Baltic leaders plan to meet with new US vice president in Munich in February
Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian leaders plan to meet with new US Vice President Mike Pence in Munich in February during the Munich Security Conference to be held from February 17-19. Amid tensions over the security threat posed by Russia, countries in the Baltic Sea region seek assurances from the new US administration regarding its defence commitments. These countries were worried by US President Donald Trump’s statements that NATO is “obsolete” and that he would look at whether US allies in the Alliance were fulfilling their obligations before deciding whether to come to their defence.
NATO military aircraft enjoy calm week in Baltic States
The past week was calm for the NATO air-policing military aircraft guarding the Baltic skies. The military aircraft were not scrambled to intercept any Russian military aircraft flying above the Baltic Sea. The NATO air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
Baltic presidents meet with German counterpart in Riga
On 9 February, the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian heads of state held a trilateral meeting and a joint meeting with the German President in Riga. Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid discussed international cooperation and security. The German President, Joachim Gauck, confirmed that Germany is and will always be on the side of the Baltics. Gauck expressed on several occasions that Germany supports the measures aimed at strengthening the defence of the Baltics. “Our solidarity does not stop at just words. Together we must counter Russia's disinformation campaign,” he said.
BALTICS AND RUSSIA
Russia inciting tensions between communities in Baltics
The Kremlin wants to introduce tensions into the relations between the Baltics’ titular people and the Russian-speaking communities and stop the latter from integrating into local communities, it is written in the annual overview of the Estonian Information Board (EIB). “Russia is consistently sending the message that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not honour the rights of Russian-speaking inhabitants, and claim that they falsify history. Russia wants the Baltics to be perceived in the West and by international organisations as undemocratic, problematic partners, so as to weaken their relations with their allies and reduce their international role in shaping policy on Russia,” it is written in the overview.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Zapad 2017 will be biggest-ever exercise at Lithuanian borders
The Zapad 2017 exercise to take place in Russia and Belarus later this year will be the biggest-ever military war games next to Lithuanian borders, said Vytautas Bakas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee. Lithuania’s military intelligence has precise data about the planned scope of the exercise, however, in his words, the figures are classified. The politician added that the character of Zapad 2017 would be assault. ”Without doubt, Russia’s political elite does not only design the exercises next to our borders to have their troops stretch their muscles. They design scenarios of invasion into the Baltic states,” said Bakas.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite said that the Zapad 2017 exercise planned by Russia and Belarus for this year is a demonstration of their preparations for warfare with the West. “We see that threats can be different, they escalate, we’re worried about the Zapad 2017 training that will concentrate extremely large and aggressive forces, clearly there are preparations for warfare with the West,” Grybauskaite said.
Red Knight exercise brings together 350 military from four countries
Nearly 350 military from four countries are participating in the command post exercise Red Knight that began in Estonia. Participating in the Red Knight exercise that started at the Tapa compound of the Estonian defence forces are 350 officers, NCOs and soldiers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark. Red Knight is part of the training cycle of the Danish Division which will continue with the Saber Knight exercise scheduled to take place in Estonia in the summer. The purpose of the exercise is to practice planning and synchronizing military operations in a multinational environment.
Trump congratulates Lithuania
US President Donald Trump has congratulated Lithuania on the upcoming independence anniversary, thanking for its support to Ukraine and commending for the growing defence spending. In a letter to Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite, Trump defined Lithuania as a leader in promoting democracy and strengthening the trans-Atlantic community. “Lithuania is a valued NATO Ally that leads by example through your commitment to our shared defence, as evidenced by increasing your defence spending to achieve NATO’s agreed benchmark,” said Trump. The new US president has repeatedly and strongly criticized NATO Allies in Europe for underfunding their defence sectors. Lithuania's government intends to reach the 2 percent of the GDP, which is required by NATO, in 2018. In his letter, Trump also applauded Lithuania’s support in Afghanistan and efforts against the Islamic State group. “Lithuania’s contribution to joint efforts in Afghanistan and to countering ISIS further demonstrate its commitment to advancing global security,” said Trump. Some 21 Lithuanian troops serve in the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, in addition to six Lithuanian military instructors serving in an operation in Iraq.
US tanks brought to Lithuania
On 10 February, Ten tanks of the United States Armed Forces arrived in Lithuania in an effort to deter Russia and demonstrate the US commitment to NATO’s collective defence. This is not the first time US troops bring along tanks for war games, however, this time the number will be bigger than ever since the start of the stationing of rotational troops in 2014. Other equipment transported to the Gaiziunai station in the Jonava district, central Lithuania, includes five Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, cross-country vehicles and trucks. All of the equipment will be used by a company of US troops consisting of about 120 soldiers. US land troops were first sent to Lithuania in the spring of 2014 in response to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and have been rotating ever since.
