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03.03.2017  14:23

THE BALTICS

Czech troops may join NATO forces in Lithuania and Estonia
On 2 March, when visiting the Czech troops training in Lithuania as part of the Training Bridge 2017 exercise, Czech Defence Minister, Martin Stropnicky, said that the Czech military may become part of the NATO multinational forces in Lithuania and Estonia in 2018. The talks with Germany that is to lead the battlegroup based in Lithuania have almost been completed, the minister said. Czech troops in the NATO battalion being stationed in Lithuania would be a significant contribution to the consolidation of deterrence and defence, Lithuania’s Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said after meeting with Stropnicki. Karoblis and Stropnicki discussed the deployment of the NATO advance battalion in Lithuania and possible joining of the Czech Republic to the forces in the Baltic States. The two ministers also addressed bilateral cooperation and the security situation in the region. Among other participants of the meeting were Lithuanian and Czech chiefs of defence. Roughly 150 Czech soldiers were deployed in Lithuania in early January as a rotational force implementing the NATO assurance measures in the Baltic States. The NATO international battalion has been stationed in Lithuania since the end of January. The unit, which will consist of a total of about 1,000 troops, will be deployed in Lithuania in June. It will be headed by German troops, who will later be joined by forces from Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, France, and Croatia. Stropnicky said Czech soldiers might be also deployed within the NATO battleground that will operate in Estonia under Canada’s command. He said the negotiations are still underway.

NATO air-policing military aircraft enjoy calm week in Baltic States
NATO military aircraft serving in the air-policing mission were not scrambled from Lithuania last week to accompany Russian warplanes flying in the international air-space. NATO military aircrafts usually take off a few times a week to intercept Russian military aircrafts flying between mainland Russia and its Kaliningrad region. The Baltic air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.

 

BALTICS AND EXERCISE

Latvian Defence Ministry closely follows Zapad military exercises
On 25 February, the Latvian Defence Ministry spokesman, Kaspars Galkins, said that the Defence Ministry is closely following along the Zapad 2017 military exercises being organized in Russia’s western districts this autumn. He stated that it is not the first time that such exercises will be organized on Baltic borders. He also said that Russia, just like other countries, has the right to organize exercises on its territory, however, he added that there is not much transparency regarding these exercises. Galkins said that Latvia can only join what the NATO secretary general said recently, calling on Russia to issue more details about the exercises to NATO. The Defence Ministry spokesman confirmed that Latvia will continue to closely follow along the organization of Zapad 2017.

US general calls on Russia for transparency during Zapad 2017 exercise near Lithuania
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of the United States Army Europe, has urged Russia to ensure transparency during the Zapad 2017 military exercise to be held near Lithuania’s border in September. In his words, this should help ease the concerns over the training. Hodges said Russia should invite a larger number of observers and media representatives to the exercise. “I know there is an anxiety about the Russian exercise Zapad,” Hodges said. “I would call on the Russians to lower the anxiety through transparency. Russians have to invite media to see the exercise in the way West, NATO invites media to observe everything we do. I would call on the Russians to invite media, invite observers not than just a minimum, required in Vienna protocol, but in a spirit of transparency and stability,” he added.

 

LITHUANIA

Germany’s Defence Minister awarded high state decoration in Lithuania
On 2 March, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite presented Germany’s Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, with the Grand Cross of the Order for Merits to Lithuania for personal support to the development of relations between Lithuania and Germany as well as for her contribution to strengthening bilateral military cooperation. “With Ursula von der Leyen as head of the Defence Ministry, Germany demonstrated effective leadership in reinforcing the security of Lithuania and NATO’s Eastern flank,” Grybauskaite said. The solemn ceremony was followed by a bilateral meeting, where the Lithuanian president and the German minister discussed further measures to enhance NATO’s defence posture. In Grybauskaite’s words, the ongoing geopolitical tension and threats posed by Russia will make the year ahead difficult. The exercise, Zapad 2017, planned by Russia along the borders of the Baltic States, increases the risk of possible military provocations. Germany has this year sent a few hundred troops to Lithuania to make the core of the international NATO battalion to be stationed in Lithuania. The military units are stationed in the Baltic States and Poland to deter Russia. Lithuania has also decided to buy a considerable number of weaponry and military equipment from Germany, including Boxer infantry fighting vehicles and PZH2000 howitzers.

Way of spending more important than larger defence budget
On 1 March, Lieutenant General, Ben Hodges, commander of the United States Army Europe, has applauded Lithuania’s plans of earmarking 2 % of its GDP to defence next year, emphasizing that the way of spending the money was even more important. “First, congratulations, but even more important is how Lithuania intends to spend that. I think modernization is important and (…) you need to invest in people,” Hodges told after meeting with Lithuania’s Chief of Defence Lieutenant, General Jonas Vytautas Zukas. In the US general’s words, Lithuania could take advantage of the growing defence funding to attract even better specialists to the Armed Forces, starting with professional troops and ending with non-commissioned officers. The security situation in Lithuania topped the agenda of Hodges’ meeting with Lithuanian officials, along with further plans of implementing the NATO deterrence measures in Lithuania, battalion deployment, and military training. The US general hailed the Lithuanian leadership in investing in its own security and contributing to international operations.

