Stoltenberg: NATO doing much more than sending battle groups
On 9 March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that while stationing allied battle groups in the Baltic countries and Poland is an important element, NATO is doing much more to create credible deterrence in the region. “I think it’s important to remember that battle groups is not the only thing that NATO does,” Stoltenberg said in his response to a question from on whether the battle groups might not be enough to protect the Baltic countries and Poland and the alliance should take additional security measures in the region ahead of the Zapad 2017 large scale military exercise of Russia. “We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force so we can reinforce if needed, and part of that is that we have established a new Spearhead Force where the lead elements are able to move in within a couple of days. So we can, if needed, reinforce the Baltic countries, Poland and other parts of the alliance quickly. We have also established eight new small headquarters in the Baltic countries and some other countries in the eastern parts of the alliance, which are important to link the national forces with NATO forces,” he said. NATO is also increasing its investments in infrastructure and there will be more prepositioned supplies and equipment in the eastern part of the alliance. “So we are doing much more than only the four battle groups, which are a very important element, but only one element,” the secretary general said. “Let me add that for NATO it is important that we respond in a measured and proportionate way. What we do is defensive, we don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t seek confrontation with Russia and we don’t want a new arms race. And that’s exactly why we are looking for a balance between sending a clear signal of NATO solidarity, providing credible deterrence with international presence, and at the same time being proportionate and measured to avoid escalating international tensions,” Stoltenberg said.
Baltic States not among top 10 interests of new US administration
On 3 March, US defence expert, Samuel Gardiner, said, that the security of the Baltic States is not among the top 10 issues on the agenda of the new US presidential administration. “The Baltic states have a reason to be concerned about what’s unfolding in Washington,” Gardiner said. Gardiner and other security experts are attending an international conference on the resistance of the public of the Baltic region against hybrid threats. In his words, scientists have established that decision-makers could focus on ten issues at the most at a time. In Gardiner’s words, US President Donald Trump’s administration cares more about the situation in the Middle East, the developments in North Korea and the relations with Mexico. Doctor Michael Carpenter, director of the Diplomacy and International Relations Center at the Pennsylvania University, also noted at the news conference that the new US presidential administration was sending ambiguous messages. “On the one hand, we hear Mr. Trump saying that NATO is obsolete, we hear his desire to cosy up to Vladimir Putin (…) but at the same time we have his very own secretary of defence say that he understands that Russia is trying to break NATO apart, that NATO is essential and that we need to continue to strengthen the Alliance,” said Carpenter.
BALTICS AND RUSSIA
Eastern European diplomats appeal for US help against Russia
On 7 March, diplomats from six Eastern European countries appealed to US senators to help them stand up against interference from Russia, including cyber-attacks, and insisted that sanctions imposed on Moscow should not be lifted anytime soon. The foreign minister of Ukraine as well as the ambassadors to Washington from Poland, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia appeared at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Russian activity in their countries. “Until Russia gets off Ukrainian land, there should be no easing up of sanctions. If anything, they should be increased,” said Ukraine's Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin. Other diplomats agreed, describing efforts within their countries and others to lessen their dependence on Russian natural gas for their energy needs. “We really think about diversification,” said Piotr Wilczek, Poland’s ambassador to Washington. Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing the State Department and foreign aid, called the hearing amid concerns that President Donald Trump might not stand up to Moscow, including talk that he might lift sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea. Graham signalled that he supported continued aid, calling it important to US security. “The safer you are, the safer we will be,” Graham said.
Trump has frequently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for improved relations with Moscow while Graham has been one of the most vocal congressional critics of such statements. Graham said he wanted a better relationship with Russia, but that would not happen until Russia changed. He spoke shortly after having lunch with Trump, and told the diplomats he expected the new president would be a good ally. Several members of the subcommittee asked which type of assistance was most useful. The diplomats said military assistance, including defensive weapons. In January, the US began its largest military reinforcement of Europe in decades, when 2,700 troops arrived in Poland. The diplomats described Russia’s behaviour as “hybrid warfare,” combining cyber-attacks and propaganda with the threat or use of force.
Russia accuses US troops in Baltics and Poland of actions with ‘clear anti-Russian focus’
On March 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the US troops stationed in the Baltic countries and Poland of participating in “dubious” actions it described as a propaganda campaign with a clear anti-Russian focus. “It could not escape us that the US troops which recently arrived in Poland and the Baltic states have already managed to mark themselves by participating in ‘historical actions’ with a clear anti-Russian focus,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said. “It would be better if, rather than participating in such propaganda campaigns, the Americans found the opportunity to honour the memory of their allies in the anti-Hitler coalition who fell for to save Europe from the brown plague,” she said.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Latvia participates in military exercises in Germany with 500 soldiers and equipment
From 8-31 March, the U.S. led Allied Spirit VI military exercises will be held in Germany, where approximately 500 Latvian soldiers and 130 military equipment units will participate in. This is the largest ever involvement of the National Armed Forces in a foreign military exercise. The aim of the exercise is to improve the ability of allied forces to plan and conduct high intensity military operations in a multi-national environment.
