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01.09.2017  13:47

THE BALTICS

US military aircraft take over patrolling of Baltic skies
On 29 August, seven US F-15C Eagle military aircraft landed at the Siauliai military airbase in northern Lithuania, as the United States is taking over the Baltic air policing mission two weeks ahead of Zapad 2017. An official changeover ceremony took place at the military airbase on 30 August. Some 140 military personnel from a US base in Britain will replace a Polish contingent that guarded Baltic airspace during the past four months. Four NATO aircraft have usually carried out the mission in Lithuania for the past two years; however, the United States has boosted the Baltic air policing mission to seven military aircraft. The Lithuanian Defence Ministry’s press release about the arrival of the US fighters gives no mention of the Zapad exercise, saying only that the US thus “demonstrates NATO’s unbreakable commitment to ensuring the security of the Baltic countries”.

British military aircraft arrive at Amari air base to practice with NATO battle group
On 28 August, two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) arrived at Amari air base to participate in ground-to-air interoperability exercises with the multi-national NATO battalion battle group stationed in Estonia. The two Eurofighter Typhoon military aircraft, which arrived in Estonia, are part of the No. 3 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.

Admiral Cowan has found numerous mine anchors in Irbe Strait
On 25 August, the crew of the Estonian minehunter Admiral Cowan found several mine anchors during an international mine clearance operation being held in the Irbe Strait off the coast of Latvia. As part of Open Spirit, the biggest naval mine countermeasures operation in the Baltic countries, the Estonian minehunter has found 15 mine anchors and several other underwater items that are about to be inspected. The presence of mine anchors suggests that the said area has been trawled for mines at some point already.
Lithuanian, Estonian and Polish representatives of the defences forces visit Suwalki corridor
On 25 August, Lithuanian, Estonian and Polish chiefs of defence visited the so-called Suwalki corridor. During the meetings, different aspects of defence cooperation were discussed and an overview of the activities and readiness of the NATO battle groups deployed to Poland and Lithuania was introduced. The purpose of the visit was to obtain information about the defence and operational environment of the Suwalki corridor. Representatives of the defence forces of Poland and Lithuania presented to their Estonian counterparts their vision of the operational possibilities and risk factors when it comes to a possible military operation on that narrow strip of land in connection with defending the Baltic countries in the event of an attack by an aggressor.

 

THE BALTICS AND RUSSIA

Several Russian military aircraft detected near Latvian territory last week
On 26 August, several Russian military aircraft were spotted flying near the Latvian border. The NATO aircraft patrolling Baltic skies identified three Russian An-12 military aircraft. Furthermore, on 29 August, two Su-24 military aircraft of the Russian Armed Forces were spotted above the Baltic Sea near the external border of the Latvian territorial waters. In total Russian military aircraft and vessels were spotted 209 times near Latvian borders last year. The frequency of such events dropped sharply from a year before. The Latvian Defence Ministry said in mid-August that the increased activity of the Russian Armed Forces observed near the Latvian border recently was due to the preparations for the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise Zapad.

 

THE BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Zapad exercise scenario revealed
On 29 August, the Deputy Ministers of Defence from Russia and Belarus, Aleksander Fomin and Oleg Belokonev, respectively, released a portion of information about the upcoming Zapad exercise. While the numbers differ depending on the source, according to Saldziunas, defence correspondent for Delfi, up to 12.7 thousand troops will participate in the Zapad exercise, 7.2 thousand from Belarus and 5.5 thousand from Russia. 3,000 Russians are expected to participate in exercises in Belarus. 70 aircraft, 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems and 10 warships are also expected to participate in the exercise. However, experts have stressed that the real scale of the exercise in troops and equipment is far larger. The scenario for the exercise was also mentioned and will centre around a simulated international insurgency by separatist or otherwise militant groups, with outside support, intent on overthrowing the Belarusian government and sabotaging its alliance with Russia. Hostile forces are positioned on the Belarussian border. On one side there are the ‘Northerners’, whom the allied Belarus and Russia are a part of and on the other side there are the ‘Westerners’, a coalition of three made up states (however, they bear similarities to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland). The main cause of simulated conflict is the aim to destabilise conditions within Belarus and seek the decline of the allied countries. The Zapad exercise will be held on September 14-20.