Lithuania’s parliament speaker sees increase of defence funding as decision of principle
On 1 March, Parliamentary Speaker, Viktoras Pranckietis, said that the proposal made by the Lithuanian State Defence Council to earmark 2 % of GDP to defence next year is a political decision of principle. “There is a political decision of principle, and this is what it should be. When we came, we spoke about continuity of the foreign policies and the commitments to NATO. As you know, the Lithuanian commitment was noticed instantly on the international arena, and we should not and could not step back now,” the parliamentary speaker said. He emphasized that other fields should not be affected by the move to raise defence spending. On Tuesday, the State Defence Council suggested raising the defence funding to 2.07 % of GDP next year. “The State Defence Council has decided to propose earmarking an additional 149.2 million euros in allocations for the Defence Ministry in the state budget of 2018,” Zivile Satuniene, senior national security adviser to President Dalia Grybauskaite, said after the council’s meeting. In her words, the defence budget is proposed in light of the “geopolitical situation and the country’s international commitments to NATO.” This year, Lithuania earmarked 723 million euros or 1.8 % of the GDP for defence purposes. The country has been raising its defence financing since the 2014 Russian actions in Ukraine and the Baltic Sea region.

Lithuania could get cyber recruits in next few years
Lithuania could get cyber recruits and generate a reserve of troops within the next few years, Lithuanian Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said. “We mean that in the future – this year or the year after – we will have to start thinking about cyber recruits and similar things about how we should move forward. However, generating a reserve of recruits and a cyber reserve is not a future question just for us,” the minister said. Karoblis also emphasized the need for further investment in infrastructure: “They (investments) will have to be made and, as far as we understand, if the opponent is modernizing, we have to modernize and invest more.” Currently, the cyber recruit experiment is in progress in Estonia, providing an opportunity for young people with high qualifications in information technologies to contribute to boosting the electronic infrastructure of Armed Forces instead of serving in ordinary military service.

Former Lithuanian army officer, Russian citizen sentenced for spying
On 28 February, a Siauliai court convicted former Lithuanian army officer and a Russian citizen on spying charges. Sergey Moiseyenko, 66-year-old Russian citizen, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for espionage and unlawful possession of a large number of cartridges, explosives and grenades, while former Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base officer, Captain Sergejus Pusinas, 34, was sent to prison for five years. The court announced that Pusinas between 2012 and the end of 2014 collected information for Moiseyenko about Lithuania’s Armed Forces and operations of NATO air-policing missions, locations of military capacities, military operations in Afghanistan, intelligence aircrafts operated from remote locations, their flights and possible stationing locations. Russian intelligence also received copies of documents from the Lithuanian Defence Ministry and copies of personal files of some officers of the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base. Some of the documents were classified. The convicts will have to serve their sentences in a penitentiary. Another defendant in the case, Lithuanian citizen, Ainas Kazlauskas, who was charged with unlawful possession of explosives, a hand grenade and cartridges, was given a suspended sentence of two years and eight months. Kazlauskas did not face spying charges.

Lithuania seeks permanent presence of US troops
On 24 February, during a visit in the US, Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, said that Lithuania seeks permanent presence of United States troops in its territory. “We have requested stationing of military forces in our country on a more permanent basis – not only rotational, but also more permanent,” the minister said, “the permanent presence is important for us, as our own capacities are rather limited.” The minister said he stated his request at a meeting with US Deputy Defence Secretary, Robert Work, and Deputy Secretary of State, Tom Shannon.

 

LATVIA

Latvian Defence Ministry organizes Industry Days 2017
On 2 and 3 March, Industry Days 2017 will be held in Latvian National Defence Academy. It is coordinated by the Latvian Defence Ministry in cooperation with the Latvian Federation of Security and Defence Industries. These special events are organized regularly since 2014 to inform businessmen and researchers with the needs of National Armed Forces in terms of supplies and inform companies about defence procurement plans in the coming years.

The German Minister of Defence discusses security with Bergmanis and Kalnins
On 2 March, The German Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in Latvia for an official visit. The Minister of Defence, Raimonds Bergmanis, and the Chief of Defence of the Latvian National Armed Forces, Leonids Kalnins, met the German Minister of Defence to discuss bilateral defence, current regional security challenges as well as the implementation of decisions taken during NATO Warsaw summit. Ursula von der Leyen said that the German armed forces in April will deploy the Deployable Control and Reporting Center in Latvia once again. She said that it is important for Germany to demonstrate their solidarity with friends. Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that Germany and Latvia has a long-term cooperation for 20 years and in recent years it has become closer.

‘Black Hawk’ helicopters returned to Latvia as a part of NATO’s Operation Atlantic Resolve
On 1 March, US Air Force arrived in Latvia with UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Their arrival was welcomed by officials, including US Ambassador Nancy Bikoff Pettit and Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis. Altogether five Blackhawk helicopters will be brought to Latvia. The Latvian Defence Ministry said that the new US unit will replace the unit with Blackhawk helicopters currently deployed in Lielvarde Air Base in central Latvia.

