BALTICS AND RUSSIA
NATO military aircraft scrambled twice last week over Russian military aircraft
Last week, military aircraft conducting the NATO air-policing mission to guard the Baltic skies were last week scrambled twice over Russian warplanes flying in the international airspace, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Last Wednesday, the NATO military aircraft intercepted five Russian military aircraft – a transport airplane An-26 and four assault aircrafts Su-24 – flying together from the Russian Kaliningrad region to mainland Russia. The latter were flying without pre-filed flight plans, were not in contact with flight control centres and had their automatic transponders off. The transport airplane was following all rules.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Nearly 300 take part in training exercise of Estonian Artillery Battalion
Approximately 300 personnel are taking part in a tactical exercise of the Estonian Artillery Battalion titled Kiirtuli (Rapidfire) that is held from 3-9 April. The exercise is conducted at the army’s central training range and in West-Viru County, spokespeople for the 1st Infantry Battalion said. This is the first battalion exercise in interoperability for the Artillery Battalion this year, in the course of which personnel will prepare themselves for the Summer Shield exercise to take place in Latvia in mid-April. The exercise in Latvia will culminate in live-fire training using 155-millimeter artillery.
Estonian Navy to conduct MCM operation in Estonian waters
On 1 April, the Estonian Navy will start mine countermeasures (MCM) operation in Estonian waters in the course of which areas where mines have been laid during the past wars will be charted and checked, and identified explosive devices rendered harmless. The national MCM operation SRMT will take place mainly in the waters off Saaremaa Island and in the Bay of Tallinn. The head of the Navy’s diver group, 1st Ltn. Priit Kaasikmae, said that two teams from the diver group, in all ten personnel, will take part in the exercise. Weather permitting, located and identified mines and other explosive devices will be exploded during the operation. As a result of the actions of the Estonian Navy and international collaboration, more than 1,200 naval mines and other explosive devices have been located, identified and rendered harmless in Estonian waters in the past couple of decades.
Lithuania understands necessity of US air strikes in Syria
On 7 April, Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, said that Lithuania fully understands why the United States air strikes in Syria were necessary in response to chemical attacks. “We understand the necessity of the US actions and trust the information provided to us by the Allies,” the minister said. In his words, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, accused by the Western world of holding the deadly chemical attack in guerrilla-controlled territories, has crossed all possible limits. “Persuasion has certain limits, therefore, the actions are fully comprehensible. In this case, this was a targeted attack on the base from where the crime was launched,” said Linkevicius. By decision of US President Donald Trump, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian air base in early hours of Friday Lithuanian time. Washington believes the base was the origin of the chemical attack that killed dozens of people, including children. Syrian and Russian leaders have dismissed the US attack as aggression.
President Grybauskaite: Lithuania is ready to defend itself
On 3 April, President Dalia Grybauskaite said that Lithuania is ready to defend itself in the event of Russian aggression as she commented on the latest annual threat assessment report by the country’s intelligence services. The president also dismissed worries voiced by Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, that NATO’s plans “may not be as fast as we would want them to be” and that “additional NATO forces would not arrive at such speeds”. The State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department under the Ministry of Defence said in their annual threat assessment that Russia had built up military forces in its western part and in the exclave of Kaliningrad and would be able to launch combat activities against the Baltic states with 24 to 48 hours’ notice. “I don't comment on statements by individual Lithuanian ministers and politicians. We are ready to defend ourselves. We have defence plans in place. We have a rapid reaction force we have created ourselves and we are creating the third brigade for this purpose. We also have agreements on a bilateral basis,” Grybauskaite said. The president said that the level of threats in Lithuania had been unchanged in recent years. “The level of threats remains the same as it was last year and the year before last. We have a neighbour whose readiness to perform certain aggressive actions has always been at that level. Nothing has changed. There’s nothing new here,” Grybauskaite said. “And Lithuania is ready to defend itself. In the wake of the occupation of Crimea, we have ourselves developed a rapid reaction force that is able to respond within an hour if there is a threat to our territory,” she added.
