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03.05.2017  14:19

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

NATO military aircraft in Baltics scrambled twice last week over Russian military aircraft
NATO military aircraft serving in the Alliance’s air policing mission in the Baltic countries were scrambled twice last week to intercept Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. On 18 April, the NATO military aircraft identified and escorted an An-26 military aircraft of the Russian Federation en route from mainland Russia to its Kaliningrad exclave. The military aircraft had a pre-filed flight plan and kept radio contact with air traffic controllers, but its onboard transponder was switched off. Four Su-24 military aircraft were also en route from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad when they were intercepted on 20 April. All four Russian military aircraft had flight plans and kept radio contact, but their onboard transponders were off, the ministry said. The NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Lithuania opening this year’s largest national exercise Saber Strike
On 28 April, Lithuania is opening this year’s largest national exercise, Saber Strike 2017, to allow troops and officers of internal service coordinate their actions. The exercise in Marijampole and Vilkaviskis, southern Lithuania, will last until 7 May, involving the Armed Forces’ Peacetime Operational Forces, Response Forces, and supporting units. In addition to the troops, the training will include officers of the Police Department, the Public Security Service, and the anti-terrorist operations unit Aras, the State Border Guard Service, the Fire-and-Rescue Department, as well as representatives of municipalities, hospital personnel, and the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union. A total of 3,000 troops, 200 police officers and 200 representatives of other institutions will take part in the exercise, which will involve 2,000 reserve troops from across Lithuania in the exercise on 5 May. Under the exercise scenario, unknown armed groups will cause disturbances and riots in cities at an attempt to take over local administrative units. “We plan to simulate various actions: non-conventional, actions of hybrid war, terrorist attacks against local government institutions and citizens. (…) Unidentified groups will attempt to cause disturbances and riots by taking over buildings of local government institutions,” Major General, Vitalijus Vaiksnoras, chief of the army’s Joint Staff, who will command the exercise, said. The scenario of the exercise, which is held for the third time, has been developed to train, check, and assess how fast and effectively interior institutions can rally the Lithuanian Army’s Peacetime Operations Forces and Response Forces with the goal of neutralizing armed groups, at the same time providing maximum protection of civilians and their property.

Almost 1,000 personnel take part in live fire exercise of Estonia’s 2nd Infantry Brigade
Almost 1,000 conscripts and professional military personnel took part in a live fire interoperability exercise of Estonia’s 2nd Infantry Brigade that ended on 24 April. The participants in the training exercise included the infantry companies of the Kuperjanov infantry battalion and its logistics and headquarters company. Their operations were supported by the mortar battery and the Artillery Battalion. In addition, the pioneer, antitank, and reconnaissance platoons perfected their specialist skills, a spokesman for the 2nd Infantry Brigade said. The live fire training exercise conducted at the defence forces’ central training range and the Sirgala training range since April 15 consisted of two parts. First, the units honed their combat skills at the Sirgala training range, after which interoperability skills were perfected at the defence forces’ central training range. “The units that took part in the live fire exercise demonstrated a very good level of skills. I’m glad to note that unit commanders are able to integrate various types of weapons into their operation plans and employ them at the right moment,” Captain Vaido Siska, the commanding officer of the exercise, said.

German fighters to practice low-altitude flights in Estonian airspace
German Eurofighter military aircraft stationed at the Amari air base in north-western Estonia will perform low-altitude training flights in Estonian airspace on workdays of the week starting Monday the 24 April as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission. The German aircraft will perform flights in designated areas for low-altitude flying at altitudes not lower than 152 meters and preferably not over inhabited areas, spokespeople for the Estonian defence headquarters said. NATO member states have allocated specific areas of their airspace for air force training and exercises, including low-altitude training flights. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have also allocated areas in their airspace for low-altitude training flights. Low-altitude training flights are performed in agreement with the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and Estonian Air Navigation Services. According to a decision made by the North Atlantic Council, air forces of NATO member states have been protecting the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspace in rotation since 29 March, 2004, when the Baltic countries became members of NATO. The Baltic air policing mission is part of the NATO smart defence concept, the aim of which is to spare the resources of the member states by contributing collectively to various capabilities. The German contingent took over the responsibility for guarding Baltic skies out of the Amari air base on 31 August last year. Baltic air policing duties are being simultaneously performed out of the Siauliai air base in Lithuania by a Dutch unit using F-16 military aircraft.

