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09.06.2017  09:51

THE BALTICS

Baltic Defence Ministers to discuss regional security in Daugavpils
From 1-2 June, the Baltic Defence Ministers met in Daugavpils in Latvia to discuss the region’s defence and security issues. During the meeting, Latvian Defence, Minister Raimonds Bergmanis, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, and Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, discussed trilateral cooperation in defence, implementation of the NATO Warsaw summit decisions, NATO’s presence in the Baltic States, implementation of the global EU foreign policy and security policy, and Estonia’s upcoming EU presidency. The ministers also signed a joint communique.

 

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

Biggest activity of Russian warplanes reported above Baltic Sea last week
NATO military aircraft serving in the Baltic air-policing mission were last week scrambled six times from Lithuania over Russian military aircraft flying above the Baltic Sea. NATO military aircraft intercepted Russian military aircraft, a transport, and a reconnaissance airplane, with many of them flying with their automatic transponders off, the Defence Ministry said. Although increased activity of Russian military aircraft above the Baltic Sea has been reported since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO military aircraft have not been scrambled from Lithuania more than five times this year. The Russian Kaliningrad region wedged between Lithuania and Poland hosted an air defence exercise for Su-27 military aircraft last week. Tomas Pakalniskis, spokesman for the Lithuanian army’s Joint Staff, did not comment whether the increased activity of the Russian military aircraft had to do with the training. All in all, NATO air-policing military aircraft were scrambled 24 times this year over Russian military aircraft. Last year, the number of scrambles was about 110, down from 160 two years ago, 140 in 2014 and 47 in 2013. NATO military aircraft conduct the air-policing mission from bases in Siauliai and Estonia. The military aircraft are usually scrambled over Russian military aircraft flying above the Baltic Sea between Kaliningrad and continental Russia.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Latvian navy to participate in Baltops multi-national exercise in Baltic Sea
From 1-16 June, vessels of the Latvian navy will participate in the largest multi-national exercise taking place in the Baltic Sea; Baltops. This year when Baltops will be organized for the 45th time, the Latvian armed forces will be represented by two vessels - the Varonis and the Rusins. During the exercise, Polish and Swedish countermine experts will join Latvian and Lithuanian officers in the staff of the Baltic Naval Squadron (Baltron). Lieutenant Commander, Kaspars Miezitis, said that Baltops is a great opportunity for the Latvian armed forces, allies and partners to improve interoperability and to hone the skills required for strengthening security in the region.

 

LITHUANIA

Lithuanian border guards refuse entry to Russian military team
On Thursday 1 June, Lithuanian border guards detained a Russian military team on a transit train traveling from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the capital of Moscow, a spokesman from the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service said. The Kaliningrad-Moscow train was stopped for a border check at the Kybartai border checkpoint at around 9 p.m. as it crossed into Lithuania from the exclave. The inspection was carried out by border guards and a serviceman from the Movement Control Centre of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. “The document check revealed that four Russian servicemen were in a compartment, but they wore civilian clothes,” Giedrius Misutis, the spokesman, said. A check of their documents showed that they were Russian servicemen. A group of four or more servicemen traveling in transit via Lithuania are considered a military team and they need special permission to continue their journey through the country. The four Russians did not have such permission. The servicemen were ordered to leave the train and were sent back to Russia on another train before midnight, the spokesman said. Detentions of Russian military teams in Lithuania were more frequent a decade ago. No such teams were detained either this year or last year.

Formation of NATO battalion in Lithuania completed
On Tuesday 30 May, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said that the formation of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battlegroup in Lithuania was completed with the arrival of around 200 Norwegian servicemen and servicewomen in Kaunas Airport on Monday evening. The troops from the Norwegian Army’s Telemark Battalion and Northern Brigade units will join the German-led multinational battalion stationed in Rukla in central Lithuania. “From this moment, the battlegroup is fully staffed. We welcome the Norwegians,” Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Richter, head of public relations at the battlegroup in Lithuania, said. Around 60 pieces of Norwegian military equipment, including Leopard tanks, CV 90 infantry fighting vehicles, and M113 armoured personnel carriers were brought to Lithuania via the port of Klaipeda last week. The battlegroup also includes over 450 German, 100 Belgian, and 250 Dutch troops. In 2017-2018, the battlegroup will be manned by Germany, framework nation, and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, and France. NATO is reinforcing its presence on the Alliance’s eastern flank by deploying four battlegroups in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland on a rotational basis.

