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24.03.2017  13:11

THE BALTICS

NATO, Nordic, Baltic air force commanders meeting in Lithuania to discuss security
On 22 March, NATO’s Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) commander, Tod Wolters, is meeting in Lithuania with commanders of the Air Forces of the Nordic and Baltic States and Poland to discuss the regional security situation, military cooperation, and share the latest information about the national air forces. Denmark’s Royal Air Force will be represented by Expedition Air Force Commander, Brigadier General Lone Traeholt. The guests will meet with the Dutch Air Force Contingent serving in the NATO air-policing mission to patrol the Baltic skies. The NATO mission is currently conducted by four Dutch Air Force military aircraft F-16 Fighting Falcon, which started their four-month mission in January.

Baltic foreign ministers to meet with Tillerson in Washington next week
Next week, the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian foreign ministers will meet with US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in Washington. On 28 March, the ministers will discuss the fight against regional and global threats, the strengthening of NATO and transatlantic cooperation, and energy security issues. The officials will also speak about the Baltic countries’ commitments to enhance their national defence capabilities. Some European officials worry that US President, Donald Trump, may reduce America’s commitments to European defence.

 

BALTICS AND RUSSIA

Two Russian naval ships detected near Latvian waters
On 23 March, the National Armed Forces reported, that two Russian naval ships had been detected near Latvian waters yesterday. The Admiral Groshkov and Admiral Vladimir were detected in Latvia’s exclusive economic zone, 12 nautical miles from territorial waters

NATO chief: No military threat to Baltics
On 17 March, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said that the alliance sees “no imminent danger” of a conventional military assault in the Baltic Sea region. Stoltenberg said that “we are worried” about Russia’s actions and possible intentions, but at the same time “it is important that we do not dramatize the situation.” In recent months, NATO military forces have been deployed into countries bordering Russia after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea prompted fears that other ex-Soviet republics - including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - could be next.

NATO military aircraft scrambled once last week over Russian warplane
Last week, NATO military aircraft conducting the air-policing mission in the Baltic States were scrambled once to intercept a military aircraft of the Russian Federation flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. The NATO military aircraft intercepted a military aircraft of the Russian Federation flying from the mainland Russia to its Kaliningrad region in international airspace. The Russian military aircraft was flying according to a pre-filed flight plan, its on-board transponder was on, and the crew maintained radio contact with air traffic control centres.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

At least four large-scale international military exercises to take place in Latvia this year
On 22 March, it was announced by the Latvian Defence Ministry, that at least four large-scale international military exercises with at least 500 foreign military personnel will be held in Latvia this year. The aim of the exercises is to improve regional stability and security, as well as improve the coordination between NATO allies. From April 17 to 30 the Summer Shield XIV military exercise will take place in Latvia. From June 3 to 16, the Saber Strike international military exercises will be held in Latvia. Furthermore, the annual Open Spirit international naval exercise, aimed at locating and liquidating explosive devices from WWI and WWII in the Baltic Sea, will he held this summer. In the fall, the annual multinational ground forces exercise Sudraba Bulta (Silver Arrow) will take place. Several other military exercises with less than 500 foreign military personnel will also be organized in Latvia this year, including the Baltron Squadex naval exercise in April, as well as the Baltic Bikini naval search and rescue exercise in the summer. The NATO-led Steadfast Pinnacle/Steadfast Pyramid will be held in the autumn, while the explosives and munitions neutralization exercises Detonators will also be held in the autumn.

Defence Minister and General Kalnins participated in “Allied Spirit VI” guest day in Germany
On 16 and 17 March, Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, and the National Armed Forces Commander Major General, Leonid Kalnins, were on a working visit to Germany, where they participated in training “Allied Spirit VI” guest day and met with US Army Europe Commander, General Frederick Ben Hodges, to discuss the Latvian-US bilateral defence cooperation. In the international military exercise “Allied Spirit VI” around 500 Latvian soldiers participated and 130 military machines, including 30 combat reconnaissance tracked armoured vehicles. It is by far the largest training abroad, that the National Armed Forces have participated in. Latvian infantrymen’s participation in Allied Spirit VI training exercise allows Latvia to prove that it is not only a consumer but also a provider of security, Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, believes.

