Baltic countries agree to facilitate movement of NATO troops
On 15 February, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia agreed to facilitate the movement of allied forces in the region as NATO’s multinational battalions are being deployed to the Baltic countries, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. “The Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian defence ministers met in Brussels today and signed a joint communiqué to facilitate movement of allied forces in the region and simplify related bureaucratic procedures concerning NATO eFP troops deploying into the Baltic States and Poland,” it said. Brussels on Wednesday is hosting a meeting of NATO defence ministers. In response to Russia' intervention in Ukraine, the Alliance decided last year to station around 1,000 troops in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland each.
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
NATO wants detailed info in advance about Zapad 2017 exercise near Lithuania
NATO wants to receive detailed information in advance from Russia and Belarus about Zapad 2017 exercise scheduled for this year, as the scope and assault scenario of the training fuels concerns in the Baltic States. “Zapad 2017 exercise is an example of a kind of exercise, which we would like to be briefed on beforehand,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. He said possibilities of exchanging information about exercises in advance had been discussed with Russian diplomats. Stoltenberg also emphasized NATO’s plans of modernizing the documents regulating transparency and international monitoring of war games. In his words, Russia is taking advantage of the gaps contained in the documents. “NATO is working to modernize the Vienna document (…) to address existing gaps,” said the NATO head. According to information from Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry, Russia held 20 exercises unannounced in advance in 2015. Diplomats did not provide any data for 2016. Intelligence services have listed Zapad as the main challenge to Lithuania’s national security in 2017. Officials said earlier that Zapad war games provided training to occupy the southern part of Lithuania, thus blocking the only land route for NATO countries to the Baltic States. Russia was also accused of failing to provide actual numbers of the troops and equipment involved in the exercise. Zapad was last held in 2013. Moscow and Minsk then said the exercise included about 10,000 soldiers.
Lithuania plans to send platoon of soldiers to Mali this year
This year, Lithuania is planning to send a platoon of soldiers to a UN peacekeeping mission in the West African country Mali, where France is leading international efforts to combat Islamic militants. “In the second half of this year, Lithuania plans to expand its participation in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) by sending a land force platoon-sized unit to ensure force protection functions,” Asta Galdikaite, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, said. The platoon will consist of around 30 soldiers. Four Lithuanian officers are currently serving in Mali and one more is preparing to join the mission. In response to France's request, the Lithuanian parliament in December 2015 gave the green light for up to 40 Lithuanian troops to be sent to MINUSMA, but their deployment has taken time. The peacekeeping force consists of over 13,000 soldiers from more than 100 countries.
Lithuanian president to attend Munich Security Conference
On 17 February, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will attend the Munich Security Conference, which will this year focus on the European Union’s relations with the United States under President Donald Trump. Grybauskaite will participate in a public discussion on the EU's future on Friday afternoon and will take part in a meeting between the three Baltic presidents and US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday. The Lithuanian president said that Pence’s visit to the conference “means that European and global security remains a priority for the US”. Grybauskaite said that she would inform the vice-president about the threats faced by the region and would discuss NATO’s presence in the region and bilateral military relations. Grybauskaite said that she would discuss US troops’ presence in Lithuania and “the possibility of ensuring airspace safety” with the vice-president. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius and Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis are also going to Munich. The organizers say that discussions at this year’s conference will focus on transatlantic relations, NATO, the future of the EU, the crisis in Ukraine, relations with Russia and the war in Syria.
NATO chief sees Lithuania as example of defence spending
On 14 February, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that by raising its defence spending, Lithuania is an example to NATO Allies. “Prime Minister, I want to commend your government for your leadership on defence spending. And your plan to reach NATO’s 2 percent benchmark – 2 percent of GDP – by 2018,” Stoltenberg said. “Fairer burden-sharing is essential to the long-term strength of our Alliance and the security of our people, and Lithuania is setting an example for other Allies to follow,” he added. In the NATO chief’s words, “Lithuania makes important contributions to NATO” by sending troops to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. Stoltenberg also congratulated Lithuania on the upcoming Independence Day celebrated on February 16. “With NATO, you will never lose that independence again,” said the Alliance’s secretary general. Lithuania’s current defence budget accounts for 1.8 percent of the GDP, with plans to reach the NATO margin of 2 percent next year. A few weeks ago, the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee initiated an updated agreement among political parties on defence spending, which aims to increase the defence spending to 2.5 percent of the GDP in 2020. The agreement is yet to be signed. Lithuania has been raising defence spending since the 2014 Russian intervention in Ukraine and military actions in the Baltic Sea region.