Lithuania to increase its contribution to EU operations
On 6 March, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said that Lithuania will increase its contribution to the EU’s military operations and missions. Lithuania currently participates in three of the EU’s five operations and missions; the country has contributed a total of around ten troops to the Atalanta and Sophia operations and a training mission in Mali. The EU also conducts training missions in Somali and the Central African Republic. The EU ministers decided on Monday to establish a military headquarters to coordinate these operations. The missions will continue to have their own command centres. “Lithuania supports the European Union’s security enhancement initiatives, but to ensure their implementation, the EU has to strengthen cooperation with NATO and seek operational synergies with the Alliance,” Karoblis said.
Troops of German-led NATO battalion open training in Lithuania
On 9 March, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said that after arrival of the troops and equipment of the main contingent of the German-led NATO battalion, the first exercise took place in the first week of March, where German soldiers took part in a combat firing exercise in training grounds in Kazlu Ruda, southern Lithuania. Over 400 German troops are currently stationed in Lithuania along with 100 Belgian troops and about 20 soldiers from the Netherlands. The main Dutch contingent with equipment is due to arrive in Lithuania in the end of this month before Norwegian troops join the combat group in May. Various combat equipment has been brought to Lithuania, including tanks and armoured vehicles. The NATO battalion is stationed in Rukla. Similar units headed by other countries are also being deployed in other Baltic countries and Poland in what NATO says is response to Russian actions in Ukraine.
Latvian company Atlas Aerospace develops reconnaissance drone
On 9 March, the Latvian company Atlas Aerospace unveiled a new product line – small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones Atlas Pro that can be used for reconnaissance purposes. The Atlas Pro drones will initially be launched on the US market. Atlas Pro might be used to make intelligence services’ work more effective. The drone can fly for more than an hour, which means that its flight time is three times longer than that of UAVs made for amateur use, and its maximum range is 50 kilometres. “This is a specialized drone, enabling police or border guards, for instance, to cover larger territories using less human resources,” said Tolcinskijs, head of Atlas Aerospace.
Latvian army expects 800 new recruits this year
On 8 March, a total 52 new recruits joined the army at the Infantry School in Alūksne. Latvia plans on recruiting more than 800 new soldiers to its professional army in 2017. Part of the new recruits were previously civilians while about 30 had served as Youth Guards or Home Guards. “It has interested me since I’ve been a teenager. I was a Youth Guard for seven years, as I’m a true Latvian patriot,” said Jēkabs Olafs Rukmans, one of the new recruits.
Fence stretching several dozen km to be erected on Latvia-Belarus border
On 8 March, it was announced that a fence stretching several dozen kilometres will be erected on the Latvia-Belarus border. The fence will be constructed in areas where it would be the most effective in deterring illegal border crossers, as the purpose is to better combat the crossing of illegal immigrants into the country and other offenders. In view of the growing number of attempts by illegal immigrants to cross the border into Latvia, its eastern borders with Russia and Belarus need to be reinforced and the capacity of the State Border Guard has to be increased as well, Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said, adding that the measures that have to be implemented by 2020 would cost around EUR 80 million. Latvia has already built the first 23-kilometer stretch of a fence on the border with Russia.
NATO to invest approximately EUR 71 million in Latvia’s defence by 2021
On 7 March, The Defence Ministry announced that NATO plans to invest EUR 71 million by 2021 in various projects in Latvia. These funds will be spent on improving and developing the infrastructure of the National Armed Forces and help provide for allies deployed in the country. The funds will be invested in the development of a wide range of military infrastructure, including shooting ranges and training grounds. Supply and logistics infrastructure will also be developed, as well as accommodation.
Defence Minister, Bergmanis, on a working visit to Israel
On 5-7 March, the Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, was on a working visit to Israel. During the visit, Bergmanis met with Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to discuss global and regional security challenges, matters related to cyber security, as well as strengthening defence and military cooperation. Bergmanis also visited several military bases. Since Israel is one of the world’s cybersecurity leaders, the talks revolved around this topic. Bergmanis said that Latvia and Israel share the same perspective on cybersecurity’s growing importance for countries’ defence and the necessity to develop this area as soon and pre-emptively as possible. Bergmanis stated further, that Israel had admirable experience in building the national defence system and this visit would give him food for thought upon his return to Latvia. “We obtained lots of information during the visit that we will take home to Latvia and give to the National Armed Forces for the military experts to study” said Bergmanis. The Israeli minister underscored that one of the directions for Israel is strengthening bilateral relations with the Baltic States and the EU in general.
Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project poses threat on several levels
On 3 March, Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevics, said, that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project threatens the plan of the European Energy Union and can be called a threat to security on many levels. Nord Stream 2 poses possible threat to the environment, it is not known whether any terrorists might choose to harm this project - this risk might make the Russian military forces claim the rights to protect the pipeline, said Rinkevics. The project also causes further problems in relation to the situation in Ukraine, and Latvia may only voice regret that some member states do not see the whole picture in this respect.
