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16.05.2017  07:50

THE BALTICS

US defence secretary says Baltics set an example of growing defence
On 10 May, after visiting the Alliance’s troops stationed in Lithuania, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that the Baltic countries are setting an example for all NATO member states in increasing their defence budgets. “These nations are a model for the trajectory they are taking in their defence spending. They are serious about it. They are setting an example of growing their defence," Mattis told reporters in Pabrade, a training ground close to Vilnius. “We salute what they are doing. The American people are heartened by what they are doing and we have no reservations about the direction they are on. We’re completely aligned with them,” he added. Estonia is currently one of the five NATO member states that spend the required 2 percent of its GDP on defence. Lithuania and Latvia expect to meet this target next year. Speaking after a meeting with the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian defence ministers, Mattis underlined the importance of the unity of NATO in responding to security challenges, including Russia’s planned Zapad military drills. The Pentagon chief said that the deployment of NATO’s battalions in the Baltic countries and Poland “shows the way NATO can be interoperable and our troops can come together and work together and if necessary fight together”. “NATO is very visible as you see here today, but it’s also indivisible when it comes to its partnership with each other. We are unified as an alliance,” he said.

US defence secretary pledges to defend Baltic States but can’t elaborate on Patriot systems
On 10 May, United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis said in Vilnius that the US was ready to deploy defence systems in the Baltic States to deter Russia, however, has given no comment on the possibility to bring long-range defence systems Patriot. “We will deploy only defensive systems to make certain that sovereignty is respected,” Mattis said after meeting with the Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite. He emphasized that NATO capabilities in Eastern Europe were exceptionally defensive, dismissing built-up of Russia’s military power in the region as a destabilizing factor. “The specific systems that we bring are those that we determine necessary. I think any build-up of Russian combat power in an area where they know and we all know they are not threatened by anything that we are doing in Lithuania or elsewhere in the democratic countries. Any kind of build-up like that is simply destabilizing,” said the secretary. Air defence of the three Baltic States is one of the regional weak spots in terms of defence. Some officials argue that NATO Allies could station long-range defence systems Patriot in the region in response to Russia’s increased military activity. Patriot is capable of bringing down aircrafts and ballistic missiles. Defence officials maintain that NATO could step up air defence systems in the Baltic States during the large-scale Russian and Belarusian military exercise Zapad this fall. Lithuania’s Armed Forces currently only have short-range aircraft defence systems and has decided to purchase Norwegian medium-range systems NASAMS. Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, said the Baltic States needed additional security measures but did not specify any details. In her words, all decisions will be made in consultations. She also called for a faster decision-making process within NATO. The visit is aimed at demonstrating the new US administration’s commitment to the security of the Baltic States amid concerns over Russia’s foreign policies. In response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, NATO is this year stationing an international battalion, consisting of about 1,000 troops, in each of the Baltic states and Poland. In the framework of a separate operation, a US brigade with 3,500 troops and nearly 100 tanks has been stationed in the region. A wave of concerns rippled across Eastern Europe last year after Donald Trump, who was later elected to the US White House, downplayed NATO during his election campaign, dismissing the Alliance as outdated and linking defence commitments to the size of defence spending. After his election as president, Trump changed his rhetoric about NATO, however, has been continuously emphasizing that European nations should boost defence spending, calling upon the Alliance to shift its focus to efforts against terrorism. Mattis, a retired general nicknamed “Mad Dog”, was the chief of the US Armed Forces Central Command who was in charge of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

