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23.06.2017  12:58

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

Two Russian naval vessels seen near Latvian border
On 11 June, the Latvian National Armed Forces reported, that two Russian naval vessels have been spotted near the Latvian border. A Kashtan class support ship and the tanker Yelnya was detected ten nautical miles from Latvian waters.

Baltic PMs say ready for Russian Zapad exercise
On 10 June, the Baltic prime ministers held a joint press conference in Klaipeda, where they stated that their countries are ready for Zapad, which will be held jointly by Russia and Belarus in September. The countries feel safe after NATO partners have deployed additional capabilities in the region. “We are ready as sovereign states, as the Baltic states and as NATO member states,” Lithuanian Prime Minister, Saulius Skvernelis, said. The Estonian Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, followed up by saying that the countries “are strong in their unity”. Latvian Prime Minister, Maris Kucinskis, said that NATO troops stationed in all three Baltic countries “is a great and important assurance” that allows the nations to feel safer than they did a couple of years ago.

NATO military aircraft scrambled once last week over Russian military aircraft
Last week, military aircraft serving in the NATO air-policing mission were scrambled once from Lithuania to intercept Russian military aircraft flying in the international airspace above the Baltic Sea. According to the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, the NATO military aircraft identified and accompanied an IL-20 military aircraft flying above the Baltic Sea from mainland Russia to its Kaliningrad region. It had its automatic transponder off, had a pre-filed flight plan and maintained contact with flight control centres. NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Saber Strike exercise has not caused damage to Sigulda regional government
Saber Strike military training exercise has not caused damage to the regional government of Sigulda, the local authority said. Damage, however, has been done to several private properties in the region. It is now up to the Latvian National Armed Forces to agree with the owners of the damaged properties on compensation. On Monday 12 June, an armoured vehicle reportedly rolled into a courtyard of a Sigulda resident and opened fire some 40 meters from the house. The soldiers also drove their vehicle into the man’s forest and newly sown cornfield. From 9-14 June, the military training exercise was held outside the training grounds, in the regions of Amata, Malpils, Ogre, Ropazi, Salaspils, and Stopini where battalion-size units moved around with their military equipment as they performed their training mission in territories agreed with the owners of these lands. This year, Latvia is the lead nation of the Saber Strike exercise, with more than 2,000 troops from Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the UK, Poland, Slovakia, and the US taking part in the drills. Saber Strike is an annual US-led joint land and air force exercise which has been held since 2010.

Multinational exercise Iron Wolf 2017 to kick off in Lithuania
On Monday 12 June, Iron Wolf 2017, this year’s largest multinational military exercise in Lithuania, will be formally opened concurrently in the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ two military training areas, in Rukla and Pabrade, the Defence Ministry said. “Exercise Iron Wolf 2017 will run from 12-23 June in order to assess preparedness of the multinational NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battalion Battle Group, deployed in Lithuania as of the beginning of the year and fully manned in May, to complete a variety of types of tasks side by side with allies,” the ministry said. The battlegroup, which is stationed in Rukla, is led by Germany. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway have also contributed troops to the battlegroup and Luxembourg will join it in July. The drills will take place in the southern, central and eastern parts of Lithuania and will involve around 5,300 troops from Lithuania and nine other NATO counties. In addition to the nations contributing to the battlegroup, it will also include troops from the US, the UK, Poland, and Portugal.

 

LITHUANIA

Lithuanian troops leaving for Mediterranean Sea operation
On 16 June, twelve troops of the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ 2nd Ship Maintenance Group are leaving for southern and central part of the Mediterranean Sea to join the European Union’s military operation Sophia. The troops will replace the 1st Ship Maintenance Group for three months after it served in Germany’s naval support vessel FGS Rhein since 6 March 2017. Just like the 1st team, the 2nd team consists of troops of the Navy, the Military Police and the Special Operations Force. The group’s main task in the operation is to intercept, inspect and detain ships on the suspicion of carrying unlawful weapons and migrants. In the framework of the Sophia operation, the 1st Lithuanian team demonstrated superb results – after searching a motor boat El Mukthar sailing under the Libyan flag in international waters, it revealed and, for the first time in the history of the operation, seized a shipment of smuggled weapons. Lithuania has been contributing to the EU operation Sophia since 2015. The operation is aimed at cracking unlawful human smuggling and trafficking rings in the southern and central parts of the Mediterranean Sea region, train Libyan coast guard and naval forces, as well as contribute to the enforcement of the embargo of the United Nations in open sea at Libyan coasts.