NATO exercise Ramstein Dust II-17 to enhance air integration in the Baltic States and Poland
On 26 August, the NATO Allied Air Command exercise Ramstein Dust II-17 was initiated with Latvia as the host nation. During RADT-II 17 elements of the Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC) of NATO will be moved to Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, for a deployment and readiness exercise in order to train procedures and arrangements for setting up its remote control units outside the permanent base in Italy, as well as enhance air command integration of the Baltic States and Poland. The exercise will end on 6 October. On August 28, an A400M military transport aircraft of the British Royal Air Force brought about 100 DACCC personnel and equipment from Italy to the Lielvarde air base in central Latvia. Deployable Air Control Centre, Recognized Air Picture Production Centre and Sensor Fusion Post (DARS) was carried to Latvia for a deployment and readiness exercise in order to train procedures and arrangements for setting up its remote control units. The DARS will operate under the tactical command of CAOC Uedem in Germany, which routinely manages the NATO Air Policing mission over Northern Europe. The DARS contribution will be enhanced by the addition of an Italian Air Force TPS-77 deployable radar unit, which will also deploy to Latvia to act as a sensor in support of the DARS and to contribute to the Baltic recognized air picture. Four additional teams from the DACCC will deploy to the region as Air Integration Elements and training teams. These specialist teams will provide air command and control training at Control & Reporting Centre Karmelava (Lithuania) and with the Polish Air Operations Centre at Warsaw; and air-land integration training and liaison with the Baltic eFP battlegroups and with the Polish battlegroup.

 

LITHUANIA

US Army Europe commander visits Lithuania
On 31 August, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the US Army commander in Europe, came to Lithuania to discuss the security situation in the region. Hodges visited NATO’s multinational battalion stationed in Rukla, in central Lithuania. On 1 September, he went to Pabrade, a training area close to Vilnius where a company of American troops is deployed. He also met with President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Defence Minister and Lithuanian Chief of Defence, in Vilnius. Topics discussed during the visit included the region’s security situation, US support for security enhancement, further plans for the implementation of NATO’s deterrence measures in the region, and the deployment and military training of the Alliance’s enhanced Forwards Presence in Lithuania. After the meeting, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said that there is not much reason to trust the numbers given by Moscow about the scale of the exercise, as the numbers could have been artificially reduced by splitting the exercise into separate parts. That way Russia and Belarus can avoid having to give wider access to observers, as required by international rules. Hodges further suggest Russia to invite the media, think-tanks, parliamentarians and civic organisations to observer the exercise and see what it is about, so that public will not worry. He elaborates that this kind of transparency is what the NATO forces practise during exercises.

Second Lithuanian team returns from EU’s military operation in Mediterranean
On 30 August, a team of Lithuanian troops have returned from the EU-led operation Sophia aimed at curbing human and arms smuggling activity in the Mediterranean Sea. Lithuania’s second vessel boarding team has participated in the operation aboard the German Navy ship FGS Rhein since June.  The Lithuanians contributed to destroying boats used for transporting migrants and to rescuing migrants and providing them medical, psychological and other assistance. Lithuania plans to deploy its third vessel boarding team to the Mediterranean next year. The country has been taking part in Operation Sophia since 2015 and plans to continue contributing troops in 2018 and 2019. Two Lithuanian officers are currently serving with the command of the operation aboard the Italian Navy ship ITS San Giusto and one officer at the Sophia headquarters in Rome.