Suspected Russia-backed hackers attempt attacks on energy networks of the Baltic States
During the past two years, suspected Russia-backed hackers have launched exploratory cyber-attacks against the energy networks of the Baltic States, Reuters learned from several sources. Interviews with more than a dozen law-enforcement and private investigators, insiders and utility officials show hackers have quietly made incursions into Baltic networks over the past two years, in parallel with more serious attacks in Ukraine. They say Russian state organizations are suspected of being behind the campaigns. Reuters could not independently verify the sources’ allegations. At the end of 2015, hackers attacked an Internet gateway used to control a Baltic electricity grid, disrupting operations but not causing blackouts, a source familiar with the matter said. The attack was a distributed denial of service (DDoS), where Internet gateways are bombarded with large amounts of data, a blunt but sometimes effective technique in an age when energy networks are being modernized with digital technology. The source also said suspected Russia-backed hackers had targeted a Baltic petrol-distribution system at around the same time in an unsuccessful denial of service attack that aimed to cause widespread disruption in petrol deliveries. The system coordinates deliveries from storage tanks to a network of petrol stations. In a separate malware attack on another undisclosed Baltic grid, also around end-2015, hackers targeted network communication devices, serial-to-ethernet converters (STEC), which link sub-stations to central control, two other sources said. The attack did not cause service disruption. Though these three incidents date back 18 months or so, cyber security consultants are still investigating some of them. They say hackers can remain dormant and undetected inside systems. NATO and cyber security experts believe hackers are testing the Baltic energy networks for weaknesses, becoming familiar with how they are controlled in order to be able to shut them down at will. A security official based in the Baltics said cyber-attacks usually increased when Russia carried out large military exercises near its borders with the Baltic States.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Estonian Defence forces’ units heading to Spring Storm exercise
Starting from 9 May, servicemen of the 2nd Infantry Brigade together with allied troops, playing the role of the enemy, started heading to the area designated for the annual Spring Storm military exercise. “We will carry out battles in attack and defence, integrate with the armoured units of the light infantry and will receive extensive experience in carrying out landing operations,” commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Col. Eero Rebo said. “The 2nd Infantry Brigade will be training themselves and practicing cooperation with allies.” The units who have reached the location are to start with a seven-day skill and cooperation training on 10 May, the aim of which is to familiarize the conscripts, reservists and allied troops with each other to prepare for the performing of battle tasks in the second phase of training. This year, besides the usual units of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the units will also include servicemen from Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, the Netherlands and the US. In the second phase of training the 2nd Infantry Brigade alongside allied troops will be tasked with counteraction to the 1st Infantry Brigade to create battle situations as difficult as possible, as well as opportunities to develop the cooperation between headquarters and units. On 9 May, the 2nd Infantry Brigade will be joined by the logistics battalion when moving from Amari to Rutja. With nearly 9,000 participants from Estonia, allied and partner nations taking part, the 15th edition of the Spring Storm exercise is the biggest of the military training exercises held under that name so far.

 

LITHUANIA

Koryzna proposed as commander of Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union
On 10 May, Lithuania’s Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, confirmed that he will nominate Lieutenant Colonel Gintaras Koryzna as commander of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (LRU) if the parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defence gives the go-ahead. Koryzna is currently a lecturer at the Estonia-based Baltic Defence College and has in the past served as commander of the Vytautas the Great Jaeger Battalion. Koryzna would replace Liudas Gumbinas, a retired lieutenant colonel whose three-year term of office as the LRU commander is about to end. The minister has decided not to re-appoint the outgoing commander for a second term. Founded back in 1919, the LRU is a civilian paramilitary organization that is said to have over 8,000 members. The riflemen’s ranks have increased markedly in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister to assign planning of military acquisitions to Armed Forces
Lithuania’s Defence Ministry intends to put the Armed Forces in charge of coordination of the planning of military acquisitions as part of the reform of the procurement scheme in the defence system. The Defence Ministry has registered bills on establishment of a centralized procurement agency. Officials hope the amendments to be adopted during the spring session in order for the agency to be operational in 2018. The institution will make a few departments at the ministry redundant, namely, the Capabilities and Armaments Department, the Weaponry and Control Systems Department and the Procurement Department. The Material Resources Department will be scrapped at the Armed Forces. Under the new scheme functions of the Capabilities and Armaments Department will be moved to the army’s Joint Staff. Defence Vice-Minister, Giedrimas Jeglinskas, said the Joint Staff will thus be put in charge of planning the military acquisitions, while the army’s unit will be named the Defence Staff. “We believe that it is the troops who know best what they need for performing their tasks. They should be responsible for the planning, and we will have certain controls at the Defence Ministry," Jeglinskas said. The remaining three departments to be closed will be moved to the acquisitions agency under development. It should employ about 150 people. Expected to start operations in 2018, the agency should conduct about 75 percent of all acquisitions within the defence system, with plans to be responsible for 95 percent of the acquisitions a year later. In Jeglinskas’ words, the remaining 5 percent of the acquisitions will be low-cost, therefore, inefficient for the new agency to coordinate.