Russia seeks infiltration of young men with dual citizenship as Lithuanian recruits
On 3 April, the annual assessment of national security threats in Lithuania was published. The report suggested that Russia is searching for ways of infiltrating young men holding dual citizenship of Lithuania and Russia in Lithuania’s Armed Forces through compulsory initial military service. Colonel Remigijus Baltrenas, director of the Second Investigations Department under the Ministry of Defence, said that such attempts were reported, however, he did not specify the number of established attempts. Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, noted that recruits were being screened, adding that infiltration actually does not work out. “I do not want to talk about numbers, however, the military intelligence is doing a good job, potential recruits are being screen, there is a filter,” said Karoblis. In 2015, Lithuania reintroduced the conscription scheme in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the Baltic Sea region. About 3,000-3,500 young people between ages of 19 and 26 are recruited on an annual basis.
Lithuanian intelligence warns over provocations during Russia-Belarus war games
On 3 April, Lithuania’s intelligence warned about possible provocations held in conjunction with the Russia-Belarus war games Zapad 2017 which will take place close to Lithuania’s borders in September. “The well-developed levers of Russian influence in Belarus, the possibility of provocations or premeditated incidents on the Lithuanian and Polish border cannot be ruled out during the Zapad 2017 military training,” reads the annual report of security threats published by the State Security Department and the Second Investigations Department under the Ministry of Defence. According to the document, Russia’s aggressive foreign policies, active build-up of military capacities at its borders and active intelligence operations remain the key threat for Lithuania. Belarus’ defence minister recently said that Zapad 2017 will take place from 14-20 September and will involve 13,000 troops. Lithuania’s intelligence said that “it is very likely that the actual number of participants of the exercise will be bigger, and the training scenario includes an armed conflict with NATO.” The report also states, that Russia is now able to engage in combat actions against the Baltic States within 24-48 hours. “It is the Russian time of military preparations, these are Russia’s technical and organizational capacities, and we have to respond in the national and the NATO context. Speaking about specific measures, we have response forces that are activated instantly. NATO is also aware of the NATO time of preparations, relevant plans are also in place, they may not be as fast as we would want them to be but additional NATO forces would arrive,” said Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis. According to the security report, Russia will shortly station Iskander missiles in the region as part of planned rearmament, “depicting the step as an alleged response to NATO actions.” Up until now, Iskander were brought to Kaliningrad for training and later transported out of the Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland.
Defence budget crucial amid Russian threats - Lithuanian Foreign Minister at NATO meeting
On 31 March, Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, spoke at the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brussels, where he emphasized the importance of stepping up defense in the face of the challenges posed by Russia. “The Lithuanian commitment of earmarking more than 2 percent of the GDP to defence as early as next year is firm and supported by all political parties,” said Linkevicius. In his words, the experience is that no NATO member is safe against cyber-attacks, misinformation campaigns or military provocations, therefore, countries should invest more in their defence and focus on the most vulnerable points. The minister brought to attention the aggressive Russian activities in the Baltic Sea region: Militarization of the Russian Kaliningrad region wedged between Lithuania and Poland, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, as well as the large-scale Zapad 2017 war games aimed against NATO. He also thanked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is attending the meeting of ministers for the first time, for his determination to consolidate the trans-Atlantic connections and solid US commitment to the principle of collective defence. At the same time, Linkevicius emphasized the need to preserve the firm unity of the trans-Atlantic community and send a unified message in conversations with Russia. “In the face of the continued aggression against Ukraine, the usual NATO-Russia cooperation remains suspended. However, after leaders decided in Warsaw to keep the communication channels open, they should be used for demanding that Russia withdraws from Ukraine and raising questions about the dangerous military activities next to NATO borders,” said Linkevicius.