German Foreign Minister meets with Rinkevics 
On 1 March, the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, was in Latvia to discuss current security and EU matters, as well as Latvian-German cooperation. German and Latvian foreign ministers underlined necessity to maintain EU’s unity. Both ministers agreed that the EU’s defence needs better coordination. Edgars Rinkevics said that Latvia’s dialogue with Germany on the EU’s future, security and NATO is very active and that ties with Germany have been and are very close, which means that Germany does not talk only with large countries. Rinkevics noted that Germany is the framework nation of the multinational NATO battalion that will be deployed in Lithuania and that Latvia is thankful for this contribution as it demonstrates close allied cooperation. The Latvian minister also noted Germany’s involvement in the Baltic airspace policing mission.

Defence Ministry undertakes to facilitate exports by Latvian defence industry companies
On 27 February, the Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, and Agris Dundurs, the Council Chairman of the Latvian Federation of Security and Defence Industries, signed a plan for cooperation in 2017 under which the Defence Ministry will facilitate exports by the Latvian defence industry companies. “The tense security situation in our region has made us realize that we ourselves have to take greater responsibility for our security, gradually granting the allocations required for the purpose. Security of the supplies to the National Armed Forces has also become more important in the given circumstances, and this is a matter that no NATO member state can solve without active involvement of the local industry,” the defence minister said.

 

ESTONIA

Estonian government endorses national security concept, national defence development plan
On March 2, the government approved and forwarded to the parliament the new National Security Concept of Estonia. The government also approved the National Defence Development Plan of Estonia for 2017-2026, which was forwarded to the parliament’s national defence committee. The National Security Concept is a framework document which establishes the objective, principles, and directions of security policy. The framework document forms the basis for the preparation of specific development and action plans. For the first time ever, the government is represented in the handling of the document in the parliament by the prime minister. The National Defence Development Plan 2017-2026 is the central capability planning document of national defence, which identifies, on the basis of threat scenarios, the developments for the years 2017-2026 that are necessary and consistent with the resources of Estonia. It examines separately six directions in national defence: military defence, support of the civilian sector, internal security, strategic communication, international actions, and sustainability of the state and society.

Estonian conscripts to practice with US troops in Winter Camp exercise
Conscripts from Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade and a company-sized US unit will counter personnel of the Estonian Scouts Battalion in the tactical phase of the Winter Camp training event that started on Wednesday March 1. Until March 4, the Scouts Battalion will act against conscripts from the training company of the Kalev Infantry Battalion, the anti-tank company of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and the training company of the logistics battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade.  On March 4, the Scouts Battalion and the US company will start a two-day training in offensive tactics. In that part of the training exercise the Kalev Battalion will be replaced by a training company of the Kuperjanov infantry battalion arriving from Voru. Some 1,700 service members are participating in the Winter Camp training event of Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade that kicked off on Monday. Both the central training range and the Soodla training ground of the Estonian defence forces are used for the training event running till March 5. The exercise was designed to practice offensive and defensive activities at the platoon, company and battalion level in winter conditions.

Allied battalion to arrive in Estonia in next 6 weeks
On March 1, the chief of the allied contingent in Estonia told that the NATO battalion battle group to be stationed in Estonia will arrive in Estonia within the next six weeks, by mid-April,. The chief of contingent, British Col. Giles R. Harris, said that the battalion consisting of about 1,200 UK and French personnel will arrive in Estonia in the next six weeks and within the same timeframe the unit's equipment will arrive. “The stationing of the NATO battalion battle group led by the UK in Estonia will balance the security situation and carries a clear message of the resolve and unity of NATO,” Estonian Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna, who met with Harris on Wednesday, said. The NATO battalion battle group in Estonia will be stationed at Tapa and will act in conjunction with Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade. The UK will have 800 personnel with Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, Challenger 2 tanks, and reconnaissance drones stationed in Estonia as part of the battalion. France will station five Leclerc tanks, 13 infanty fighting vehicles (IFVs), and 300 soldiers in Estonia. The French contingent will be part of the battalion in the first half of the year, to be then replaced by Danes. In May, the battalion will take part in the three-week Spring Storm training exercise of the Estonian defence forces.

Direct support for Defence League to grow by EUR 1 million every year
The amount of money allocated to the Defence League volunteer corps as direct support is set to increase by approximately 1 million EUR every year and the Defence League also stands to get additional funding for the purchase of equipment. The development plan of the Defence Ministry’s area of government for 2018-2021 that was signed last week will increase direct support for the Defence League by about 1 million EUR per year, which will be spent mostly for upgrades of training and infrastructure, Minister Margus Tsahkna said. “3 million EUR has been earmarked for the construction and renovation of the buildings and structures of the Defence League, including the construction of shooting ranges,” Tsahkna said. “Besides the increase in direct support, 60 million EUR will be channelled additionally into procurements related to territorial defence in the coming years,” he added.

Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)