Lithuania formally welcomes NATO battalion
On 7 February, Lithuania formally welcomed troops of NATO’s eFP battalion that is being deployed to the country in response to Russia’s threat. “Never before has Lithuania hosted forces of such size and integrity. This sends a very clear and important message to all that NATO stands strong and united,” President Dalia Grybauskaite said. In the president’s words, the biggest threat today lies in the “aggressive militarization” of the Russian Kaliningrad region and the large-scale war games planned for this year. German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that “never again will the freedom and the independence (of Lithuania) be sacrificed”, referring to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.
The German-led battalion is one of four such military units along NATO’s eastern flank. The three other battalions of around 1,000 troops each will be stationed in Poland, Latvia and Estonia. 130 out of 450 German troops have arrived so far. Belgian and Dutch troops are joining them, with forces from Luxembourg, Norway, France and Croatia to come later. Several hundred US troops will also be deployed to Lithuania this year in a separate mission. The forces are arriving amid concerns high in the region over US President Donald Trump’s policies. Germany’s von der Leyen said she had been assured by US Secretary of Defence James Mattis about Washington’s continued commitment to NATO.
Six Lithuanian military instructors begin service in Iraq
On 7 February, six Lithuanian military instructors began service in Iraq as part of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve to train Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State. The group of Lithuanian instructors is assigned to the Danish contingent along with Latvian and Estonian troops. The Lithuanian soldiers will train Iraqi security forces, but will not perform combat tasks. More than 30 Lithuanian troops are currently taking part in international operations in Afghanistan, Mali, the Mediterranean Sea and Kosovo.
New Russian Defence Attaché accredited to Lithuania
On 6 February, Russia's new Defence Attaché, Captain 1st Rank Vitaly Timofeyev, was accredited to Lithuania. At the moment both Lithuania and NATO carry out no practical cooperation with Russia. It has been suspended as a response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. In spring 2014 Russia unilaterally suspended additional security and confidence building measures pursued until then on the basis of a bilateral Lithuanian-Russian agreement.
US warship USS Hue City arrives in Klaipeda, Lithuania
On 6 February, USS Hue City guided-missile cruiser of the United States Navy arrived in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda and docked in the port. “The main objective of the visit is to strengthen ties with Lithuania and other NATO Allies, as well as ensure peace and stability in the Baltic region,” the US Embassy to Lithuania said.
Minister R. Karoblis met with foreign defence attachés accredited to Lithuania
On 3 February, Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis met with foreign defence attachés accredited to Lithuania. At the meeting the Minister presented pressing security and defence points, presented and discussed national defence budget for 2017, and addressed other key security and defence matters. “Security situation in the region is shifting, therefore next year are likely to bring a number of challenges. Regardless of that, I am certain that Lithuania and its allies are ready to respond appropriately and to solve emerging security and defence issues,” R. Karoblis said. The meeting was attended by defence attachés and representatives of diplomatic institutions from 18 countries.
15 Abrams arrive in Latvia this week to help strengthen security
On 8 and 9 February, the United States deploys 15 Abrams tanks and six Bradley armoured vehicles to Latvia with the aim of strengthening Latvia's security.
Defence Ministry of Latvia does not back creation of joint Baltic brigade
On 8 February, the Latvian Parliament subcommittee held a meeting which focused on the Baltic States’ defence cooperation. The Latvian Defence Ministry stated that at this point it tends not to support the creation of a joint Baltic armed forces brigade that would consist of several thousand troops. Defence Ministry official, Edvards Seliska, said that in daily life cooperation among the Baltic states’ land forces can be understood as formation of a joint force, but that this does not mean that each country has to contribute a battalion, which would be quite costly, but that discussions are currently taking place about the creation of a joint command unit that would include officers from the three Baltic states.
The Latvian Parliament committee supports bill on defence cooperation between Latvia and the US and endorses ratification of EU-Canada SPA
On 8 February, the Latvian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee supported in principle an intergovernmental agreement providing for defence cooperation between Latvia and the US. The new agreement between Latvia and the U.S. will supplement the provisions of the NATO Status of Forces Agreement in line with current requirements and set the conditions for US soldiers’ presence in Latvian territory. US officials have said earlier that the US would ensure its military presence in Latvia as long as it is necessary.
The Latvian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee also approved in principle the bill providing for the ratification of the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the European Union (EU) and Canada. The agreement provides for EU-Canada political cooperation on foreign policy and security matters, for instance, on combating terrorism, organized crime and cybercrime, as well as cooperation in multilateral and regional formats and organizations.
Latvia and France sign defence cooperation agreement
On 7 February, the Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, and French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, signed the agreement between the Latvian and French governments about defence cooperation in Paris. The agreement provides for bilateral cooperation in defence aspects such as development of security and defence concepts, strategic communication, defence and planning policy, cyber defence, military information and communication systems and the related technologies, military exercises etc. Bergmanis said that, by signing the agreement, Latvia and France had demonstrated their ability to keep abreast of the times, just like the NATO summits in Wales and Warsaw showed that the alliance could change. The French defence minister said that his country was and would be implementing with utmost responsibility the decisions made at the Warsaw summit regarding the deterrence policy and deployment of military units in the Baltic States.