NATO search and rescue exercise Dynamic Mercy 2017 under way in Baltic Sea
On 26 April, NATO Allied Maritime Command is organizing an international search and rescue (SAR) exercise, Dynamic Mercy 2017, in the Baltic Sea to improve interoperability during SAR missions, the Latvian Defence Ministry said. Latvia has sent two ships from its Naval Flotilla to the exercise, the Cesis and the Astra, and a Mi-17 helicopter from the Latvian Air Force. Dynamic Mercy is an annual, combined and joint SAR exercise coordinated by NATO and open to NATO partners, which is conducted in an area extending from the east coast of Canada to the eastern Baltic Sea. On alternate years it focuses between the Atlantic and the Baltic. This year the exercise is taking place in the Baltic Sea. Dynamic Mercy enables military, civilian rescue coordination centres and mobile SAR units to practice synthetic SAR scenarios to enhance cross regional cooperation and response in the event of an actual emergency.

NATO Exercise RAMSTEIN ALLOY to be held in the Baltic airspace
The fourth edition of the NATO air exercise series RAMSTEIN ALLOY is going to take place in Baltic airspace, mainly over Lithuania on 25 and 26 April. RAMSTEIN ALLOY 4 serves to exercise Baltic Air Policing alert aircraft as well as to enhance relations and interoperability amongst allied Air Forces. Military aircraft from both Baltic Air Policing detachments, the Netherlands and Germany, from Poland and from Norway as well as a transport aircraft from Lithuania, a US tanker and NATO AWACS military aircraft will be involved in this live flying training event. The scheduled tri-annual exercise improves NATO airspace surveillance and control, air policing and other air capabilities in the Baltic region, including C2 capabilities. Participants will practice air intercepts, air to air refuelling, search and rescue operations as well as practice diversions, the approaches to different Baltic airfields. Furthermore, involved military aircraft will also train intercept procedures for COMLOSS situations, a scenario in which a civilian aircraft loses contact with ground controls and requires mid-air identification by Air Policing alert jets. Overseen by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, mission control will be provided by the AWACS and the Karmelava Control and Reporting Centre. The exercise is organised by the NATO Allied Air Command in Ramstein and NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem. The RAMSTEIN ALLOY exercise series began in 2016 as a sequel of the successful BALTIC REGION TRAINING EVENT (BRTE). It is held three times a year in each of the three Baltic States. As Baltic Air Policing detachments rotate on a four months term, the exercise series provides the opportunity to exercise with various Allies in each edition. Deployment of the NATO E-3A aircraft equipped with AWACS, also known as NATO “eye in the sky”, to the eastern flank of NATO since 2014 is a strong testament to NATO commitment to the allies. NATO E-3A Component comprises 16 AWACS aircraft based in Gelsenkirchen (Germany). The aircraft most often fly at the altitude of 10 km and are capable of detecting aircraft in flight at the radius of 400 km using Doppler radars, or provide control to their own aircraft.

 

LITHUANIA

Lithuanian politicians, officials train to work under crisis conditions
On 25 April, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, together with American experts held a so-called simulated table top exercise for the country’s politicians and heads of the authorities responsible for security. The training was to work under crisis conditions. The Defence Ministry said it was the first strategic-level exercise on decision-making. According to information available to BNS, the exercise was held at the Military Academy and was attended by the ministers of national defence and foreign affairs, a group of parliamentarians, advisers to the president and the prime minister, as well as officials of the US and NATO. The exercise kicked off at 9 a.m. and should close at 5 p.m. The scenario of the training remains classified. “Today we had an opportunity to check our readiness to respond to possible situations that would constitute a direct threat to our national security. We do not only have to ensure the necessary capacities, as well as a clear decision-making process that would work in practice. In case of crisis, the most important factors of success would include the speed of decision-making, specific actions and a clear and precise communication among decision-makers and to the outside,” Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said. The US think tank Atlantic Council is helping to hold the exercise.