Construction of fence on Lithuania’s border with Russia to start next week
Construction of a fence on Lithuania’s border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave is expected to start next week. Under a 1.335 million Euro contract between the State Border Guard Service and Gintreja, a local company, the fence, which will cover 44.6 kilometres of border, is to be built by 20 December, 2017.   “If the manufacturer delivers the products as contracted, we will start on Monday. Preparatory work is already underway,” Gintreja Director, Gintaras Brokevicius, told. The construction work will be launched on a 10-kilometre stretch in the district of Jurbarkas, he said. Fencing will be supplied by a Lithuanian manufacturer that Brokevicius declined to name for commercial reasons. According to him, Gintreja received several offers from Russia to supply fencing at a similar price, but it chose the Lithuanian producer. “There was high interest from manufacturers. We had an offer from Poles jointly with Danes and Belgians, but we opted for a Lithuanian company and signed a contract with the Lithuanians,” the director said. “We also had phone calls from Turkey and China, and offers from several Russian firms. It is easier to work with local people. The Poles who made the offer spoke only Polish. The prices were similar in the final stage and we chose (the Lithuanian offer) only because it was from a Lithuanian company. We consider ourselves patriots,” he said.

Lithuania considering helicopters for special operations forces
Lithuania is considering buying helicopters for the country’s Special Operations Forces, with final decisions on transport and possibly combat helicopters expected by the end of this year. “We are thinking about transport helicopters for the Special Operations Forces or the Response Forces, however, we will not be able to start speaking about the acquisition until 2022, as the budget has been planned for a few years to come. We are now searching for lease possibilities,” Lithuania’s Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General, Jonas Vytautas Zukas, said. Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, noted that special operators could have three helicopters, in addition to three more for search-and-rescue functions of the Armed Forces. All NATO countries and their partners have Special Operations Forces; however, troops of merely a few countries enjoy an exclusive status that enables them to command NATO joint special operations forces. This requires air platforms.

NATO success depends on adapting to new challenges, collective defence
NATO should continue to be able to adapt to new challenges and focus on the key task of collective defence, as this will determine the Alliance’s future success, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, said. “The NATO Enhanced Forward Presence deployed in the Baltic States and Poland will reach its full operational capability in summer thus strengthen the eastern part of NATO. This does not mean that the process will end. The adaptation of the Alliance must continue as set out in the Warsaw Summit decisions,” Linkevicius said at the global security forum GLOBSEC held in Bratislava on May 26-27. According to the press release circulated by the Foreign Ministry, the minister believes that the main tasks in the process are rapid and unrestricted movement of Allies’ troops and the force structure review needed for the structure to meet current threats and ensure a smooth decision-making process in the Alliance.

Standing NATO Maritime Group One arrives in Klaipeda
On Friday 26 May, Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) arrived in Klaipeda for a scheduled port visit, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. “SNMG1 continues joint training with regional partners in the Baltic Sea. SNMG1 has already trained together with the Estonian, Latvian, and Swedish naval ships and also plans to train with the Lithuanian Navy’s ships,” Commodore Ole Morten Sandquist, the group’s commander SNMG1, said. SNMG1 is currently composed of the Norwegian frigate, HNoMS Roald Amundsen, and the Dutch frigate, HNLMS Evertsen. In the Lithuanian port, the SNMG1command team will meet with Naval Captain, Arunas Mockus, commander of the Lithuanian Navy, and Klaipeda Mayor, Vytautas Grubliauskas, and will take part in other official events.