Slovakian reinforcements arrive in Latvia
On 5 April, around 150 troops and an impressive array of military hardware arrived in Latvia from Slovakia in the latest reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Vehicles from Slovakia include the BMP-2 fighting vehicles of the 13th mechanized battalion Levice. The mechanized infantry company of the Slovak Armed Forces is deployed in Latvia following the NATO Warsaw Summit decision on military engagement of Visegrad Group to help to strengthen the security of the Baltic region. During their three-month rotational period in Latvia, the Slovakian Armed Forces will participate in several training exercises including “Summer Shield XIV” and “Saber Strike 2017”. Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis and Chief of Defence Major General Leonids Kalnins will participate in the official welcome ceremony of the Slovak mechanized infantry company in Camp Ādaži on March 7.
Presidents of Latvia and Ukraine call for continued sanctions on Russia
On 4 April, the Ukrainian President and his wife arrived in Latvia at the invitation from Latvian President, Vejonis. In a joint statement released to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the two presidents stated, that the sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine must continue until full implementation of the Minsk agreements and restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Ukrainian president thanked Vejonis for Latvia’s support for Ukraine’s independence and reforms, as well as its unwavering position in not recognizing the annexation of Crimea. Both presidents took part in a ceremony to sign bilateral agreements, and laid flowers by the Freedom Monument, which dozens of people gathered to watch. During the visit in Latvia, Poroshenko also met with Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and had a working lunch with parliament speaker Inara Murniece.
Latvia signs MoU on European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats
On 4 April, the Latvian government approved the draft regulations required for the Foreign Ministry to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats on 11 April in Helsinki. The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats is to be created on the initiative of the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and Finland suggested that the Center should be established in Helsinki with participation of the EU and NATO member states. The Latvian Foreign Ministry said that the participation in the centre’s activities would help Latvia to deal with hybrid threats also on the national level. Identification and analysis of hybrid threats is a key element in fighting the phenomenon. For this purpose, international cooperation must be stepped up.
Sending off ceremony for soldiers participating in Mali mission
On 4 April, National Armed Forces Commander Leonids Kalnins participated in a sending off ceremony for Latvian soldiers participating in the European Union Training Mission in Mali. According to tradition, the Latvian soldiers were given a Latvian flag and loaf of rye-bread. The objective of the soldiers will be to train soldiers of the Mali armed forces. The EU Training Mission in Mali is aimed at improving the capability of the Mali armed forces and to help renew the country’s territorial integrity. Latvian soldiers do not participate in battle operation in the country.
Bergmanis: Latvia has taken huge steps forward in military development
On 3 April, Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said that in view of global geopolitical transformations, Latvia’s resolve to improve its military development has yielded good results, as Latvia has taken huge steps forward by implementing a number of projects. The Defence Minister named the armed forces’ mechanization projects as the most important achievement, as they have provided the Latvian military with the necessary armoured vehicles, as well as the acquisition of air-defence systems. Asked why it is necessary for Latvia to develop its armed forces in the absence of serious military threats, Bergmanis said that Latvia and the rest of the world have to learn from the example of Georgia and Crimea, although at the same time everything has to be done to avoid tensions.
Rinkevics: European NATO members should increase their defence expenditure
On 31 March, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics took part in the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels. Rinkevics thanked the allies for sending their troops to the Baltic States and Poland, which is a visible demonstration of NATO solidarity. Rinkevics emphasized that the upcoming NATO Summit should send a clear message about the strong bond between Europe and North America. It is vital for Europe to meet its commitments made at the Wales Summit concerning fair burden-sharing among the allies. Rinkevics drew the participants’ attention to the issues of cyber security and strategic communication as being instrumental in promoting security and noted that it is vital to continue adaptation to changes in the security environment.
Swedish Defence Minister meets with Bergmanis in Latvia
On 31 March, the Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist arrived on a visit to Latvia and met with Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis to discuss regional security situation, and Latvian-Swedish bilateral cooperation in defence. Hultqvist stated, that Sweden should adapt to the new security situation. It will remain outside NATO but will continue to cooperate with the alliance. We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in joint exercises, share information and develop our military capabilities, said Hultqvist. He confirmed that Sweden will take on more responsibility about the situation in the region. Hultqvist also met with Janis Sarts, the head of the Riga-based NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence. He said that engagement in cyber security issues is also a significant step to ensure security in the region.