U.S. Rotational Forces Starting Deployment in Lithuania
The U.S troops – a new company of the U.S. Army rotational forces – are deploying in Lithuania to carry out joint training together with troops from Lithuania and other allies. On August 29 the troops of the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 1-91 CAV travelled by general roads to the General Silvestras Žukauskas Training Area in Pabradė from their home station in Germany. They crossed Poland and brought their armament and combat equipment: HUMVEEs, logistical trucks – approximately 30 pieces of equipment in total. The deployment of the U.S. company in Lithuania is scheduled to continue up to the middle of October. During their rotation, the U.S. troops will conduct situational training and live firing on their own as well as take part in joint exercises together with units of the Land Forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. At the beginning of October, the U.S. troops are planning to participate in the international exercise “Hunter” along with antitank units of Lithuania and other NATO states. The troops of the U.S Army have been rotating in Lithuania, other Baltic States and Poland since spring of 2014 as part of the U.S. Army Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Portuguese president meets with his country’s troops in Lithuania
On 29 August, the Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, met with Portuguese rotational troops stationed in Taurage, western Lithuania. He was accompanied by Lithuanian and Portuguese defence ministers and chiefs of defence. Some 100 Portuguese rotational troops with military equipment have been deployed to Lithuania for a four-month period of joint training and exercises with Lithuanian troops. The Portuguese contingent is stationed in the Grand Duke Kestutis Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Taurage and participates in national and international drills in Lithuania jointly with the battalion. Furthermore, Portugal has led the Alliance’s Baltic air-policing mission three times and two Portuguese servicemen are helping NATO Force Integration Unit in Vilnius to carry out its tasks. During his visit to Lithuania, Rebelo de Sousa also met with President Dalia Grybauskaitė, where they discussed EU’s energy security and responses to hybrid threats.

Lithuanian troops take part in international air force exercise in Czech Republic
On 28 August, troops from the Lithuanian Air Force’s Aviation Base are taking part in the Ample Strike international air force exercise hosted by the Czech Republic. Aircraft crews are training to carry out close air support tasks and integration of air-ground operations during the exercise, which is running from Aug. 27 to Sept. 9. The Lithuanian troops participate in the drills with L-39 light attack aircraft. The annual Ample Strike exercise this year involves around 300 participants from 17 NATO and partner countries and 1,000 Czech troops.
German and Lithuanian president’s visit German troops in Rukla
On 25 August, the Lithuanian and German presidents visited German military personnel stationed in Rukla, central Lithuanian. Some 450 German troops are leading NATO’s 1,000-strong multinational battalion in Lithuania. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that: “We are here, because we are aware of the fact that the security situation has changed in the last few years. It has become somewhat less predictable and it has become less safe, less secure”. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said that Germany is currently demonstrating leadership in ensuring the security of NATO’s eastern flank and the whole of the Alliance, which provides deference and deterrence at the same time.

 

LATVIA

Latvian ambassador: We shouldn’t exaggerate possible threats associated with Zapad 2017
On 31 August, Latvia’s next ambassador to Russia, Maris Riekstins, said that Latvia should not exaggerate the possible threats associated with the upcoming Zapad 2017 military exercises conducted by Russia and Belarus. The diplomat said that the organization of military exercises is nothing out of the ordinary, and that each country has the right to develop their military capabilities. Furthermore, he stated that these are not the first such exercises to take place near Baltic borders, and thus the possible threats should not be exaggerated. However, he did argue that one should continue to push for these exercises to be more transparent.

Latvian Foreign Minister warns of possible provocations during Zapad 2017
On 28 August, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that Latvia must be ready for possible provocations which at first glance might look as an accident during the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise Zapad 2017. He said that although the military exercise does not represent a direct threat to Latvia it can never be ruled out that different accidents can grow into a major crisis. He elaborates that the possible provocations could for example include aircraft that accidentally or intentionally stray into the Baltic air space, testing Latvia’s defence systems.

Latvian Foreign Minister on Zapad and Russia
On 25 August, at the annual meeting of the foreign ministers of the Baltic and Nordic countries, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that the main problem currently related to the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise Zapad 2017 is the absence of transparency. Therefore, a dialogue should be continued at the NATO-Russia Council. According to Rinkevics, the estimated scale and the scenario of the Zapad exercise near the Latvian border creates certain tension, but due to allied enhanced Forward Presence, the exercise is not perceived as a military threat. He also stressed that a firm stance should be maintained on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and allies in the Eastern Partnership countries should be supported. A dialogue with Russia should be pursued following a dual-track approach – credible deterrence and meaningful dialogue - so as to reduce risks and promote transparency.