 

LATVIA

Rinkevics: Unity should be demonstrated against Russia’s aggression
On 30 May, the Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, participated in the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Baltic, Nordic (NB8), and Visegrad Group countries (V4) in Poland. In an exchange of views on the Eastern Partnership policy, Rinkevics stressed that unity should be demonstrated against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. He pointed out that the Minsk agreements are the only internationally recognized scenario for a solution and that the non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea should continue to be emphasized. Rinkevics also called for practical and financial support to be provided in the process of Eastern Partnership reforms thereby strengthening the partner countries’ resilience in broader terms. He noted that it is essential to work towards strengthening the resilience of our own states and our partner countries alike. The Latvian foreign minister mentioned one of the significant steps in enhancing resilience to various kinds of hybrid threats, namely the establishment of NATO and EU centres of excellence - for strategic communications in Latvia, energy security in Lithuania, cyber security in Estonia, and countering hybrid threats in Finland.

Rinkevics thanks Slovakia for joining NATO battalion in Latvia
On 27 May, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics was in Bratislava, where he met with the Slovakian Foreign and European Affairs Minister, Miroslav Lajcak. Rinkevics thanked the Slovak minister for Slovakia’s decision to join the NATO multinational battle group in Latvia. “We are happy to have Slovakia join the Canadian led battalion. We are ready to accommodate the Slovak troops. The wider the allied presence, the stronger the signal of deterrence,” Rinkevics said.

Baltics must work together to counter Russia’s information war
On 27 May, Parliament Speaker, Inara Murniece, met in Lithuania with the speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Viktoras Pranckietis. During the meeting, Murniece emphasised that the Baltics must continue their cooperation in strategic communications, in order to counter Russia’s information war. They discussed regional security and pointed out that both countries are working hard to implement the decisions made at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, and continue to invest in national defence. Murniece thanked Lithuania for its contribution in the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga. She emphasised, that energy security is just as important. Both speakers expressed support for the creation of a regional natural gas market, as well as the synchronization of electricity network between the Baltics and the rest of Europe. Murniece and Pranckietis also expressed their concerns about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, emphasizing that it contradicts the principles of the EU's Energy Union, and the project has geopolitical intentions and creates security threats.

National Armed Forces transfer G-36 assault rifles to State Border Guard
On 26 May, it was announced that National Armed Forces have transferred G-36 assault rifles and KSP-58 machine guns to the State Border Guard, who will use these weapons during the training to meet the NATO standards. According to the National Defence Concept, in cases when Latvia faces threats referred to in the National Armed Forces Law, State Border Guards are required to defend the nation, i.e. border guards are incorporated into the national armed forces to implement the tasks provided in relevant legislation and action plans. National Armed Forces and State Border Guard cooperation during peacetime includes planning of weapons, equipment, and communications interoperability, as well as joint training and crisis response coordination. Defence and interior sectors are cooperating not only because the government requires doing so, our cooperation is also an excellent example of close cross-sectoral cooperation on common security and defence development goals. Better cross-sectoral cooperation will only make Latvia stronger and safer. And that is what government aims to achieve, underlined Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis.

 

ESTONIA

Estonia: 2nd Infantry Brigade joins training cycle of Danish division
On 1 June, Brig. Gen. Indrek Sirel, deputy commander of the Estonian defence forces, and Maj. Gen. Hans-Christian Mathiesen, commander of the Royal Danish Army, signed an agreement at the Taara campus in Voru according to which the 2nd Infantry Brigade will join the training cycle of the Danish Division. “For the 2nd Infantry Brigade, this first and foremost means a new opportunity to evolve and cooperate with allies, be in the information field, and adopt the best practices,” Col. Eero Rebo, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, was quoted by spokespeople for the defence forces as saying. “The Danes will offer us the kind of training which will allow us to develop both our work in headquarters as well as the activity of the subdivisions.” The 2nd Infantry Brigade has been participating in the Danish Division’s training cycle since the beginning of this year, having participated in the Red Knight exercise at Tapa in February before joining the Saber Knight command post exercise in southern Estonia. In addition to the Estonians, participants in the training cycle of the Danish Division also include the headquarters of the Danish, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Slovakian brigades. Estonia has been taking part in the Danish command post exercise since 2009, when the 1st Infantry Brigade was affiliated to the Danish Division in training. The division is part of NATO’s Multinational Corps North-East, which is ready to conduct operations in collective defence arising from the evocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, among other things.

