BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Estonian antitank company practicing with US company
On 13 March, an antitank company of the Estonian defence forces’ 1st Infantry Brigade is carrying out a three-day joint exercise with members of the US 68th Armoured Regiment. The joint cooperation exercise, in which more than 200 Estonian and US soldiers are taking part, will end on Wednesday 15 March, military spokespeople in Tallinn said. The antitank company is performing shooting exercises with the Milan and Javelin antitank systems. According to a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Brigade, a total of nine missiles were fired from the Milan missile system and two missiles from Javelin, all of which hit the target.
NATO military aircraft to train in Estonian airspace
German Eurofighter military aircraft stationed at the Amari air base in north-western Estonia as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission will perform low-altitude training flights in Estonian airspace on workdays of this week, 13 March to 17 March. The German aircraft will perform the flights in designated areas for low-altitude flying 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 military aircraft, which began their rotation on the Baltic air policing mission on 5 January.
Large-scale military exercises to be organized in Latvia in April and June
On 14 March, it was announced that two large-scale international military exercises will be organized in Latvia in April and June, with hundreds of soldiers from NATO member states participating. From 17 to 30 April, the Summer Shield XIV military exercise will take place in Latvia. Over 500 foreign military personnel from Latvia, the US, Canada, Lithuania, Estonia, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Sweden will participate with the aim of integrating and coordinating fire support during infantry operations using artillery, aviation, and engineer support. The exercise will help improve cooperation between NATO member states. Furthermore, from 3 to 16 June, the Saber Strike international military exercises will be held in Latvia. Over 500 foreign military personnel from Latvia, the US, Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, and Slovakia will participate in this exercise as well. The aim of the exercises is to improve regional stability and security, as well as improve the coordination between NATO allies.
Lithuania proposes new ambassador to OSCE and other international organizations in Vienna
Diplomat, Aurimas Taurantas, should be appointed as Lithuania’s envoy to the OSCE and other international organizations in Vienna. He should take the position and replace ambassador, Giedrius Cekuolis, who was recalled from the post at the end of 2016. Under the draft resolution prepared by the Foreign Ministry, Taurantas should be appointed to the position from 18 April. He would become Lithuania’s permanent envoy to OSCE, the UN office in Vienna, the International Anticorruption Academy and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Taurantas, signatory of the 11 March 1990 Independence Act, has served as Lithuania’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and the Council of Europe.
Lithuania’s Defence Resource Council backs centralized defence system acquisitions
On 10 March, The Defence Ministry’s Defence Resource Council gave the green light to the reform of the defence system, with a centralized procurement agency being the main focus. The new agency will be launched in the beginning of 2018 and will be responsible for all acquisitions in the defence system over the line of small purchases. The Defence Ministry said no new jobs will be created, as employees to the new body will be shifted from the buying organizations that are being downsized – a total of 150 people will be relocated. The agency is being founded in accordance to the practice of defence acquisitions systems of NATO and EU countries. Transparency of acquisitions in the national defence system became an issue after the Public Procurement Service last year established that the Armed Forces had three years ago purchased field kitchen gear from company Nota Bene at a price far above the market price. The scandal had pulled down the public confidence in the army.
Lithuania plans sharp increase in contribution to EU’s anti-piracy mission
Lithuania intends to make a major increase in its contribution to Atalanta, the EU’s combat mission against piracy and armed attacks of the coasts of Somalia. “This year, Lithuania is determined to assign an autonomous ship protection group to the EU operation Atalanta,” Vita Ramanauskaite, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian defence minister, said. The autonomous group will consist of about 16 troops, with another two soldiers to be sent as a logistics support team. Currently, Lithuania is sending one officer to Atalanta, who serves in the mission operational staff in the UK. In April, Lithuania also intends to send an officer to the EU training mission in the Central African Republic. Up until now, Lithuanian soldiers were not involved in the mission.
Prime Minister meets with members of NATO Parliamentary Assembly: Latvia is not only a consumer, but contributes to security
On 15 March, the Latvian Prime Minister, Maris Kucinskis, participated in a meeting with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The Delegation is visiting the Baltic States from 13-17 March. The officials discussed security policy, especially implementation of the NATO Warsaw summit. Kucinskis said that Latvia is satisfied with the NATO Warsaw summit’s decisions to strengthen the NATO presence in the region. He also stated that Latvia supports NATO’s attempts to strengthen security in the south of the alliance and promoting stability of the NATO neighbouring regions. Latvian troops take part in Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and international coalition in the fight against the Islamic State. He stated that Latvia is not only a consumer of security, but also contributes to the fight against terrorism. He underscored that the transatlantic ties serve as the foundation of Europe’s security. More active coordination and synergy between the EU and NATO should be promoted. It is important that the EU security and defence capabilities would complement NATO instead of overlapping the same functions, he said.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe to visit Latvia to discuss regional security
On 15 March, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the commander of the United States European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, arrived in Latvia. Among others, he met with Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, and Latvian Chief of Defence, Major General Leonids Kalnins, to discuss the security situation in the region and bilateral defence cooperation between Latvia and the US, including presence of the US troops in Latvia. The Defence Minister stated that Latvia is aware of the threat not only from the neighbours but also from the south. He thanked the US for the quick reaction in 2014, strengthening Latvia’s security situation and sending its troops to Latvia. “Now, when the geopolitical situation is still alarming, the support of the US is invaluable,” the minister said. The general spoke highly about cooperation between Latvia and the US. He said that his visit is a proof of the wish to strengthen the Baltic region, ensuring security and stability in it. “The US troops are here to support freedom and peace in Europe,” said the US official. He praised Latvia’s resolution to achieve defence budget at 2 percent. The general said that the US troops will remain in Latvia as long as it is necessary. General Scaparrotti also visited the Adazi military base in central Latvia and meet with the US soldiers deployed in Latvia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Defence minister meets with members from the German Defence Committee
On 13 March, the Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, met with Defence Committee Members from the Federal Republic of Germany to discuss Latvian-German bilateral defence cooperation, as well as regional security challenges and priorities. Bergmanis praised Germany’s efforts to assume greater responsibility in the European security and defence matters, including Latvia. He thanked Germany for the contribution to strengthening regional protection. “German radars have helped us to observe and keep the Baltic airspace save. The German-led battle group in Lithuania will strengthen the security - not only in Lithuania, but also Latvian citizens. The German contribution is really important,” said the Defence Minister.