Lithuanian parliament declares Belarus’ N-plant a threat to national security
On Thursday 15 June, the Lithuanian parliament has decided that the Belarus’ nuclear power plant under construction in Astravyets, a mere 50 kilometres from Vilnius, is unsafe and poses a threat to national security, environment, and public health. The bill was passed with 104 votes in favour. Vytautas Bakas, the chairman of the parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defence, said that the law would be of paramount importance. “Both in the medium and long-term, (the law) will have special significance for the safety of people and the quality of their lives and for the state's progress,” he said. According to Bakas, in building the unsafe plant, Belarus violates three international conventions and the project is not transparent. The parliament has also recently passed a law aimed at restricting electricity imports from Belarus and Russia.

Swedish, US military inspectors conduct observation flight over Lithuania
On 14 and 15 June, US and Swedish weaponry inspectors will conduct an observation flight over Lithuania, the Defence Ministry said. This is the first observation flight over Lithuania by foreign arms control inspectors this year. Conducted in accordance to the Open Skies Treaty, the flight will aim to check the country’s compliance to existing weaponry control agreements. Observation flights are carried out in all countries of the Open Skies Treaty. Lithuanian army representatives also take part in such flights in foreign countries together with NATO Allies. The Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992. Lithuania signed the document in 2005.

International operation status proposed for Lithuanian military instructor in Ukraine
On 13 June, Lithuania’s Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, submitted a proposal to the parliament, suggesting that the resolution on participation of military units in international operations is supplemented with the dispatch of military instructors to Ukraine. It would allow sending up to 60 troops and civilian members of the defence system to train Ukraine’s Armed Forces. After the bill was unanimously approved for discussion by 97 votes, it will proceed to committees and be submitted before plenary. The defence minister noted that Lithuania currently had over 30 military instructors to Ukraine, adding that the parliament’s decision would revise the status into international operation and improve the conditions for the troops.

Slovenia’s president astonished in Vilnius by scope of concerns over Russia
On 12 June, Slovenia’s President, Borut Pahor, said in Lithuania that he was astonished about the strong concerns in Vilnius over the Russian threats, adding he understood the concerns in the Baltic States. “I am astonished by the scope of the concerns but take them seriously,” Pahor said at a joint news conference with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite when asked about the Zapad 2017 military exercise to take place in Russia and Belarus this fall. Grybauskaite said she had informed her Slovenian counterpart during the meeting about the offensive character of the future training, which is targeted against the Western world. Historically, Slovenia has friendly relations with Moscow, although it has joined the EU’s sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and support to separatists in eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, Slovenia will send troops to the international NATO battalion stationed in Latvia. Pahor said he could understand that the security situation in Europe had changed significantly over the past years. ´”Therefore, it is important for Slovenia to listen to its friends, listen to the Lithuanian president and maintain security and peace,” he said.

Lithuania backs Brussels initiative on defence fund
Lithuania’s government supports the European Commission (EC) initiative to set up a European Defence Fund, which Brussels believes would enable countries of the community to make more efficient investments in the weaponry they purchase. Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said that the European Defence Fund will create actual added value to closer cooperation among countries of the EU. “The fund will greatly contribute to consolidating European defence capacities via joint research and acquisitions,” said Karoblis. In his words, the fund may trigger the negotiations among officials of the Baltic States on joint military procurement that have silenced over the past few years. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been discussing the possibility to save by way of joint purchases of weaponry. However, no deals have been completed, as the three nations still fail to agree on the needs of military equipment.

 

LATVIA

Vejonis: NATO has to seek dialogue with Russia
On 16 June, President Raimonds Vejonis said that NATO has to seek dialogue with Russia, as he opened the discussion “NATO - from Warsaw to Brussels. Future of the Alliance and the Enhanced Forward Presence”. This is necessary because nobody wants to return to the Cold War. Dialogue is essential to prevent new tensions, the Latvian president said. Vejonis also affirmed Latvia’s solidarity with NATO, noting that Latvia participates in multinational operations in Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq, and elsewhere and is ready to invest in boosting its defence capabilities and to do more. “When Latvia joined NATO, we thought that we have ensured our security for the foreseeable future, but the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine proved we were wrong. Russia has shown that it is ready to use force to attain its political goals,” Vejonis said. The president indicated that allied forces’ deployment in Poland and the Baltics is extremely important for ensuring the region’s stability. Canadian Ambassador to Latvia, Alain Hausser, said that Canada is proud to work alongside troops from Albania, Italy, Poland, and Spain to support the Latvian armed forces. “Canada and Latvia are working together to create a much more secure world,” the ambassador said.

Vejonis: Contributions to allied presence is a strong signal of NATO Unity
On 13 June, the Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis, met with Mars di Bartolomeo, President of Chamber of Deputies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Vejonis stated that Luxembourg’s contribution to allied presence in Lithuania is a strong signal of NATO unity. He said further, that this year is significant for Latvia-Luxembourg relations as the two countries are marking 25 years of their restored diplomatic relations and 95 years since the de iure recognition of the Republic of Latvia by Luxembourg. Latvia and Luxembourg are enjoying close bilateral ties that have been developed though political dialogue and close cooperation in the EU and NATO, as well as in the 3+3 Baltic-Benelux cooperation format, the president’s spokespeople said. Vejonis concluded that, given the security situation in Europe and elsewhere in the world, EU member states have to invest more in their security.