Estonian Foreign Minister, US Congress members discuss security
On 31 May, during a meeting in Tallinn, Estonian Foreign Minister, Sven Mikser, and members of a delegation of the US Senate and House of Representatives spoke about transatlantic relations and the current security situation of Europe. The minister emphasized the importance of the US as Estonia’s ally in NATO, but also more broadly, spokespeople for the Foreign Ministry in Tallinn said. “The United States is and will remain the principal force of European and transatlantic security. US presence in Europe, as well as its active posture on many issues that are important for Europe, such as Ukraine, Western Balkans, or developments in Europe’s southern neighbourhood, is vital,” Mikser said. Members of the delegation of the Congress reaffirmed all-partisan support for the NATO task of collective defence and acknowledged Estonia for the level of defence spending. The Congress delegation visiting Estonia was made up of senators Lamar Alexander and John Kennedy, and House members Steny Hoyer and Phil Roe.

Estonian parliament approves national security concept
On 31 May, the parliament approved the National Security Concept of Estonia, which emphasizes a broad viewpoint on security questions and the role of active citizenship and civil society. Prime Minister, Juri Ratas, said that despite the international turbulences, Estonia has done well. “For us freedom has never been something that is taken for granted and Estonia has always had to think thoroughly about its security. The new strategy will cast a broader look on our security environment and help avoid getting caught in details. With this we will retain our sovereignty and integrity and increase the welfare and sense of security in the society,” Ratas said. The National Security Concept presents the objective, principles and directions of security policy. It is also the basis for the preparation of specific development and action plans, for example the national defence development plan, the internal security development plan, and cyber security strategy. The document was drawn up under the guidance of the Government Office and the parliament’s national defence committee and foreign affairs committee were consulted. The government approved the bill on 16 February. The National Security Concept details nine fields of activity. The document says that uneven regional development, badly adapted societal groups, manifestations of intolerance, and the polarization of the society on the basis of differences of opinions and beliefs can influence the internal stability of the state and thus possess a security dimension. Ageing of the Estonian population and a decrease in population are also risks of a more long-term perspective. The courses of action in security policy no longer follow the classical departmental distribution, where the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and all others had their own domains, and approaches ensuring security in a more domain-based manner. “The change is based on the wish to lose the excessive departmentalization of security policy and to reinforce the understanding that all subdomains have more than one actor and person who is responsible. Security is the result of the actions of the whole government and the whole of society,” the explanatory memorandum added to the document says.

Estonian president discusses security situation with US Adm. Michelle Howard
On 31 May, at a meeting in Tallinn Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, and Adm. Michelle Howard, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples and US Naval Forces Europe, discussed the security situation on Europe’s southern and northern flank and NATO’s role in ensuring security in the regions. Topics discussed at the meeting also included cyber security and the fight against terrorism. Kaljulaid said that Estonia highly values transatlantic ties and is grateful to the US for its military support, which is important for ensuring the safety of the whole Europe. During the visit, Howard also met with Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, commander of the defence forces, Gen. Riho Terras, and female members of the Estonian defence forces. She also attended the 9th International Conference on Cyber Conflict organized by the NATO Cyber Defence Cooperative Centre of Excellence.

Estonia, South Korea sign accord on cyber security cooperation
On 31 May, Estonia and South Korea signed a cooperation agreement on developing training and cooperation in the field of cyber security. Minister of Defence, Margus Tshakna, signed the agreement on behalf of Estonia, while Kwangho Kim, president of the National Security Research Institute, signed on behalf of South Korea, the Estonian Ministry of Defence said. Tsahkna said he was glad that defence cooperation between Estonia and South Korea is becoming more practical also in the field of cyber security. “There are no national borders in cyberspace, which makes good cooperation in the area with other highly developed countries important, regardless of the distance,” the minister said. South Korea is interested in Estonia’s experience in the field of cyber training exercises, especially the development and use of the Cyber Range for training. Estonia, in turn, is interested in South Korea’s cyber training exercises and South Korea’s participation in the Cyber Olympics and training exercises at the Cyber Range. Estonia has concluded similar agreements with NATO, Austria, and Luxembourg.