Nearly 2,300 allied soldiers to participate in Estonia’s Spring Storm exercise
Nearly 2,300 uniformed personnel from allied nations are to take part in the three-week Spring Storm exercise in May alongside members of the Estonian defence forces as well as volunteer corps. The exercise will be the biggest training exercise for the Estonian defence forces also in 2017. The United Kingdom that is heading the NATO battalion stationed in Estonia is to participate with more than 800 uniformed personnel, while Germany is to send nearly 400 members of the defence forces to Estonia. France is to take part in the exercise with up to 300 soldiers serving in Estonia, and the United States, Latvia and Lithuania are to each participate with a company-sized unit. In addition, uniformed personnel from the Netherlands, Poland, Canada, Finland, Ukraine, Sweden, Spain, and Georgia are to take part in the exercise.

 

LITHUANIA

Dutch troops arrive in NATO battalion in Lithuania
On 23 March, a Dutch contingent arrived in the NATO battalion under establishment in Lithuania – over 100 Dutch troops landed in the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Siauliai, the Defence Ministry said. The international combat group will include about 250 Dutch troops, who have already brought their military weaponry and equipment, including infantry fighting vehicles CV 90, reconnaissance vehicles Fennek, multiple-function vehicles Boxer, and armoured repairs and evacuation machines. A joint exercise of German and Dutch troops is scheduled to take place in the Lithuanian army’s training grounds in Pabrade in early April. The NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battalion already includes over 400 German and 100 Belgian troops. Norwegian soldiers due to join the international combat team should arrive in Lithuania in May. In the period of 2017–2018, the German-led NATO Battalion will include troops from Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, and France – a total of about 1,200 soldiers. Similar units are also being deployed to the other Baltic countries in what NATO says is response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Lithuania may double its contribution to fight against ISIS
On 23 March, Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, said that Lithuania may double its contribution to international efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS). “Some countries of the coalition are very rich and powerful and have their potential; therefore, we cannot measure ourselves against all of them. However, we are already taking part in the coalition by sending our instructors to Iraq and we will certainly consider doubling our contribution,” Linkevicius said. On 22 March, Linkevicius participated in a meeting of ministers of the US-led coalition against ISIS. As a member of the coalition, Lithuania early this year sent six military instructors to Iraq to train local forces under the Danish contingent of the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. The parliament has given the green light for sending up to 30 troops to Iraq this year.

Lithuanian army forming 3rd brigade from reserve troops
Lithuania’s Armed Forces are forming the third brigade consisting of mainly reserve troops. Consisting of approximately 4,500 soldiers, the brigade will also involve recruits and professional troops. “About 70 percent of the brigade will include troops of the ready reserve and will mainly comprise combat units. All the rest will be service personnel,” Senior Sergeant Nerijus Vitas of the army’s Training and Doctrines said. The staff of the new brigade will be based in Vilnius, headed by the board’s commander, Colonel Danas Mockunas. Lithuania’s Defence Ministry said the new brigade had been established “in light of the changing situation in Lithuania and in an effort to step up Lithuania’s defence capacities.” Lithuania’s defence system includes about 8,700 professional troops, about 3,000 recruits, 4,700 volunteer troops, and another 2,600 civilians.

Lithuania replacing military officer in charge of military procurement
The officer in charge of military procurement in Lithuania, Colonel Darius Uzkuraitis, is being rotated to NATO’s Joint Force Headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands. The colonel should take the post of operational assessment division chief in Brunssum in July. His replacement at the Defence Ministry is yet to be selected, as the decision will be part of the ministry’s public procurement reform. Uzkuraitis has been in charge of military procurement since October 2014. During his term in office, Lithuania’s defence budget has been swelling, with decisions made to purchase armoured vehicles, artillery and air defence systems. Karoblis has pledged that a separate agency would be launched in early 2018 to coordinate military procurement. In the minister’s words, centralization will allow better control of acquisitions.

Lithuania gets reinforcement from Poland in fight against Belarus’ N-plant
On 20 March, Poland became Lithuania’s first ally in its efforts to stop the construction of the Russian state corporation Rosatom’s nuclear power plant in Belarus when it stated its intentions not to purchase electricity from the facility under construction in Astravyets, just 50 kilometres from Vilnius. Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, said that Poland’s decision not to buy electricity generated at the Astravyets nuclear power plant under construction in Belarus confirms the Lithuanian stance that the utility threatens the whole region. “The news is important for us, and it is highly positive, as it corresponds to our position and understanding of the threats of the Astravyets nuclear power plant. It is very important that this comes from one of the largest countries, which could have been a potential buyer of electricity. The fact that we secured support to our position from another country once again proves our words that the nuclear utility is a threat to Lithuania and the rest of the region,” Grybauskaite said. In her words, the intention of Poland and Lithuania to boycott the Astravyets electricity makes major pressure upon the power plant’s future. Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, sees Poland’s statement as a blow to Russia’s geopolitical project, not to Belarus. “I don't think this is a blow to Belarus. This is a blow to that geopolitical project organized by Russia,” he said. Amid its calls to neighbouring countries to block Astravyets electricity, Lithuania has repeatedly stated that the power plant is being built in violation of safety standards.