Vejonis: US presence in Baltic region has been and will be important
On 12 June, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis met with the Chief of US National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel and General of the National Guard Gregory J. Vadnais. During the meeting, Vejonis said that the presence of the US in the Baltic region has been and will be critically important. He confirmed that US are Latvia’s closest cooperation partner in strengthening the country’s defence capabilities. The role of the US presence in the Baltic is also demonstrated by the present military exercise Saber Strike 2017 led by the US, said Vejonis. He believes that as the security situation in the world is changing, international cooperation plays an even greater role. Latvia next year will increase its defence budget to 2 percent of the gross domestic product, development of the armed forces continues, and the US is ensuring invaluable support to Latvia in this process. Lengyel said during the meeting that cooperation with Latvia is also important for the US, and much has been done during the past 24 years. He underscored that the US resolution in cooperation on security is sincere and convincing, and the US presence in the Baltics is strengthening.

Spanish and Canadian troops arrive in Latvia
On 10-11 June, NATO’s reinforcement of Latvia grew by around 400 personnel with the arrival of fresh troops from both Canada and Spain. On 10 June, over 100 soldiers from Canada’s 1st mechanized brigade, which will be part of the Canadian-led NATO battle group, arrived in Latvia. They joint the 50 maple leaf soldiers already in place in the Adazi military base as part of the enhanced forward presence initiative agreed at last year’s NATO Warsaw summit. On 11 June, 300 Spanish troops arrived, followed quickly by hardware including Leopard tanks and Pizarro fighting vehicles from a ship docking in Riga port.

ESTONIA

Estonian defence chief discusses Mediterranean security, African missions in Italy
Commander of the Estonian defence forces Gen. Riho Terras met in Rome with chief of Defence Staff of the Italian Armed Forces Gen. Claudio Graziano to discuss topics regarding security of the Mediterranean Sea as well as various missions in Africa. “Italia is one of the key countries of guaranteeing the security of the Mediterranean. Cooperation with Estonia is a sign of there being a common understanding of security threats between allies,” Terras said, stressing that it is important that Estonia’s European allies, who feel the pressure from the South, feel the same support that Estonia has had with its security worries. Graziano decorated Terras with a medal of services to the Italian general staff for his contribution to defence cooperation between countries. Italy is one of the founders of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in Tallinn.

AIRCOM commander visits Estonia’s Amari air base
Commander of NATO’s Allied Air Command (AIRCOM), Gen. Tod D. Wolters, visited the Amari air base in order to meet with commander of the Estonian Air Force, Jaak Tarien, the Spanish air policing unit based in Amari, and commanders of the other allied forces, military spokespeople said. “Estonia’s airspace is part of NATO’s common airspace and the Estonian Air Force is an organic part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS). A visit of the commander of NATO’s Allied Air Command to the Amari air base is a sign that NATO Air Force as a whole contributes to the preservation of peace and stability in our region,” Tarien said. He added that since Wolters is also the Commander of US Air Forces in Europe, this shows that the US is still committed to strengthening European security.

Estonian minister, defence chief look at Saber Strike exercise
On 10 June, (now former) Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, and commander of the defence forces, Gen. Riho Terras, visited the Saber Strike military training exercise, the Estonian portion of which started at the defence forces’ central training ground last week. Terras said that in the present exercise the NATO battle groups are getting their baptism of fire, and it is evident that joint battle operations with British troops in Afghanistan have proved useful. “The way we think is similar and certain procedures are similar too,” Terras said. “You get a very powerful feeling looking at our own heavy equipment in action and in training too,” Tsahkna said. The (former) minister added that the brotherhood-in-arms experienced at the exercise gives the feeling that Estonia indeed is protected better than ever before. For the first time ever, all NATO battle groups are taking part in the annual exercise of US Army in Europe that is held in the Baltic countries and Poland for the seventh time. In Estonia, soldiers of the Estonian Scouts Battalion, the UK, France, Denmark, the US, and Finland are taking part in Saber Strike 17.

Majority of Estonia’s Russian-speaking population opposes presence of NATO forces
While among Estonian-speaking residents support for the presence of NATO forces in Estonia is high, the majority of the Russian-speaking population is against it, results of a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Defence show. Results of the survey show that 69 percent of Estonian residents support the presence of NATO forces in the country and 23 percent are against it, while two years ago the indicators were respectively 68 percent and 25 percent. While 89 percent of the Estonian-speaking population support the presence of allied forces and 6 percent are against it, only 27 percent of the Russian-speaking residents support the presence and 57 percent are against it. The survey was carried out in March and in the course of it 1,202 people were interviewed. It was the 41st such survey in a series of surveys which began in January 2000.

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