New unit of Estonian defence forces heads to Lebanon
On 30 May, a new unit of the Estonian defence forces formed for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was sent off with a ceremonial line-up to replace the previous unit, which is to return to Estonia on 31 May. The ceremonial line-up, which took place at the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi, sent the Estonian contingent Estcon-6 off to the UNIFIL mission. It will serve in Lebanon until November, military spokespeople said. Capt. Andrei Slabovits heads the sixth Estonian defence forces’ contingent Estcon-6, which is serving in the composition of the joint Irish-Finnish battalion. The nearly 40 member Estcon-6 contingent is made up of the infantry platoon Estpla-23, which is based on the 1st group of the Scouts Battalion’s B-company and is headed by 2nd Lt. Oliwer Nolvak. The contingent also includes staff officers and non-commissioned staff officers. “Compared to many other mission regions Lebanon may seem calm, but that calm is deceptive and may disappear any second,” Col. Veiko-Vello Palm, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, said. A welcome line-up for the returning Estcon-5 contingent from the UNIFIL peace mission in Lebanon took place at the war museum on 31 May.

Belgium, Sweden join NATO cyber defence centre in Tallinn
On 30 May, the flags of Belgium and Sweden were hoisted in front of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, and Bulgaria and Portugal are also planning to join the centre. Representatives of 16 countries’ cyber commands participated in the ceremony. “For countries with similar values, international cooperation in the field of cyber defence is becoming unavoidable. We see increasing interest in our centre’s applied research, trainings, and exercises, but countries’ readiness to contribute themselves means something more than just recognition of our work. It is a sign that we offer necessary support in promoting cyber defence to the international community,” head of CCDCOE Sven Sakkov said. Membership of the CCDCOE is open to NATO members. The current sponsoring nations of the NATO CCDCOE are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the US. Austria, Finland, and Sweden have joined the centre as contributing participants, the status for non-NATO members.

Estonian Defence Minister discusses EU security, NATO with Italian counterpart
On 30 May, Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, and his Italian colleague, Roberta Pinotti, discussed topics related to regional security, NATO, Estonia’s upcoming EU presidency, the fight against terrorism, and immigration at a meeting in Rome. Tsahkna said that for Estonia, Italy is an important ally on NATO’s southern flank, with whom cooperation must be intensified, spokespeople for the Ministry of Defence said. “The fight against terrorism, which is topical today, is an important topic both for Italy and Estonia,” Tsahkna said. “I confirmed to the Italian defence minister that Estonia is prepared to make a comprehensive contribution to the fight against terrorism and this could be one of the pillars of our defence cooperation.” Tsahkna introduced Pinotti to Estonia’s priorities in national defence during the country’s upcoming EU presidency, which focus on a safe and secure Europe. Tsahkna also visited the EUNAVFOR Med SOPHIA headquarters, delivered a speech at the NATO Defence College, and met with Francesco Saverio Garofani, head of the defence committee of the Italian parliament’s Chamber of Deputies.

Saber Knight Exercise kicks off in South Estonia
On 27 May, an international command post exercise, Saber Knight, during which nearly 100 headquarters personnel of the Estonian 2nd Infantry Brigade will practice cooperation with the headquarters of Latvian, Lithuanian, and Danish brigades, started at the 2nd Infantry Brigade’s Taara campus in the southern Estonian town Voru. “Our brigade joined the Danish Division’s training cycle at the beginning of this year,” the commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, Col. Eero Rebo, said, adding that participating in the training cycle helps the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Brigade improve cooperation with allied units. “The aim of the Saber Knight exercise is to harmonize the operation of the headquarters of participating units in joint operations,” Rebo said. More than 700 military personnel from six countries are taking part in the exercise, the Danish and Baltic brigades will be joined by servicemen from the US and Slovakia. Saber Knight is a part of the training cycle of the Danish Division, during which the planning and conduct of military operations in the Baltic countries to fend off an attack by a fictitious country called Botnia is rehearsed. Saber Knight is a part of the United States European Command exercise Saber Strike, aimed at rehearsing cooperation between ground and air force units and acceptance of allies. Estonia has been taking part in the Danish command post exercise since 2009, when the 1st Infantry Brigade was affiliated to the Danish Division in training. The division is part of NATO’s Multinational Corps North-East, which is ready to conduct operations in collective defence arising from the evocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, among other things. The Saber Knight exercise will last from May 27 to June 4.

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