Members of parliament unanimously ratify pact on status of US troops in Lithuania
On 14 February, Lithuania’s parliament unanimously ratified the Lithuania-US agreement on the status of US troops in the Baltic States. Adoption of the relevant law was voted by 111 parliamentarians. The document was ratified on the fast track, as proposed by President Dalia Grybauskaite. “Undoubtedly, the United States is the main guarantor of our security and Lithuania’s strategic defence and security partner,” Deputy Defence Minister Vytautas Umbrasas told the parliament. “After Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014, the United States was the first to send to Lithuania additional air-policing military aircraft and companies for continuous presence, thus confirming that the US cares about Lithuania’s security too” he said. The deal was signed by Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis and Anne Hall, the US ambassador to Lithuania, on January 17 and will take effect after it is ratified by the Parliament. The agreement gives the US jurisdiction over crimes committed by its military personnel, but allows Lithuania as the host nation to take over jurisdiction in cases of particular importance to it. The document also gives the US the right to use certain military facilities, although these facilities remain in the ownership of Lithuania. Latvia and Estonia also signed similar agreements with the US this year. Such bilateral agreements on defence cooperation, which define the status of US troops and their families, are signed at the US initiative. A company-sized US unit has been stationed in Lithuania since in 2014 and a battalion from the US brigade that is being deployed to Poland is expected to frequently come to Lithuania for training.
NATO air-policing military aircraft enjoy another calm week in Lithuania
The last week was uneventful for NATO military aircraft serving in the Baltic air-policing mission, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Military aircraft conducting the NATO air-policing mission in the Baltic States were not scrambled to identify and escort military aircraft of the Russian Federation in international airspace over the Baltic Sea on February 6-12, 2017. The NATO air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
Lithuania-Russia cooperation possible only after aggression in Ukraine stops
On 13 February, after meeting with Russia's ambassador to Vilnius, Alexander Udaltsov, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Darius Skusevicius said that full-fledged cooperation between Lithuania and Russia will only be possible after Moscow stops its aggression against Ukraine and resolves other important issues. “Lithuania is ready to develop good neighbourly relations based on the principles of equality and mutual respect with all its neighbours, including Russia. However, a full-fledged bilateral cooperation between Lithuania and Russia will be possible only if Russia stops its aggression against Ukraine. Moreover, the Minsk agreements must be implemented and other important issues must be resolved,” Skusevicius said. According to the deputy minister, “despite the complicated context, there are issues for practical cooperation between Lithuania and Russia, as well as a need to discuss problems and find solutions for them”. Publicly announced meetings between Lithuanian officials and top-level Russian diplomats have been rare in recent years. Lithuania strongly criticizes Russia’s actions in the international community and is concerned about its actions in the Baltic Sea region.
Bergmanis discusses European cooperation in security and defence at Munich Conference
On 17-19 February, the Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, is in Munich to attend the 53rd Munich Security Conference. During the visit, Bergmanis will also have bilateral meetings with Slovenian Defence Minister, Andreja Katic, as well as with General Tod Daniel Wolters, the commander of the US Air Force in Europe.
Parliament approves Latvia-US defence cooperation agreement in principle
On 16 February, the Latvian Parliament approved in principle the defence cooperation agreement between Latvia and the United States. The agreement lays down the foundation for Latvia-US cooperation in defence and describes the rights and duties of the US Army units and soldiers deployed to Latvia. It stipulates among other things, that US driving licenses, registration documents, professional licenses, and certificates will be deemed valid in Latvia and that US aircraft, ships, and motor vehicles can freely travel in the territory of Latvia. The agreement also stipulates that US soldiers who commit criminal offenses on Latvia’s territory will be held responsible by the US authorities, not Latvia’s, but that in exceptional cases this provision will not apply. Under exceptional circumstances, the Prosecutor General’s Office will have the right to call to account US soldiers for committing serious criminal offenses on the territory of Latvia. Latvia will have to notify the US authorities within 21 day after learning about a particular criminal offense committed by a US soldier.
US call for higher defence spending should not be taken as reproach to Latvia
On 15 February, Prime Minister, Maris Kucinskis, stated that US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ call to NATO member states to boost their defence spending should not be taken as a reproach to Latvia, as Latvia is slated to achieve the 2 percent target in 2018. Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis pledged to ensure that the government’s commitment to raising Latvia’s defence budget to 2 percent of GDP does not change. He also informed that Latvia’s preparations for hosting NATO battalion is going as planned. “The arrival of the Canada-led multinational NATO battalion-level battle group in the Baltics is a deterrence element and demonstrates the unity of NATO member states. This is NATO’s answer to Russia’s military build-up in the region that has been going on for many years,” said Bermanis.
Every euro allotted for defence being spent to maximum effect
On 15 February, Chief of Defence, Leonids Kalnins, agreed that that defence spending must be increased in Latvia, but he also emphasized that the funds allotted for defence had to be utilized to maximum effect. When asked how prepared Latvia is to host a NATO battalion, Kalnins said that the necessary infrastructure was being actively built or upgraded. Everything is in place so the battalion could be deployed already today, the infrastructure upgrades are necessary to make the deployment of the NATO battalion more effective, he explained.