Macron victory will ease Lithuania’s concerns over France's stance on Russia
The victory by centrist Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential elections will mitigate the concerns in Lithuania over the Paris attitude towards Russia, says Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Science Institute. “Lithuanian politicians will have fewer grounds to fear that France may hold a milder position on Russia, first of all when it comes to sanctions introduced after the Crimea annexation and the aggression against Eastern Ukraine,” the political scientist said. Macron said during his election campaign that the sanctions against Russia should be continued. In Vilpisauskas' words, the non-intensive bilateral ties between Vilnius and Paris probably won't change after Macron's elections. Treaties define the Lithuania-France relations as strategic partnership. After publication of the French presidential election results, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite declared willingness to cooperate with the new French leader in efforts to boost security and address issues relevant to Europeans. Grybauskaite emphasized appreciation of the French decision to send troops to the NATO battalion in Lithuania next year.

 

LATVIA

Latvian defence companies now have a chance to participate in US procurement tenders
On 11 May, Latvia signed a cooperation agreement with the United States, giving Latvian and US companies the opportunity to participate in the two countries’ defence procurement tenders. The Latvian-US intergovernmental agreement will facilitate participation in US procurement tenders for Latvian companies making defence and security products or providing defence and security services. The agreement will foster NATO member countries’ commitment to interoperability and interchangeability of defence capacities. It will also contribute to the development of Latvian security and defence industry, and military standardization between Latvia and the United States, the Defence Ministry explained. 

Rinkevics: Cybersecurity is of special importance, also in Latvia
On 10 May, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics emphasized the special importance of cybersecurity also in Latvia in light of the recent hacks into computer networks in the US. He said that the two last cases of cyberattacks that targeted elections in France and the United States seriously have awakened experts, politicians and the media both in Europe and the United States. Cybersecurity issues were addressed at a high-level meeting of experts during the Munich Security Conference last week, which gathered around 60 participants in Washington. As part of the meeting, discussions were also held on NATO member states’ defence budgets. “We still see that European allies and the US are divided on how fast defence spending should reach the 2 percent mark. Significantly, participants of the discussion said that security and defence expenses also include expenses on cybersecurity, which definitely has to be part of the defence strategy and tactics of NATO and the EU,” said Rinkevics. The experts also discussed relations with Russia, but in Rinkevics’ words, the debates were not particularly active as it was quite unanimously concluded that the relations with Russia were not showing progress. “For the time being, no progress can be seen on the implementation of the Minsk agreements in Ukraine or Russia’s willingness to cooperate in Syria. The conclusions were rather unanimous - that the two-way policy has to be continued” the Latvian minister said.

Three Russian warships enter Latvia’s exclusive economic zone
On 7 May, the Latvian National Armed Forces reported, that three Russian warships had entered Latvia’s exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea. Three Russian corvettes - the Liven 551, the Serpukhov 603 and the Morshansk 824 - were detected in the Latvian exclusive economic zone four nautical miles away from the Latvian territorial waters. According to Fontanka.ru, a website of Russia’s St. Petersburg, some of the Russian naval ships that had come to the port city for the Victory Day parade on May 9 left suddenly, allegedly because a US warship, USS Carney with cruise missiles aboard, had entered the Baltic Sea.

Latvia can count on 17,500 military trained troops in case of war
On 7 May, the Defence Ministry announced, that in case of war, Latvia will have at its disposal 17,500 military trained troops. The ministry said that under the National Defence Concept, at peace time the Latvian armed forces comprised 17,500 troops with military training, including 6,500 professional soldiers, 8,000 Home Guards and 3,000 reserve soldiers. At present there are 7,655 reserve soldiers in the records. The army is now updating its records concerning the place of residence of all reserve soldiers as some of them now live outside Latvia. Nevertheless, it will be their duty to attend the training sessions for reserve soldiers and to comply with the mobilization orders. The National Armed Forces expects to have 3,000 reserve soldiers trained and attached to a specific army unit by the end of 2018.