Security situation in Eastern Ukraine not improving - Lithuanian foreign minister
On 24 April, after meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, said that the security situation in Eastern Ukraine is not improving. “The security situation in Eastern Ukraine is definitely not improving,” Linkevicius said during a joint news conference. The death of an American paramedic working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission in Eastern Ukraine is further proof that the situation in the east of the country is bad, he noted. The killing was the first death of an OSCE member in the three-year war in Ukraine. Two monitors from the Czech Republic and Germany were wounded in the incident. Klimkin, in turn, reiterated his call on Russia-backed separatists to give OSCE monitors full access. According to him, Ukrainian officials continue to watch Russian troops crossing the border, but they have learnt to counter the aggression over the three years. “In these three years of Russian aggression, we created (...) the way and the ability to counter the Russian military, the Russian mercenaries,” he said. Linkevicius said that he believed that Ukraine would be shortly granted visa-free travel to the EU and that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement would be ratified. At the same time, he underlined that the country had to step up efforts to fight corruption and carry out reforms.

 

LATVIA

Large number of NATO troops, military vehicles to arrive in Latvia in next few weeks
A large number of military vehicles of the Canada-led multi-national NATO battalion will be delivered to Latvia in the next few weeks, and the first allied troops will arrive, Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, said. “The battle group is arriving in accordance with the schedule. A large number of military equipment will be delivered in May,” the minister added. According to Bergmanis, tanks and other armoured vehicles will be brought to Latvia. Meanwhile, the Latvian Defence Ministry will continue preparations for receiving the NATO battalion, including development of the required infrastructure. In mid-April this year, Latvian and Canadian representatives signed the agreement outlining the main terms for deployment of a battalion-sized NATO battle group in Latvia. Also, a team of foreign logistics experts has visited Latvia in relation with this. The Canada-led battle group of more than 1,000 soldiers will arrive in Latvia in full force by June this year to help strengthen Latvia’s security. At the summit in Warsaw in July 2016, NATO leaders approved the deployment of four multinational battalions to the Baltic States and Poland as part of measures meant to deter Russia from possible aggression. Their deployment will begin in 2017 and proceed on a rotational basis. Canada is the lead nation for the battalion to be stationed in Latvia. Half of the battalion will be Canadian soldiers, and it will also include soldiers from Albania, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Slovenia.

Bergmanis signs agreement on purchase of howitzers from Austria
On 27 April, a bilateral agreement between the Latvian Defence Ministry and the Austrian Defence and Sports Ministry on purchase of self-propelled artillery system, which includes self-propelled howitzers, fire control centre, and driver training platform, was signed today. Practical training of Latvian specialists in use of these systems has already been started. “We highly appreciate the successful cooperation with Austria in strengthening our indirect fire support capability. I wish to thank the Austrian Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces for their invaluable support and contribution to the development of our cooperation and training of the Latvian troops. Just a year has passed since my visit to Austria and talks on purchase of howitzers, and now we can say that we have achieved what we planned,” said Bergmanis. The minister also said that such successful cooperation is a secure foundation for further cooperation plans. During his meeting with the Austrian colleague, Bergmanis underscored that the cooperation agreement plays a significant role, especially during the present geopolitical challenges when bilateral relations among the EU member states strengthens security and defence. As reported, Latvia will purchase M109 series self-propelled artillery systems. The price of a unit will be dependent on their modification - between EUR 60,000 to 140,000. The Defence Ministry confirmed earlier that the sum of the agreement is EUR 6 million. In order to improve the indirect fire support capability of the Latvian Armed Forces, as well as to strengthen Latvia’s ability to fully integrate in NATO operations and exercises, it is planned to purchase 47 units of the military equipment. The howitzers Latvia plans to buy were upgraded in 2003-2007 and then preserved.