U.S. Navy’s USS James Williams arrived at Riga port
On 25 August, U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS James Williams arrived at Riga port. The U.S. embassy in Riga said that the ship’s visit serves as an acknowledgment of the U.S.-Latvia cooperation, ensuring stability, security and welfare in not only the Baltic Sea region, but also the whole of Europe. On 25-28 August, the crew of the U.S. ship participated in several charity projects.

Poroshenko discusses cooperation with defence ministers of the Baltics and Montenegro
Last week, president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko discussed development of relations in the military-technical sphere with the defence ministers of the Baltic countries and Montenegro during a meeting in Kiev. According to the Ukrainian president’s press service, the sides “discussed a wide range of issues of development of relations in the military-technical sphere and strengthening the defence capabilities of our country in the face of countering Russian aggression.”

 

ESTONIA

Estonian Navy officer deployed to EU mission in Mediterranean
On 30 August, an officer of the Estonian Navy, Lt. Cdr. Janek Naur, started service as part of the EU Operation Sophia aimed at combating human trafficking in the Mediterranean. This is the first time that a member of the Estonian Defence Forces is performing the tasks of a staff officer of the operations field on an EU mission in the Mediterranean. Naur will also head the Estonian contingent at the operation, taking over the role from Maj. Juri Bachman.

Minister of Defence meets with Special Forces members in Ukraine
On the 25 August, Estonian Defence Minister Juri Luik met with members of the special operations forces of Estonia who are training members of a special operations regiment of Ukraine, as part of his trip to Ukraine. Luik said that the work of the members of the Estonian Special Operations Forces is highly appreciated in Ukraine, which was confirmed to him by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The Ukrainian head of state announced recently that a new and modern base for Ukraine’s special operations regiment will be set up at Kropivnitsky, which is also where the members of the Special Operations Forces of Estonia are training Ukrainian troops now. “During the one-and-a-half years that foreign partners have been training Ukrainian Special Operations Forces, preconditions have been created for a transition to NATO structures and procedures. This is very important, since progress in special operations forces serves as guidance for reforming also the other branches of the

Reconstruction of CV90 support vehicles to cost about 30 million euros
The Estonian Center for Defence Investment (ECDI) has, on the 29 August, announced a public procurement tender for a contract to rebuild the bodies of 37 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) bought from Norway for an estimated 30 million euros within a period of 31 months. The contractor must reconstruct 31 bodies of CV90 into about ten different configurations plus repair and maintain six such vehicles. In addition a life cycle support agreement for seven years to ensure maintenance and repair of the 37 vehicles and supply of spare parts for the equipment and systems installed as part of the reconstruction will be concluded with the winner of the tender. The Ministry of Defence last year bought 37 bodies of CV-90 from Norway that it intends to give to the Scouts Battalion after reconstruction to be used in different command and support functions. The bodies will be converted into auxiliary armoured vehicles of about ten different types: command posts, vehicles adapted to the needs of air defence, anti-tank warfare, combat engineers, reconnaissance and technicians, as well as evacuation vehicles. Some of the vehicles are to be transformed into carriers of 120 mm mortars, a mortar fire control center and mortar ammunition transporters.

Defence Minister: Estonia and NATO await greater transparency from Zapad exercise
On 25 August, Estonia’s Defence Minister Juri Luik said that Estonia and NATO are keeping a close eye on preparations for the Zapad joint military exercise of Russia and Belarus and await greater transparency from both. He further elaborated that Zapad 2017 and the additional exercises to be held parallel to it will be based on an anti-NATO attack scenario. In addition, Belarus has, under the principles of the Vienna document, invited two observers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Ukraine and Sweden each to take part in a program lasting from 16-20 September. The Estonian Defence Ministry says that no precise information has been provided about the portion of the exercise to be held in Russia. In earlier years NATO has on multiple occasions registered splitting of military exercises, non-reporting and underreporting of exercises by Russia. In addition, Russia has regularly been staging large-scale snap exercises which under international rules can be hold only by way of exception.

 

Newsletter was prepared by Anders Faarup Nielsen (intern, Tallinn), Jakob Greve Kromann (intern, Riga), Jacob Dalsgaard Pedersen and Leah Elizabeth Winther Hamborg (interns, Vilnius)