New rotation of US soldiers arrives in Latvia
On 5 February, 225 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade arrived in Latvia. This is the next rotation of US soldiers to serve in Latvia as part of the Atlantic Resolve operation. The US soldiers will be working and training alongside Latvian soldiers. These soldiers will stay in Latvia until the arrival of the Canada-led multinational NATO battalion.
Fence stretching 23-km already up on Latvia-Russia border
On 4 February, the Latvian State Border Guard informed that Latvia has built the first 23-kilometer stretch of a fence on the border with Russia. The first section of the fence has been constructed in the territory in eastern Latvia guarded by the Ludza regional branch of the State Border Guard. In the coming years, several sections of a 2.7-meter-high fence topped with barbed wire will be built on the border with Russia, and their total length will be 92 kilometres. Altogether 193 kilometres of the 276-kilometer-long Latvian-Russian border might be protected by the fence in the future. The remaining stretches of the border have natural obstructions like swamps that hinder illegal border crossing. The work is to be completed by 2019.
Chief of Allied Land Command discusses arrival of NATO battle group in Estonia
Commander of the Allied Land Command, US Army Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams who is on a visit to Estonia discussed matters connected to the upcoming arrival of the battalion-size battle group with deputy chief of defence Brig. Gen. Indrek Sirel. Williams received an overview of the security situation of the Baltic Sea region, visited the NATO staff element in Estonia, and got acquainted with the operations of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in Tallinn. According to Sirel the stationing of NATO battalion-size battle groups in the Baltic countries and Poland will provide important deterrence where land force plays a key role. “We have to make sure that the activities of the units would be well coordinated through joint exercises and would support our independent defence capability as well as make a contribution to collective defence,” Sirel said.
Combat readiness of Estonian defence forces has improved
The National Audit Office is of the opinion that a significant development has occurred in the Ministry of Defence and the defence forces over the last four years in the area of the combat readiness of units, and the staff and equipment of the units of the defence forces have improved in 2012-2016. The audit confirms that the combat readiness of the defence forces has been systematically developed in accordance with the objectives of the National Defence Development Plan 2013-2022.
Number of cyber-attacks against Estonia to grow during EU presidency
According to the Estonian Information Board (EIB), Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, the attacks of foreign cyber criminals against Estonia will become more active in the second half of 2017 when Estonia takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. On February 8 the Information Board published a report titled “International Security and Estonia 2017” which describes the threats against Estonia. EIB writes that in cyberspace Russia constitutes the greatest source of a threat to Estonia. “Estonia is a target for hostile cyber activity both on its own and as a member of the EU and NATO. In 2016, repeated attempts were made to map the foreign networks of Estonian government institutions and test attack campaigns. Considering the cyber-attacks that sowed confusion in the US in 2016 and Latvia’s experience in holding the presidency of the European Union in 2015, it is also likely that Estonia will come under increased scrutiny from foreign cyber criminals in the second half of 2017,” EIB writes, adding that the goal of such attempts is to cast doubt on the reputation of Estonia as a functioning e-state and to harm Estonia in one way or another.
Estonia to pay EUR 47 million for South Korean K9 Thunder howitzers
Estonia wants to buy 12 used howitzers from South Korea. According to Pulse, Estonia is to pay 50 million dollars or 47 million euros for the SPHs possibly under the same terms and conditions as neighbouring Finland. The commander of the Estonian defence forces, Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, travelled on February 6 to South Korea, where he signed a relevant memorandum of understanding. As Finland wants to buy the same weapon systems, the two countries could establish a joint maintenance and repair base. According to present plans the Estonian defence forces should start using the self-propelled howitzers in 2021.
Heavy equipment of new US company arrives in Estonia
On 6 February, the personnel of a new US company, as well as its heavy equipment including tanks, arrived in Estonia. The heavy equipment of the US company, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), was unloaded at the Tapa railway station. The U.S. troops arrived here on February 3.
New Estonian contingent starts service in Iraq
On 4 February, a new team of instructors of the Estonian defence forces started service in Iraq.
The Estonian team will continue to train members of the Iraqi security forces together with Danish, Latvian, Lithuanian, US and British instructors, chief of the contingent Capt. Philipp Ainso said. Before heading to Iraq, the instructors underwent a six-week preparation period in Denmark. The Estonian service members are stationed in the western Anbar province and are part of the Danish contingent there. The team replaced by the new contingent trained close to 250 members of the Iraqi security forces from the border guard and police as well as combat units whose direct task is to liberate towns and villages from Daesh fighters. The instructors also trained air force units who guard the Al Asad base where Estonian soldiers are stationed.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)