Baltic foreign ministers discuss security and deterrence with US National Security Advisor
On 30 March, the three Baltic foreign ministers discussed the need for NATO’s deterrence and the strengthening of transatlantic cooperation with US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, Herbert McMaster, in Washington. The Baltic foreign ministers reaffirmed at the meeting that the three countries would fulfil the obligations connected with defence expenditure seriously and thanked the US for its contribution to the security of the region. “The presence of allies in our region gives a clear signal of NATO’s unity and solidarity. At present it is important to strengthen NATO’s deterrence ability even more - on land, on sea and in air as well as in cyber space,” Estonian Foreign Minister, Sven Mikser, said. The Baltic ministers also affirmed that the continued contributing of the US and Europe in solving the Ukraine crisis is important. “We have to work together in the name of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to be restored,” Mikser said. At the meeting they also talked about the need to strengthen the fight against terrorism and the international coordination. In this regard, Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, pointed out the support that can be ensured by the Riga-based NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. Furthermore, the ministers also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Finally, an agreement has been reached to continue the dialogue in other formats to discuss the specifics about Baltic security in greater detail. It will mean working cooperation format between Foreign and Defence Ministries of both countries.
US administration grateful to Baltic States for quality partnership
On 28 March, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a meeting with the Baltic Foreign Ministers that he was grateful to the countries for high-quality partnership. “Tillerson thanked us for our contribution to NATO and for the high-quality partnership,” Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Linas Linkevicius, said. In the past months, Europe has been locked in fears over the US new President Donald Trump’s stance on NATO and Russia. The new US administration has particularly called upon the Alliance’s members to raise their defence spending, as merely five of NATO’s 28 members are currently earmarking the agreed 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to defence. Estonia is the only Baltic nation to spend 2 percent of the GDP for defence purposes, with Lithuania and Latvia pledging to reach the level next year. “We mentioned that we understood the need to spend more money on defence and said that all Europeans should do this, and that the Baltic States held a very clear position on the matter,” said Linkevicius. He stated the new US administration wanted to make NATO stronger, which requires the United States’ further leadership over the Alliance. “We think that US leadership in NATO is very important, especially with the units deployed in the Baltic States. Tillerson restated the US continued commitment and his understanding the importance of the presence of the US troops in our countries,” Linkevicius said. US troops have been rotated in each of the Baltic States since 2014. “The US is our important ally and in addition to common interests and security challenges we share common values,” Estonian Foreign Minister, Sven Mikser, said. Baltic foreign ministers thanked the US for its long-term contribution to the security of the Baltic states and Europe, and reaffirmed that Baltic States are committed to fulfilling their defence obligations. The three nations have lately asked for US troops to be stationed on permanent, not rotational basis.
BALTICS AND RUSSIA
Putin has designs on Baltic States - Dick Cheney
Former US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has warned that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, threatened international security and had “designs on the Baltics.” “Putin believed that the end of the Cold War and of Soviet Union was a disaster. I think he has aspirations of trying to correct that what he sees to be the disaster. I think he has designs on the Baltics: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia,” Cheney said. In his words, the Kremlin aims to weaken NATO and is therefore building up munitions in the Russian Kaliningrad region wedged between Lithuania and Poland. Cheney also assured there were no doubts that Putin had aimed to influence the 2016 US presidential elections. Cheney, 76, served as the US Vice-President from 2001 to 2009 and is considered one of the supporters of the hard line in the administration of President George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Russia maintains it has no territorial ambitions, claiming that NATO’s actions threaten its security.
NATO military aircraft scrambled twice from Lithuania last week over Russian warplanes
Last week, military aircraft of the NATO air-policing mission of the Baltic States were scrambled twice from Lithuania to intercept Russian military aircraft flying in the international airspace, the Defence Ministry said. It said the NATO military aircraft accompanied transport airplanes Il-18 and An-26. The latter was flying with its automatic on-board transponder off. The Baltic air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
Russian military transport aircraft spotted flying near Latvian border
On 30 March, the National Armed Forces reported, that a Russian military transport plane An-26 was spotted flying over the Baltic Sea near Latvian territorial waters. The National Armed Forces stated that several Russian naval ships and one aircraft were detected approaching Latvian territory during the last week. On 27 March, a Russian IL-18 military aircraft was also detected flying over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea close to Latvian territory.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Some 1,500 NATO troops to train to defend Suwalki gap this summer
This summer, around 1,500 NATO troops will train to defend the so-called “Suwalki gap”, a land corridor whose protection would be critical for defending the Baltic States from Russia. “Territorial defence involving troops from the National Defence Volunteer Force will take place in the southern part of Lithuania at the Suwalki gap. A group of US helicopters will also be deployed there for air support. British marines will also take part in this operation,” Brigadier General Valdemaras Rupsys said. “On the Polish side, US, Polish, British and Romanian troops will move toward Suwalki. All these forces will converge at a later stage. In total, almost 1,500 troops will take part in the Suwalki gap operation,” he added. The operation will take place on 10-24 June as part of the annual training exercise Saber Strike. The Suwalki gap is a land strip of around 100 kilometres on the Lithuanian-Polish border that is wedged between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the west and Belarus on the east. In a military conflict, the seizure of the land corridor would cut off the land route for NATO allies to the Baltic countries. Lithuanian officials say that Moscow has been rehearsing the seizure of the Suwalki gap during training exercises for several years now.
