assumed the responsibility, they need to fulfil it. Estonia welcomes the topic and we are fulfilling our responsibility,” Ratas said. Ratas said that in the context of the fight against terrorism the heads of state and government approved increasing NATO’s role in the cause. The prime minister said that more detailed activities will be decided in the discussions between the secretary general and the delegations of the member states. “No specific decision was made today regarding a specific number of soldiers that must be deployed or a specific amount of euros that must be contributed.”

PM: Estonia is ready to increase contribution toward fight against Daesh
On 25 May, Estonian Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, said that Estonia strongly supports NATO joining the Global Coalition Against Daesh and is ready to step up its role in the fight against terrorists. In a statement made ahead of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of heads of state and heads government in Brussels, Ratas said that NATO is the cornerstone of Trans-Atlantic security. “Estonia is confident that President Trump’s administration will continue to lead NATO with determination and resolve,” the statement said. Ratas commended Trump’s recent budget proposal for the European Reassurance Initiative. “This clearly demonstrates the clear commitment of the United States to the defence of Europe,” he said. The prime minister said that Estonia has and always will shoulder its part of the burden. “The cowardly murder of innocent children in Manchester – once again – recalls us the urgent need to fight against international terrorism,” Ratas said. The main topics which will be discussed at the NATO meeting are first and foremost fair distribution of burden and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism. Fair distribution of burden above all entails defence expenditure and investments, which means that all allies must fulfil the set criterion of spending two percent of GDP on national defence and of that, 20 percent towards major defence procurements. “Estonia is in favour of a more equal distribution of burden, increasing the defence expenditure of the allies and the continued realization of the NATO defence investment agreement,” Ratas said. “Since 2015, Estonia has been contributing at least two percent of GDP to defence and major defence procurements will make up approximately 20 percent of the defence budget in the next few years,” Ratas added.

Estonian president visits Spring Storm exercise
On 23 May, Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, visited the Spring Storm large scale military exercise at the defence forces’ central training ground, meeting with active service military personnel, conscripts, reservists and members of the allied units taking part in the exercise. The president described this year’s Spring Storm exercise as impressive, as on the one hand it brings together more allies and equipment than ever before, whereas on the other hand also the exercise itself lasts longer. “More important still was the possibility to see these units, no matter what language they speak as their first language, exercise shoulder to shoulder. It provides an opportunity for our allies to act out situations which they normally read about in materials only. Estonian conscripts are the best in the world and we have reason to be proud of them,” Kaljulaid said. The president was briefed about the exercise at the Tapa base, after which she proceeded to the exercise area to meet with troops.

Secretary General of Estonian Defence Ministry discusses region’s security in Denmark
The secretary general of the Estonian Defence Ministry, Jonatan Vseviov, discussed ways to strengthen the security of the Baltic Sea region with his counterpart at the Danish Ministry of Defence in Copenhagen. Vseviov and the Danish official, Thomas Ahrenkiel, focused during their meeting on the forthcoming arrival of a Danish contingent in Estonia, spokespeople for the Estonian ministry said. “The Danish contribution is a sign of good relations between Estonia and Denmark. In addition it serves as a good opportunity to improve practical cooperation between the defence forces,” Vseviov said. A contingent of 200 Danish soldiers is set to join the British-led NATO battle group in Estonia as part of the alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence next year. The two secretary generals of ministries of defence spoke about preparations for the arrival of the Danish contingent and about increasing the NATO defence and deterrence posture in the whole Baltic Sea region. Estonia and Denmark also have a joint training team deployed to the operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. In addition to the meeting at the Danish Ministry of Defence, Vseviov is scheduled to visit the Antvorskov barracks to learn about the living conditions of defence forces personnel in Denmark.

Estonian Defence Minister starts visit to Iraq
On 21 May, Estonia’s Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, started a visit to Iraq, in the course of which he is about to meet with members of the Estonian defence forces taking part in the coalition against ISIL and thank them for their service which also improves the security of Estonia. Estonia has sent instructors of the defence forces to serve in the coalition against ISIL, training members of the Iraqi security forces. Estonia has a six-strong training team and a staff officer serving in the coalition. The instructors of the defence forces are serving as part of a Danish contingent at a base situated in the Anbar province of Iraq and the staff officer serving as a military adviser is stationed in Baghdad.

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