Russian submarine detected near Latvian border yesterday
On 26 April, a Russian submarine was detected near the Latvian border, the Latvian National Armed Forces said. The Kilo-class submarine was detected in the Latvian exclusive economic zone 6.5 nautical miles from the Latvian territorial waters. Last time Russian warships were detected near the Latvian border was on 19 April. As reported, Russian warships and military aircraft have been approaching Latvian borders on a regular basis in recent years. In 2016, Russian military aircraft and watercraft were spotted near Latvia’s border 209 times. The number of such incidents has declined multiple times compared to 2015.

Latvian government institutions hit by major cyber-attack by foreign special services in 2016
At the end of last year the Latvian government institutions were hit by a major cyber-attack organized by foreign special services, according to the Latvian Constitution Protection Bureau or the country’s top national security agency. Activities by special services of the non-NATO and non-EU countries, army cyber units and individual hacktivists acting on the government’s instructions and targeting the Western countries are among the fastest growing security threats, the Constitution Protection Bureau said in the section of the annual report about its activities in 2016 that was made public. Special services in most countries develop and actively use cyber capacities for different purposes but Russia’s growing cyber capacity and willingness to use it against Latvia and the allies represents the biggest cyber threat to Latvia, the Constitution Protection Bureau said. In 2016 the Constitution Protection Bureau detected several cyber-attacks in Latvia carried out by foreign special services or hacktivists they had hired. The targets of those attacks were government institutions and officials as well as private companies and mass media. Cyber-attacks on the targets in Latvia are mostly made for intelligence purposes. The most widespread technique is phishing when a supposedly legitimate e-mail is sent to the victim to gain access to the information on his or her computer with the help of the virus which is released when the addressee opens the e-mail. For example, a rather extensive cyber-attack was made against a number of addressees in the government institutions at the end of 2016. The virus was disguised as a letter with Christmas congratulations.

Four US attack helicopters Apache to help strengthen Latvia’s security
Four US attack helicopters Apache have arrived in Latvia to help strengthen Latvia’s security, the Latvian Defence Ministry said. The helicopters will be participating in the international military exercise Summer Shield that is being held in the Adazi Military Training Grounds in central Latvia on 17-30 April. The helicopters are sent to Latvia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve and come from Texas. They will participate in the international military exercise Saber Strike in Latvia in June and in the exercises to be held in other Baltic states, the ministry said. As reported, three US Chinook transport helicopters arrived at the Lielvarde airbase in central Latvia in early April. The helicopters have been sent as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve mission and will be deployed to Latvia for several months. During this time, they will participate in military exercises in Latvia and the Baltics. There are also currently five US Blackhawk helicopters based in Lielvarde.

Armed forces to purchase new machine guns for EUR 5.5 million
On 22 April, the Defence Ministry announced that it will purchase new machine guns and spare parts for EUR 5.52 million. The ministry will purchase 7.62 mm and 12.7 mm machines guns from Belgian company FN Herstal, from which the ministry has purchased machine guns in the past. The new machine guns will be issued to the National Armed Forces’ regular forces, as well as Home Guard units.

Latvian defence military officials meet Commander of NATO JFC Brunssum
On 21 April, Defence Ministry state secretary Janis Garisons and the Chief of Defense, Major General Leonids Kalnins, met with General Salvatore Farina, Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFC Brunssum). The meetings focused on current international and regional security issues, extended allied presence and the arrival of the Canada-led NATO battle group in Latvia. General Farina also visited the NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) in Latvia and meet with its commander Eriks Naglis.