The presence of Russian navy ships not far from Latvian territorial waters
On 3 March, Latvia’s armed forces recorded the presence of the training ship “Smolny” and a Steregushchiy class frigate. They were both recorded inside Latvia’s exclusive economic zone but 14.5 and 10 nautical miles respectively from the sea border.
Estonian, Finnish defence chiefs discuss artillery procurement
On 8 March, the commanders of the defence forces of Estonia and Finland, Gen. Riho Terras and Gen. Jarmo Lindberg, spoke about cooperation between the two countries, focusing on the procurement of K9 self-propelled artillery. Terras told that the possible procurement and cooperation related to it were the central topics at the meeting with Gen. Lindberg. Finland recently signed an agreement on the purchase of K9 self-propelled artillery. Estonia meanwhile has signed a letter of intent with South Korea that lays the groundwork for starting negotiations on the procurement of the howitzers, Terras said. In addition, also Norway is interested in these weapons. “We found that if Norway too decides to adopt K9 self-propelled artillery into its weaponry, a group of users of that weapons system will emerge in our region. This would enable us to conduct training together, for instance, and to work together to reduce the life cycle costs of the weapons system,” Terras said. The Estonian defence chief said that while also maintenance of the self-propelled artillery could be done together, Estonia wishes to keep a part of the maintenance operations in Estonia. Other topics talked about by the commanders of the defence forces included the Baltic Defence College and cooperation of the two countries in the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon. Terras and the head of South Korea’s military procurement agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February in Seoul that prepares the ground for negotiations to procure South Korean made K9 Thunder self-propelled 155 mm howitzers. The self-propelled guns will replace the towable 155 mm howitzers used until now by the Artillery Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade. Estonia plans to buy from South Korea at least 12 units of such howitzers. K9 Thunder is manufactured by the South Korean defence contractor Hanwha Techwin. With a weight of 47 tons, the gun can develop a speed of up to 65 kilometres per hour and its maximum range of fire is 40 kilometres. The howitzer is operated by a crew of five. Under current plans the howitzers would be delivered in 2021.
Estonian foreign minister and Netanyahu discuss Mideast peace process, future of EU
On 8 March, Estonian Foreign Minister, Sven Mikser, and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed the Middle East peace process, future of the European Union, cooperation between the two countries, and security issues during their meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Netanyahu said that Israel and Estonia are good friends with a similar understanding of matters such as democracy, economic freedom, and technology. Mikser said that ranking both among the five most digitally capable nations globally, Israel and Estonia have experiences they can share between them to maintain their role as leaders in the cyber domain. The ministers also discussed the security situation in the Middle East and the state of the peace process. “Estonia believes that enduring peace will be ensured only by a two state solution agreed in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Peace cannot be imposed on the parties from outside - its conditions must be agreed by the parties themselves,” Mikser said. Mikser also met on Wednesday with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, speaker of the parliament, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, and MPs Tzipi Livni and Yaakov Perry. Israel and Estonia are both members of Digital 5, a global network of some of the most digitally advanced governments in the world that was launched in December 2014 by the United Kingdom, Estonia, Israel, South Korea, and New Zealand. The aim of the D5 network is to share good practices and experience of building a digital government and economy.
Estonian Minister of Defence stresses importance of independent defence capability
On 6 March, Estonian Minister of Defence, Margus Tsahkna, who attended a joint meeting of European Union foreign and defence ministers in Brussels, emphasized that the EU will be strong if all member states invest sufficiently in independent national defence. “To give real content to our security cooperation goals, we must dedicate sufficient resources to national defence as EU member states,” Tsahkna said. “The EU will have credibility as a global contributor only if each member state is committed to national security and defence and uses adequate resources for this.” A strong Europe is founded on the unity and solidarity of allied countries, Tsahkna said. “Estonia supports European defence cooperation, which involves and benefits all member states,” he said. “In addition to strengthening defence cooperation within the EU, we have to move forward with the EU-NATO strategic cooperation so as to ensure mutually complementary uniform collaboration.” The defence and foreign ministers approved plans to improve the command capability of the EU’s civilian and military training and advisory missions. As soon as this spring, a Military Planning Conduct and Capability facility will be established. The main task of 30 or so staff will be to analyse and plan operations as well as organize troop building.
German military aircraft to practice low-altitude flights on two days this week
On 7 and 9 March, German Eurofighter military aircraft stationed at the Amari air base in north-western Estonia as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission performed low-altitude training flights in Estonian airspace. The German aircraft flew over areas designated for low-level flights at altitudes not lower than 152 meters or 500 feet and preferably not over inhabited areas, spokespeople for the Estonian defence headquarters said. The German contingent took over the responsibility for guarding Baltic skies out of the Amari air base on 31 August last year. Baltic air policing duties are being simultaneously performed out of the Siauliai air base in Lithuania by a Dutch unit using F-16 fighter jets, which began their rotation on the Baltic air policing mission on 5 January.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)