Head of EU Military Committee supports Estonian EU presidency goals
Head of the EU Military Committee, Gen. Mikhail Kostarakos, who started a two-day visit to Estonia on 6 April, expressed his appreciation for the commitment of the Estonian defence forces and the authorities to the development of national defence and said that he supports Estonia in attaining the goals of the forthcoming Estonian EU presidency. “I received an overview of the security situation in the region as well as the relations with Russia. I would like to emphasize our solidarity and closeness with Estonia on these subjects,” Kostarakos said. During a meeting with the commander of the Estonian defence forces, Gen. Riho Terras, transatlantic relations and the situation in the EU when it comes to terrorism were discussed, in addition to matters of regional security. During his visit, the EU military chief is scheduled to meet with President Kersti Kaljulaid, Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna, Secretary General of the Defence Ministry Jonatan Vseviov and the Estonian vice minister for EU affairs, Matti Maasikas.
BAE Systems to provide CV90 vehicle support to Estonian defence forces
On 6 April, the international defence, aerospace and security solutions contractor BAE Systems and the Estonian government have signed contracts to maintain and sustain the country’s fleet of CV9035 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). The long-term agreements cover configuration management for new IFV capabilities, as well as maintenance, repairs, and spare parts. The contracts between the Estonian Center for Defence Investment (ECDI) and BAE Systems cover 44 CV9035 vehicles acquired from the Netherlands in 2014. The CV9035 is powered by a 600 kilowatt Scania V8 diesel engine and armed with a 35 mm Bushmaster III gun having an effective range of up to two kilometres. By the end of March, 12 units of the IFVs bought by Estonia from the Netherlands under a contract signed at the end of 2014 had been delivered. The 113 million euro procurement contract signed in 2014 also covers the procurement of six support vehicles built on the chassis of the Leopard 1 tank from the Netherlands.
Last batch of UK, French soldiers to arrive in Estonia on 5 April
On 5 April, planes with more than 220 British personnel and more than 130 French personnel joining the NATO battle group in Estonia landed at the Amari air base. “The defence of Paris, London and Copenhagen starts from Narva. The presence of allies is necessary for ensuring the security of all of NATO, the relationship of allies is based on mutual support,” Estonian Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna said welcoming the French personnel. On the same day, the last batch of the equipment of the British contingent arrived at the port of Paldiski in north-western Estonia. The more than 200 units of British hardware to arrive at Paldiski will include Warrior infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and Bulldog armoured personnel carriers. The personnel and the equipment will be transferred to the compound of the 1st Infantry Brigade at Tapa. The transfer of hardware from Paldiski to Tapa will continue until 8 April. The 1,200-strong NATO battle group being deployed to Estonia will have British and French tanks and IFVs, as well as British self-propelled guns among its equipment. French troops will serve in the group for the next eight months, after which they will be replaced by Danish military. The British contingent to eventually consist of 800 personnel will be armed with Challenger 2 tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and AS90 self-propelled artillery.
Estonia: Maj.-Gen. Saar to advise Ukraine on defence technology
On 3 April, Estonian Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna appointed retired Maj. Gen. Valeri Saar as special representative of the Ministry of Defence and the Estonian defence forces to Ukraine on defence technology and defence innovation. “The main duty of General Saar will be to ensure the success of cooperation between the defence sectors of our two countries through the establishment of personal contacts and communicating the successes of the Estonian defence industry,” the minister said. Saar, who attended the Zhytomyr College of Air Defence Electronics in Ukraine in his youth, will now work toward intensifying ties between the domains of national defence and defence industry of the two countries to support the modernization of the Ukrainian defence sector. He will also work to support the development of defence technology know-how and cooperation in cyber defence. In his capacity as special representative, Saar will not reside in Ukraine but will continue working as adviser to the commander of the defence forces. Saar started service in the defence forces of Estonia when the defence forces were re-established. He was commander of the Air Force from 2007-2012 and Estonia’s military representative to NATO and the EU from 2012-2016, after which he retired. Saar attended the college of air defence electronics in Zhytomyr, Ukraine in 1972-1976.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)