Canadian armed forces’ equipment arrives in Riga
On 6 May, military vehicles and equipment of the Canadian armed forces arrived in the port of Riga to support the arrival of the Canada-led multinational NATO battle group, planned in June this year as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the region. Part of the equipment, including construction materials will be used to prepare the barracks and equipment maintenance facilities at the Adazi military base outside Riga. The logistics and communications systems, combat support systems and light armoured vehicles will be used by the Canadian soldiers as they do their service in Latvia. Colonel Josh Major, commander of the Canadian Armed Forces’ European battle group, stressed that a great work has been completed in a short period of time. Latvian and Canadian troops are closely cooperating to ensure that the Adazi base is ready to host the 1,200 troops of the Canada-led battle group, he said. In the coming days, the Canadian military equipment will be delivered to Adazi Training Area.

 

ESTONIA

Defence Minister: Allied presence in Estonia demonstrates NATO’s response ability
On 12 May, Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, met with Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Rose Gottemoeller. During the meeting, Tsahkna said that the presence of allies in Estonia only ten months after NATO’s decision at the Warsaw summit shows the alliance’s capability to react fast to the changed security situation. “NATO allies have acknowledged the long-term change of the security situation in our region and the alliance has done a good job with strengthening the deterrence and defence attitude,” Tsahkna said. Tsahkna and Gottemoeller discussed today’s security situation and NATO. The latter also showed interest in Estonia’s upcoming EU presidency and expressed a wish to cooperate with Estonia in the framework of that to promote NATO-EU cooperation. Gottemoeller also visited the Tapa military base and met with British and French soldiers who are stationed in Estonia as part of the NATO battle group. She also got an overview of the ongoing large-scale Spring Storm military exercise. According to Gottemoeller, allied troops taking part in the exercise is part of the deterrence that NATO allies need. “NATO’s actions are proportional, defensive and fully in line with international law,” she said, adding that this is the way that NATO operates today and will do so also in the future. She thanked Estonia for a great reception of the multinational NATO battle group, and said that she was very happy with the living conditions of the soldiers as well as with the Spring Storm exercise. Gottemoeller will also speak at this year’s Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn. On the same day, Tsahkna also met with the commander of the United States Army in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. “As of 2014, thousands of US soldiers have participated in trainings in Estonia under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Hodges. During that time the ability of our countries’ units to work together has improved considerably and the priceless comradery has also increased. The presence of US Army troops in the region and participation in exercises being carried out in the Baltic countries continues to be important to Estonia,” Tsahkna said, adding that both countries will closely observe Russia’s large-scale military exercise Zapad this fall. Hodges has been commander of the United States Army in Europe since 2014. In 2015 he was decorated by the Estonian president with the Order of the Cross of the Eagle, Class 2. As of 2014, the US has repeatedly sent to Estonia company-sized land force units as part of the operation Atlantic Resolve.

Estonia to promote European defence cooperation during EU presidency
On 12 May, Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, met with EU high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini. During the meeting, Tsahkna said that Estonia is planning to continue to actively promote defence cooperation in Europe during the country’s upcoming EU presidency. “Europeans want the EU to deal more with security and defence issues. The European Union has set these topics as its ambitions. We are glad to see that the EU continues to commit to security more and more,” he said. According to Tsahkna it is at the same time important that the EU and NATO complement each other because the members of both organizations are largely the same. “Estonia supports strengthening EU-NATO cooperation on all levels. Our goal is to guarantee coordinated exercises, strengthened situation awareness and developing cyber security,” Tsahkna said. According to the minister it also means that more funds have to be allocated for security. Later on Friday, at this year’s Lennart Meri Conference, Mogherini said that the EU invests in defence in a too fragmented manner and the effectiveness of defence investments should be increased. “The European Union still believes that NATO is the bedrock of European security. But there is also the idea that Europeans have to do more for their own security,” Mogherini said. “Europeans invest 50 percent of what Americans invest in defence. The European output on defence is 15 percent. Why? Because we invest in a fragmented manner,” she added. Mogherini said that what the EU can do, and only the EU can do, is provide member states the space, the instruments and the incentives to invest together in defence, including in capabilities, so that we have a much more effective output even if we go with the same amount of money. “This means spending better. And most of all it means that Europeans can finally find an economy of scale for their industrial basis for defence, research programs. This would finally provide a basis for European defence. This is something only the EU can do that will benefit member states, NATO, our American friends and our security and the security of our citizens,” she said. “This is exactly what we are doing now -- using the instruments the EU has but has never used.” The European Union is not a military alliance and doesn’t want to become one. But we want to make more effective use of the instruments and the resources we have,” Mogherini said.