Spain will send six Leopard tanks and several armoured vehicles to Latvia
On February 14, it was announced that in order to help strengthen Latvia’s security, Spain will send six Leopard tanks to Latvia as part of the Canadian-led NATO battalion. It is the first time Spain has sent this type of tanks outside of the country. According to information from the Spanish Embassy to Latvia, Spain could send approximately 350 military personnel, as well as six tanks, to Latvia as part of the NATO mission. Furthermore, Spain is also likely to send another 14 to 16 armoured vehicles.
Defence Ministry is authorized to deal with hybrid threats during peacetime
On 14 February, the Latvian government approved draft amendments to the National Security Law, in which the Latvian Defence Ministry will be authorized to deal with threats of hybrid warfare in limited territories during peacetime. In accordance with the draft legislation, the Cabinet of Ministers will be able to order the Defence Ministry to take the necessary measures to deal with the hybrid threats if they arise in a particular territory. If the Cabinet of Ministers is prevented from performing its functions, the decision on tackling hybrid threats is taken by the Prime Minister, and if the Prime Minister is prevented from doing his job, the decision is taken by the Defence Minister. The draft legislation has yet to be approved by Parliament.
Mogilnijs confirmed as new Commander of Joint Headquarters of National Armed Forces
On 14 February, the government appointed Brigadier General, Ivo Mogilnijs, as the new Commander of the Joint Headquarters of the Latvian National Armed Forces. Mogilnijs has been serving in the National Armed Forces since 1992. Before his appointment as Deputy Commander of the Joint Headquarters, he was Latvia’s defence attaché to the United States and Canada and Capabilities branch director with the Combined Training and Advisory Group in Afghanistan.
270 soldiers wish to serve in NAF’s Latgale unit
On 12 February, it was announced that approximately 270 persons have expressed the desire to serve in the National Armed Forces' new sub-unit in Latgale (eastern Latvia). As reported, in order to improve National Armed Forces’ combat readiness and foster effective all-embracing national defence, work is underway on creating National Armed Forces’ permanent military unit in Latgale province. The Defence Ministry informs that the size of the unit will ultimately be between 120 and 150 soldiers. At the moment, the candidates are being assessed. Professional support units with anti-military aircraft capability will be created as part of the Home Guard’s 3rd Brigade, and deployed in Daugavpils, Rezekne, and Preili.
Kaljurand to chair high-level commission on cyber security
Former Estonian Foreign Minister, Marina Kaljurand, will chair a high-level commission on the stability of cyberspace that is to be announced at the Munich Security Conference at the end of this week. The commission will comprise 24 prominent commissioners representing a wide range of geographic regions as well as government, industry, technical, and civil society stakeholders with legitimacy to speak on different aspects of cyberspace. Its aim is to promote mutual awareness and understanding among the various cyberspace communities working on issues related to international cybersecurity. The GCSC will be linked to existing initiatives, such as the Global Commission on Internet Governance and the London Process, through special representatives.
NATO defence ministers discuss arrival of battle groups in Baltic States
On 16 February, NATO defence ministers discussed moving battle groups to NATO’s border states. “The aim of moving NATO battle groups to border states is to preserve peace and stability in the whole NATO territory,” Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, said. “The moving of battle groups is going according to plans. The command element is already in Estonia, while tanks and infantry vehicles are to arrive in April,” he added.
Estonian Foreign Minister: Security shouldn't become luxury
On 14 February, Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, at an open debate of the UN Security Council in New York, said that safety should not become a luxury and security has to be guaranteed to everyone. According to Mikser, it is important to pay attention to cyber security. “International cooperation is of key importance when preventing cyber threats or reacting to them. I encourage all countries to share their knowledge and experience in the fight against cyber-attacks, and to also include the private sector and civil society in that,” the minister said. In the second half of the day, Mikser met with UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, to whom he affirmed Estonia’s continued readiness to contribute to UN peacekeeping.
Defence Minister: Defence industry should become part of Estonia’s defensive capability
On 10 February, Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, introduced Estonia’s code of practice of developing the defence industry for 2017-2019, stressing that the defence industry has to be a strong part of Estonia’s defensive capability. By 2018 the Defence Ministry is to raise the budget for supporting the defence industry to 800,000 euros a year. In the future the Estonian defence forces are to strengthen cooperation with defence industry enterprises by being involved in the testing and developing of products.
National Defence Council discusses Estonia’s readiness for arrival of NATO forces
On 10 February, Estonia’s National Defence Council gathered at the invitation of President Kersti Kaljulaid and Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna and commander of the defence forces Lt. Gen. Riho Terras gave an overview of additional NATO allied forces arriving in Estonia in accordance with what was decided by the alliance at last year’s Warsaw Summit. “The arrival of allied forces and our preparations for that are on schedule, and I recognize all who have contributed to that,” Kaljulaid said. She added that it is clear that the arrival of more than 1,000 allied soldiers will be a great challenge, especially during the first year, therefore Estonia has to be ready to react to possible surprises.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)