Lithuanian soldiers performing standby for NATO’s VJTF deployed for an exercise to Denmark
The 3rd “Piranha” Mechanised Infantry Company with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanised Infantry Battalion left for Denmark to train as part of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). From 25 March to 11 April, over 100 Lithuanian service members will train responding to a violation of sovereignty of any of NATO allies together with the Guard Hussar Battalion, 2nd Brigade, Royal Danish Army. “Exercises provide opportunity to train interoperability and strengthens the entire Alliance at the same time, as the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is the spearhead of the Alliance,” Company Commander Algirdas Navasaitis said. The Lithuanian soldiers began standby for the VJTF on 1 January 2017. Lithuanians were intensely training for the task for a year both in Lithuania and abroad. Logistical support for Lithuanian troops is provided by a National Support Element.
NATO troops in Lithuania targeted with fake news again
The German-led NATO battalion stationed in Lithuania has again become the target of a fake news attack. Members of the parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defence have received an email claiming that Lieutenant Colonel Christoph Huber, the commander of the NATO battalion, is a Russian agent. “This is yet another attempt, perhaps more refined, to discredit the German forces’ presence in Lithuania. [This is] yet another example of an information attack by Russia,” Laurynas Kasciunas, one of the committee’s members, said. “What I am very glad about is that Lithuania’s authorities react adequately and that such information is analysed and deconstructed before it reaches the public in Lithuania,” he added. Earlier this year, it was falsely reported that German troops stationed in Lithuania had raped a girl.
Georgian president asks Lithuania to defend its interests in NATO
On 30 March, Georgia’s President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, asked Lithuania for defence of the country’s interests in NATO. “I would like to bring Georgia to your attention. On my behalf and on behalf of Georgia, I am convinced that you will protect our country’s interests. I am certain that Georgian issues will be raised thanks to you,” Margvelashvili said at a joint news conference with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels. Georgia actively seeks membership in the Alliance, however, the aspirations are opposed by Russia that aims to keep its influence in the post-Soviet territories. Moscow-supported Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been in conflict with the central Tbilisi government since 1990s and were de facto not subordinate to it. After years of escalation, the tensions broke out in August of 2008 as the brief Russia-Georgia war, which resulted in the Moscow recognition of independence of the two separatist territories. On Thursday, defence ministers of South Ossetia and Russia were expected to sign an agreement on mutual integration of armed forces. Furthermore, Abkhazia held local parliamentary elections in early March, which were not recognized by the international community. Lithuania’s president said the two events were creeping occupation of Georgia. “Lithuania strongly condemns the slow annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia through illegitimate elections and referendum,” said Grybauskaite, expressing support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Lithuanian leader also stated support to Georgia’s NATO and EU membership goals.
Lithuanian Air Force to transfer to Western helicopters in 2022
Last week, Lithuania’s Defence Resource Council decided that Lithuania’s Air Forces should transfer to more modern Western helicopters from 2022. The Air Force currently has nine helicopters, including three French-made Dauphin and six Russian-made Mi-8T. “The reality is that the Air Forces will not have a single of the six Mi-8T helicopters necessary for safe flying as early as in 2019. In continuation of the Mi-8T repairs we are already half-way through, we ensure continuity of the search-and-rescue operations, transport military equipment and solve the problem in the short run. However, speaking about the long-term perspective, the most optimal choice is introduction of a Western and a newer platform,” Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said.
Lithuanian troops join Germans in EU’s military operation in Mediterranean Sea
Lithuanian soldiers will take part in the EU-led operation Sophia, aimed at curbing human and arms smuggling activity in the Mediterranean Sea, jointly with the German Navy’s troops, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. A 12-strong vessel boarding team from Lithuania has left for the operation area in the Mediterranean aboard FGS Rhein following two weeks of joint training with the German ship’s crew. The vessel is expected to reach its destination by the end of March. A second Lithuanian team is expected to replace the first one in two to three months’ time.