Lithuania should step up security cooperation with Nordic states
On 17 March, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said that Lithuania should step up military and security cooperation with the Nordic countries. “The only way to counter the security threats of today is to seek a NATO and the European Union that are united. We have to employ every measure necessary to enhance security and defence. One of those is the Nordic-Baltic cooperation,” Karoblis said after meeting with Director of Security and Defence Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Arnor Sigurjonsson. The meeting, which was also attended by Lithuania’s Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, addressed the regional security situation, bilateral and multilateral cooperation, as well as the upcoming Russian-Belarusian exercise Zapad 2017, the Russian military activities in the region and possible further development of events.

Czech army’s rotational forces end mission in Lithuania
Czech troops have completed their mission in Lithuania after attending a joint training in the country since January. The Czech unit in Lithuania consisted of a light infantry and an assault group. During the training, the troops practiced shooting CZ guns, CZ805 automatic rifles, FN-Minimi machine guns and SVD sniper weapons. The Czechs had also brought their light armoured multifunctional transporters IVECO with 12.77 mm machine guns M2HB Browning and other logistic equipment. It was the first time about 150 Czech troops were sent to Lithuania as rotational NATO troops as part of the Alliance’s efforts to ensure safety in the Baltic States. Since spring of 2014, NATO has been stepping up its deterrence measures in the Baltic region.

Lithuanian parliament reiterates call on Russia to end Crimea occupation
On 16 March, The Lithuanian parliament reiterated its call on Russia to end the occupation of Crimea. In a resolution marking the three-year anniversary of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula, the Lithuanian parliament stated its “strong support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders”. The lawmakers denounced “the ongoing occupation and annexation by the Russian Federation of a part of sovereign Ukraine’s territory -- the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol” and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s territory. Ninety-one members of the parliament voted in favour of the resolution while one member abstained.

 

LATVIA

Rinkevics visits United States and Canada
From 22 to 29 March, The Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, is visiting the United States of America and Canada. Among other things, the Foreign Minister participated in a meeting of foreign ministers of the Global Coalition Against ISIL/Daesh, during which he informed his colleagues about the work that Latvia has accomplished and is planning to do. From 23 to 25 March, Rinkevics will meet with the Canadian officials, where they will deal with the matters of bilateral cooperation, promotion of economic cooperation, including benefits from the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as well as the forthcoming formation and deployment of the Canadian-led multinational battalion-sized battle group in Latvia.

Parliament passes National Security Law amendments
On 23 March, the Latvian Parliament passed amendments to the National Security Law to ensure government control over the sale of enterprises essential for Latvia’s national security. The amendments are meant to prevent persons, whose activities are against the interests of Latvia, European Union, or NATO, from acquiring shares in companies that are essential for Latvia’s national security. According to the amendments, persons who want to acquire a major or controlling stake in a strategically important company will have to ask the government’s permission for the deal. The amendments concern certain large electronic services providers, national electronic mass media, as well as some strategic energy companies involved in the production and distribution of electric and thermal power, and natural gas.

New barracks built at the National Armed Forces’ Air Base in Lielvarde
On 22 March, the Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, and Chief of Defence, Major Lieutenant Leonids Kalnins, took part in the ceremony opening the new barracks in Lielvarde. Raimonds Bergmanis hopes that the new barracks built in the National Armed Forces aviation base will serve as a stimulus for the allies to increase their presence in Latvia. The new building has three storeys and a floor space of 3,041 square meters. It will house up to 310 soldiers. He said in the opening ceremony that the barracks had been necessary for the Latvian troops and the allies who arrived in Latvia to help to ensure security. “We have seen that the presence of the allies is increasing in Latvia, the everyday conditions are improving, and I see that we are becoming more capable every day,” said Bergmanis.

State secretaries of Latvian and Swedish Defence ministries discuss regional security
On 22 March, The State Secretary of the Latvian Defence Ministry, Janis Garisons, and the State Secretary of the Swedish Defence Ministry, Jan Salestrand, discussed the regional security developments and Latvian-Swedish defence cooperation on the bilateral and multinational level. Salestrand also visited the Adazi military base in central Latvia to meet with the representatives of the Infantry Brigade of the Land Force of the Latvian National Armed Forces and to see the bomb disposal school.