Defence Ministry dispels false reports about free movement of NATO troops with loaded weapons in Latvia
On 13 March, the Defence Ministry dismissed misleading reports that NATO soldiers will be free to move across Latvia with loaded weapons. Intentionally or not, false information started spreading in Latvia last week that NATO troops in Latvia will be allowed to move around freely with loaded weapons, threatening local residents. The Defence Ministry’s representatives explained that the latest amendments to the law on foreign armed forces’ status in Latvia are intended to enable allies to provide support to Latvia as soon as possible and without lengthy administrative procedures. In case of such necessity, the legislation will only be applied to border crossing, to ensure troops’ self-defence. The ministry’s representatives indicated at the same time that no NATO soldier will ever move around Latvia with a loaded weapon on his own initiative, because all allied units can only arrive in Latvia with military equipment, if they have the consent of the Defence Ministry. Furthermore, movements of allied troops in Latvia, with or without weapons, are coordinated by the Defence Ministry and the National Armed Forces.
Canada’s forces deployed in Latvia to include ‘cyber warriors’ to counter Russians
On 10 March, it was announced that Canada will deploy “cyber warriors” to Latvia this June to defend its military computer networks and the information on them from sustained attacks by Russia, as a Canadian-led NATO battle group begins an open-ended deployment. The Canadian Forces have been preparing the 450 troops bound for Latvia to act as a tripwire to deter Russian aggression to be ready to for a smear campaign orchestrated by the Kremlin to create tensions between them and their Latvian hosts, through the placement of “fake news” about their behaviour and about NATO’s motives in Central Europe. The moves are part of a little-known plan to rapidly build Canada’s cyber and information warfare capabilities to counter threats, not only from Russia but adversaries such as Islamic State and al-Qaida. The danger posed by cyber-attacks was of such crucial significance that the military was creating a new cyber trade specialty. “We definitely have to get it right. We have to go to Latvia with a strong defensive posture,” said Brig.-Gen. Paul Rutherford, commander of the newly created Joint Forces Cyber Component. “First and foremost, we recognize cyber as a domain of warfare […]. We are constantly under attack. We will educate our troops about vulnerabilities, because Russia is quite adept in the cyber and information warfare domains”.
Mandatory military service predicted by Parliament Speaker
On 10 March, Speaker of the Parliament, Inara Murniece, came up with a prediction that mandatory military service would soon be restored in Latvia. Before that, however, it is necessary to bring the defence system into order and do the preparatory work. “For instance, we consider introducing military training classes in schools and institutions of higher education, and work is under way to strengthen Home Guard,” the parliament speaker said. The Defence Ministry categorically rejects the idea to resume conscription in Latvia, and has earlier stated that resuming compulsory military service would require significant human and financial resources, as well as a lengthy preparatory period for the new system to be effective.
Nearly 130 British troops to arrive in Estonia on Friday
On 17 March, nearly 130 troops of the United Kingdom will arrive in Estonia. It is the first big group to be stationed in Tapa in the composition of the multinational NATO battalion to be stationed in Estonia. This kicks off the arrival of the NATO troops to be stationed here as well as their equipment. In the coming weeks British and French troops will arrive in Estonia with their equipment, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. At present, more than 80 British soldiers are in Estonia to prepare together with members of the Estonian defence forces for the arrival of the NATO battalion. The last troops of the NATO battalion to be stationed here will arrive in Estonia in the beginning of April. The UK will have 800 personnel with Warrior infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), Challenger 2 tanks, and reconnaissance drones stationed in Estonia as part of the battalion. France will station five Leclerc tanks, 13 infantry fighting vehicles 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.
President, chief of defence forces visit Estonian soldiers serving in Lebanon
On 10 and 11 March, Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, and commander of the defence forces, General Riho Terras, were in Lebanon where they also visited the members of the Estonian defence forces serving in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon as well as the country’s leaders. During the two-day visit, the Estonian delegation met with Lebanon’s leaders in Beirut as well as the commander of UNIFIL, Major General Michael Beary, in Naquora, after which they visited the Irish-Finnish battalion where Estonians are serving. There the visitors got an overview of the unit’s operations and the situation in the area. On Saturday afternoon, Kaljulaid and Terras observed a patrol by ESTPLA-22, the present rotation of the Estonian unit serving in Lebanon, after which they met with Estonian soldiers and observers.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)