 

ESTONIA

Estonia will become founding member of European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats
On 27 April, the Estonian government decided to join the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki. “Fighting hybrid threats is important for Estonia as well as the whole Europe. Joining the centre gives us more knowledge to rebuff such threats and we can also improve our skills in the framework of exercises. Participating in the centre’s operations will strengthen the cooperation network of the fight against hybrid threats between members of the centre as well as on the EU and NATO levels,” Ratas said. “The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence which deals with the topic of hybrid threats is located in Estonia. The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence is situated in Latvia and we also actively participate in that. Now Estonia will become one of the founding members of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats,” the prime minister said. Joining the centre will cost Estonia about 60,000 euros a year and Estonia will find the money for that, Ratas has previously said. He added that Estonia has the will and will definitely find money for that. Estonian government was criticized when Finland, Sweden, the UK, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, France, Germany, and the US on 11 April signed a memorandum of understanding for establishing the centre, but Estonia was not among the signatories. Estonia’s former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves called it a total failure in foreign policy.

Estonia: Women to be able to enter voluntary conscript service in any unit
Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, is seeking opinions on a bill which would enable women to voluntarily enter the conscript service in all units of the defence forces as of this summer. The defence minister’s order would enable an even bigger number of women to voluntarily enter the voluntary conscript service as of this summer. Women can apply for a post in all units of the defence forces where conscripts can serve. At present women can only choose between two units. “When years ago women were allowed to enter the conscript service on the same grounds as men, we weren’t expecting such a big interest of women in national defence. The defence forces initially also made a more conservative estimation of their ability to accept women,” Tsahkna said. “As of this July we would be able to guarantee to women non-restricted access to the possibilities of the conscript service,” he added.

Estonia in talks to store copies of nationally important data in Luxembourg
On 27 April, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reports that Estonia is planning to store copies of important databases and registers also on servers located in Luxembourg. Until now keeping databases necessary for the operating of the Estonian state functional has been done in Estonia, the new plan is to diverse possible risks. Therefore a server system, or a data embassy, would be set up in Luxembourg where data from registers of critical importance would be backed up. This would basically provide the possibility of the Estonian state functioning even if another country occupies the state. In that case the country would be occupied, but the state would live on in cyber space. “This would first and foremost add another layer to Estonia’s security and digital sustainability. If something should happen to the data centres here or they are not accessible, the necessary data would still be attainable somewhere outside the Estonian territory,” chief specialist for state information systems at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Mikk Lellsaar, said. A memorandum of understanding was signed with Luxembourg at the end of last year for setting up a data embassy and both countries have political readiness for taking that step. If all goes according to plan, a bilateral agreement would be signed already this summer and according to the best case scenario servers would be set up in Luxembourg by the end of the year. “We have actually held talks with other countries too, but we have gone the furthest with Luxembourg. Firstly, they have high-security data centres and, secondly, they are quite similar to us in terms of IT development and the worldview. They are fast responders and went along with the idea since it is a world-changing idea also in terms of reconsidering the limits of international law,” advisor at the ministry’s department of state information systems, Laura Kask, said. “On the legal side the question is whether they will guarantee necessary privileges and immunity to our data and servers. On the technical side, we must find out what are the connections like and how the integrity of connections is guaranteed. Also, what are the possibilities of guaranteeing security and power capacity with enough reserve in the server room,” chief specialist at the ministry’s department of state information systems, Mikk Lellsaar, said. It can be seen in the government’s action plan that 240,000 have been planned for the data embassy project. The location of the server would be secret and only persons authorized by Estonia can enter the server room. The data would be technically better protected when being stored in Luxembourg than in Estonia.