Armed forces receive 47 tracked reconnaissance vehicles from UK
On 20 March, The Defence Ministry informed that The National Armed Forces have received 47 of the planned 123 tracked reconnaissance vehicles from the UK. The deliveries of this equipment are planned from 2006 to 2020. The mechanization project of the Land Forces’ Infantry Brigade is planned in several stages and phases, and the armoured vehicles are now being supplied from the UK as part of the first stage of the project. The basic price of the purchase deal, which is approximately 46.5 million EUR, includes the repairs and upgrades of the 123 vehicles, their spare parts and the training of Latvian specialists. The vehicles will be equipped with Spike antitank systems and a modern NATO classified communications and command system. Latvia still needs to purchase ammunition for .30 calibre machine guns, antitank missiles and a weapons training simulator. Furthermore, maintenance of the equipment, weapons and control systems’ infrastructure and training of the Latvian personnel makes the costs of the project, planned for the next ten years, approximately 250 million EUR. The amount of military equipment is going to increase in Latvia this year as Latvia not only continues to receive the tracked vehicles, but is also about to sign an agreement with the Austrian Defence Ministry on the purchase of used self-propelled howitzers. The Canada-led multinational NATO battalion, which is due to deploy to Latvia this summer, will also bring more heavy military equipment.

The Latvian Parliament passes Latvia-US defence cooperation agreement
On 16 March, the Latvian Parliament approved the defence cooperation agreement between Latvia and the United States, providing a clear legal framework for US military presence. Among other things, it stipulates that US soldiers who commit criminal offenses in Latvia’s territory will be held responsible by the US authorities, not Latvia’s, but in exceptional cases this provision will not apply. The agreement states, that military presence of allies, including the United States, is very important for Latvia’s defence. The US is already contributing greatly to increasing Latvia’s defence capacities. Creating the legal framework for permanent deployment of US Army units to Latvia is one of the preconditions for the United States’ collective defence guarantees for Latvia. While NATO armed forces’ deployments to other NATO members is defined by the North Atlantic Treaty, the Latvia-US agreement on defence cooperation offers more detailed information about the rights and duties of US Army units in Latvia.

 

ESTONIA

Equipment of French and British troops to arrive in Estonia
On 25 March, more than 30 units of equipment of the French troops to be stationed in Estonia as part of a NATO battle group will arrive. France will station Leclerc tanks, infantry fighting vehicles VBCI, armoured vehicles VAB and 300 soldiers in Estonia. The 1,200-strong NATO battle group to be deployed to Estonia this spring will be equipped with both British and French tanks and IFVs, as well as British self-propelled guns. More than 200 British soldiers and 50 French soldiers have already arrived here. French troops will serve in the group for the next eight months after which they will be replaced by Danish military. The remainder of the allied troops as well as their equipment is to arrive here in the coming weeks.
On 22 March, the first batch of heavy equipment of British troops, more than 130 units of equipment including British Challenger tanks as well as infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) Warrior and various support vehicles, arrived in Estonia. Prior to their arrival, 80 troops from the UK had started service in Estonia to prepare for the arrival of the personnel and equipment of the NATO battle group in cooperation with members of the Estonian defence forces. Leaders of NATO countries decided at the Warsaw summit last July to deploy NATO troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland because of the changed security environment.

Estonian soldiers return from Blue Line to main base in Lebanon
On 20 March, Estonian troops serving in the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon returned from the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon to their main base UNP 2-45 in southern Lebanon. The Estonian infantry platoon ESTPLA-22 started service on the Blue Line on 15 January, conducting regular motorized and foot patrols, constantly monitoring the demarcation line between conflict sides and guarding the safety of the base UNP 6-50. The duties of the Estonian contingent were taken over for the next two months by a Finnish infantry platoon, military spokespeople in Tallinn said. “All members of the platoon were satisfied with the time spent at UNP 6-50 but also looking forward to a change to the last couple of months’ routine as we were there on our own and maintaining the base required a bigger individual contribution from everyone,” ESTPLA-22 chief Lt. Virko Luide said. Beginning from this week Estonian peacekeepers will continue to conduct daytime and night patrols out of UNP 2-45, the main base of the joint Irish-Finnish battalion in whose composition they are serving. Manning UNIFIL’s smaller field camps is part of peacekeepers’ regular service. Staff officers included, some 40 Estonian military are currently serving in UNIFIL. ESTPLA-22, which mainly consists of troops from the Scouts Battalion’s staff and logistics companies, is the fifth rotation of Estonian troops in Lebanon.

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