First reading of Estonia-US defence cooperation agreement took place
On 11 May, the first reading of the bill to ratify the agreement on defence cooperation between Estonia and the United States took place in the Estonian Parliament. The agreement to regulate in more detail the status of members of the US armed forces, their dependents, and contractors of the US armed forces during their stay in Estonia was signed by Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, and US Ambassador to Estonia, James Melville, on 17 January. The agreement needs to be ratified by the parliament because its enactment requires amending the National Defence Act and the Value-Added Tax Act. “Defence cooperation with our strongest ally, the United States of America, is very important for the security of Estonia,” Tsahkna said. “Entering into a cooperation agreement assures an even more effective development of our good bilateral security relations,” he added. The agreement complements the already existing agreement on the status of armed forces between NATO member states (NATO SOFA). It will reduce the red tape related to the stay of members of the US armed forces and their contractors in Estonia and make available to them certain advantages based on common strategic interest and principles. The accord will not restrict Estonia’s exclusive right to give permission for the entry of members of the US armed forces, military aircraft and military vessels into Estonia. Estonia has previously signed a similar agreement with Germany, for instance. The United States has signed similar agreements with Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria and several other countries.

Parliament speakers of Estonia, Hungary discuss region’s security
On 9 May, chairman of the Estonian parliament, Eiki Nestor, and speaker of the Hungarian parliament, Laszlo Kover, spoke about bilateral relations and the security of the region. The speakers recognized that the bilateral relations are friendly and cooperation is good on the level of the EU as well as NATO. Nestor expressed gratitude to Hungary over the country assuring the region’s security in the framework of NATO. Hungary is contributing to Estonia’s security with a motorized infantry company this summer and is planning to participate in the Baltic air policing mission in 2019. According to the Hungarian speaker, Hungarians are glad to serve in the Baltic countries. He said that Hungarians are well aware of Estonia’s geopolitical location and concerns regarding their neighbour. Kover promised to do everything in his power for Hungary to participate in our common security policy also in the future.

Estonian Prime Minister discusses security cooperation with US delegation
On 9 May, Estonian Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, discussed issues related to economic and security cooperation, including cyber security, between Estonia and the US with a delegation of the US Congress. According to Ratas, the bilateral relationship between the two countries is strong. “The continued military contribution of the US is important for the security of our region,” Ratas said, adding that the military presence of the US in Europe and the Baltic States is and will remain important to Estonia. The cooperation of Estonia and the US in the field of cyber security is remarkably good, Ratas said. “Today’s conflicts not only take place in the air, on land and at sea, but also in the cyber space and Estonia have a very practical experience with what a nationally coordinated cyber-attack means. In addition to being able to oppose the attack with different technical as well as political decisions, it has made us a spokesman for the importance of cyber security,” Ratas said, adding that in a situation where it is more and more probable that cyber-attacks will be carried out during the upcoming elections, the topic cannot be cast aside and needs to be paid constant attention to. The US delegation is headed by chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Michael McCaul.

Yearbook of Estonian defence forces focuses on security in Baltic Sea region
On 8 May, the fresh yearbook of the Estonian Defence Forces was published. It focuses on the security situation in the Baltic Sea region, the development of the Russian Armed Forces as well as Ukraine and Syria. Tumultuous times in the political lives of Estonia’s close allies have resulted in a lot of uncertainty in a wider security environment, and events in Ukraine and Syria show the need for appropriate defence mechanisms, commander of the defence forces Gen. Riho Terras says in the foreword of the yearbook. The yearbook provides an overview of the defence forces’ activities in 2016 but also of global events that influenced Estonia’s security. Other topics covered in the yearbook include a graphical overview of the operating range of Russia’s missile systems in the Baltic Sea region, Russian propaganda in connection with the arrival of allied forces, cyber defence, activities of the Air Force and the Navy in 2016 as well as the role of military science in developing Estonia’s defence capacity. The first yearbook of the defence forces was published in 2009.

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