Estonian Defence Minister to meet EU colleagues in Malta
On 26-27 April, Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, is to attend an informal meeting of European Union defence ministers in Malta. The main topics to be discussed at the meeting include strengthening the common security and defence policy of the European Union through increasing the serviceability of the EU battle groups and ensuring that cooperation in matters of defence is more constant. Tsahkna said that developing European defence cooperation and increasing the military capability of the member states is very important to Estonia. “Europe’s security will also be an important topic during Estonia’s upcoming EU presidency, the key questions of which are the military capability and defence expenditures of EU member states, EU crisis management and military operations,” Tsahkna added. During the meeting, the defence ministers will visit a ship deployed to the EU EUNAVFOR Med/Sophia mission in the Mediterranean. Estonia has deployed one staff officer to the mission since August 2015 and is in cooperation with Spain preparing additional contributions to the mission. Estonia is also voluntarily contributing to the training of the Libyan Navy Coastguard.

F-35 fighters visiting Estonia landed 1st time outside US air base
On 25 April, modern multirole US F-35 Lightning II military aircraft landed at the Amari air base in north-western Estonia. It was the first time the most modern military aircraft of the US Air Force have landed outside an US air base. The two F-35A Lightning II military aircraft, accompanied by a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, landed at Amari at 1 p.m. “The US showed today that their new, fifth generation military aircraft is ready to protect the skies of the alliance,” commander of the Estonian Air Force, Jaak Tarien, said. According to Tarien, the arrival of the F-35 military aircraft in Estonia is even more important since that type of military aircraft have never before landed outside a US air base. “This shows the strength of defence cooperation between the two countries as well as the level of the Amari air base,” he said. “We share the same values and are ready to protect the territory of NATO member states from any kind of possible aggression. Using the most modern fighter jets of the United States in Europe guarantees the sovereignty of all NATO member states,” Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, said. The F-35A-type military aircraft arrived in Estonia from the Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the UK which is owned by the US, while the military aircraft are usually stationed at the Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The KC-135 refuelling aircraft belongs to the Royal Air Force. The F-35 military aircraft arrived in Europe in the middle of April to take part in joint training flights with other US and NATO air force military aircraft. The multiple roles that F-35 Lightning II can perform include those of strike aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, and tactical bomber. The US Air Force is considering deploying a unit of F-35A military aircraft to Europe on a permanent basis at the beginning of 2020.

House Speaker affirms NATO’s importance to US in Tallinn
On 22 April, after a meeting with Estonian Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, US House Speaker, Paul Ryan, said that for the US, the allied relationship with NATO is more important than ever before. Ratas met with a delegation of the US Congress, headed by Ryan. Topics that were discussed at the meeting included Estonia-US defence cooperation, the security situation, global foreign political challenges, strengthening Estonia-US trade relations, and cooperation in the field of cyber security. Ratas said that the relationship between Estonia and the US is strong and there are several examples of great cooperation between the two countries, for instance in the security field. “The contribution of the US to Europe’s safety is remarkable, and greatly appreciated by the Estonian people,” Ratas told journalists after the meeting, adding that Estonia is a trustworthy ally on whom the US can always count on. Ratas emphasized the importance of Ryan’s support to the continued strengthening of security in the Baltic region, as well as the funding of the European Deterrence Initiative. Ryan thanked Estonia for its commitment to spend at least 2 % of the GDP on defence. He said that the aim of his current visit is to thank the countries who fulfil the 2 % criterion. Ryan said that one of the messages of the delegation’s visit is to affirm the strength of bilateral relations as well as that these will become even stronger. He also confirmed that the support of the US to NATO is strong and clear, saying that the allied relationship with NATO is crucial and more important than ever before. According to Ryan, the US will stand shoulder to shoulder with Estonia in case of any danger. Speaking about the security situation, Ratas stressed that the battle group deployed to Estonia forms an important part of NATO’s credible deterrence and is a clear sign of solidarity between the allies. “We work together for peace and the US can always count on Estonia, both in the fight against terrorism and in other matters.” Ratas said that security cannot be taken for granted and that it does not come for free. “It is important for us to acknowledge that if we expect assistance from our allies, we need to work towards common goals,” he added. Ryan during a visit in Tallinn also said that one of the reasons the US Congress has launched a thorough investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election is to “prevent the same kind of thing happening” to its NATO and other allies, Associated Press reports.

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