American Jewish Committee affirms commitment to fostering Latvian-US cooperation
On 29-30 March, the American Jewish Committee visited Latvia and met with the senior officials of the Republic of Latvia – the Speaker of the Parliament, Inara Murniece, Prime Minister, Maris Kucinskis, and the Minister of Defence, Raimonds Bergmanis. Prime Minister, Maris Kucinskis, discussed matters related to security in the region with AJC members. Taking into account the recent contributions towards security, including from the US side, there is more confidence that Latvia is not under military threat, said Kucinskis. He pointed out that it is very important for Latvia that the US presence remains in the country also after the arrival of the multinational NATO battalion. At the same time, he emphasized that Latvia is not just a security consumer, but also a provider. Latvia highly appreciates the contribution of the American Jewish Community to the process for restoration of Latvia’s independence and its strong support to joining NATO, said Murniece. David Harris reaffirmed the commitment of the American Jewish Committee to continued fostering of close transatlantic links, providing US support for Latvia’s security.
Parliament speaker, Murniece, meets with Slovenian counterpart
On 28 March, Latvian Parliament speaker, Inara Murniece, met with Slovenian National Assembly Speaker, Milan Brglez. The NATO battle group in Latvia is led by Canada, and the multi-national battalion will also include Slovenian troops. We highly appreciate the decision of the Slovenian parliament to send its troops for participation in the NATO battle group in Latvia. This gesture proves Slovenia’s solidarity and support to our region, said Murniece. She stated that the NATO battle group deployed in Latvia should be ready to immediately react to any potential aggression in crisis situations.
Latvian armed forces to provide several training courses to Ukrainian military inspectors
On 27 March, the Latvian Defence ministry announced, that a course in preparation and leading military training exercises is starting in Ukraine this week under Latvian military instructors’ leadership. The Latvian National Armed Forces (NAF) is scheduled to provide several training courses for Ukraine’s military instructors this year. The Latvian soldiers have been tasked with providing basic training to Ukrainian troops, which includes teaching the basic skills and a course in preparing and leading military training exercises. Ukrainian troops participate in various training courses in Latvian armed forces’ units on a regular basis. For instance, they learn English at the NAF Language School and reconnaissance at the NAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) School.
New movement in Latvia to fight Russian internet trolls
On 27 March, it was announced, that Ingmars Bisenieks, a former member of the Centre for East European Policy Studies (CEEPS) and ex-diplomat, has initiated Latvia’s “internet elf” movement and calls on everybody, who wants to combat the aggressive actions of internet trolls, who distribute lies and disinformation in Latvian internet media. The movement will serve as a platform to exchange opinions and experience in the fight against internet trolls, to plan and implement counter campaigns. Several countries have already evaluated the negative consequences of the trolls’ actions and are implementing counter measures to such campaigns on the internet. There is a group of the so-called internet elves in Lithuania already, and now it is Latvia’s turn to unite those who are not indifferent to what is happening in Latvia’s internet environment.
Latvia has been drawn into a serious information war
On 24 March, Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, said that Latvia has been drawn into a serious information war, where anything it does to safeguard its security and independence is constantly being attacked through information. The minister said that this is one of the main things he emphasized to Canadian media during his trip to Canada this week. Rinkevics mentioned Lithuania as an example, where just this past February a false new story was circulated about supposed crimes committed by German soldiers. Such provocations are aimed at attempting to turn the local populations against NATO soldiers in the Baltic States. We understand these risks, and are preparing for them together with our Canadian partners, he said. The target audience of these disinformation attacks will be the Latvian public, as well as the Canadian public, with the aim of lessening Canada’s desire to fulfil its NATO commitments. There have already been attempts through various articles to try to persuade the Canadian media that Latvia is somewhere far away and does not need protection, Rinkevics said.
Annual cyber defence conference in Tallinn to discuss key issues in cyber security
The 9th International Conference on Cyber Conflict organized by the NATO Cyber Defence Cooperative Centre of Excellence is to bring more than 500 decision-makers and experts to Tallinn this year to discuss key issues in cyber security. The conference that will kick off on 30 May and end on 2 June is to be opened by President Kersti Kaljulaid, the centre said. Speakers at the conference include Ralph Langner, who discovered the target of the Stuxnet virus that attacked the Iranian nuclear program, Brian Pierce, deputy director of the Information Innovation Office at DARPA, Katie Moussouris, a noted authority on vulnerability disclosure and bug bounties, and others. On the agenda of the conference is a panel of NATO member states’ cyber commanders as well as a discussion of the recently founded Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.
Equipment of French troops arrived in Estonia on 25 March
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 arrived. France will station Leclerc tanks, infantry fighting vehicles VBCI, armoured vehicles VAB and 300 soldiers in Estonia. The French contingent will be part of the battalion for eight months, to be then replaced by Danes. Last week, 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 Warrior and various support vehicles, arrived in Estonia.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)