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16.08.2017  08:11

THE BALTICS AND RUSSIA

NATO jets scrambled from Lithuania 8 times last week over Russian warplanes
NATO military aircraft serving in the Baltic air-policing mission from Lithuania and Estonia were last week scrambled eight times to intercept and accompany Russian military aircraft flying above the Baltic Sea, identifying a total of 18 military aircraft. A few of the intercepted aircraft were transport and patrol planes. Most of the aircraft flying in the international airspace had their automatic transponders switched off.

Several Russian military aircraft and vessels spotted near Latvian territory
On 10 August, Russian military ships were seen near Latvian territory. It concerned a Zelenodolsk corvette and Kilo submarine. On 9 August, four Russian military aircraft were spotted flying near Latvian borders.  NATO aircraft policing Baltic airspace detected two Su-27 military aircraft and two An-26 military transport aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea near Latvia’s territorial waters. Furthermore, a Russian Buyan-M class corvette was detected 4.5 nautical miles from Latvian waters in the morning. In addition, on 8 August, several Russian military aircraft were spotted flying near the Latvian border, the Latvian National Armed Forces has reported. The NATO military aircraft patrolling Baltic skies identified two Russian Su-27 military aircraft above the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea close to Latvian territorial waters. A Russian An-26 military aircraft was also detected near the Latvian border. Overall, increasingly more Russian military aircraft and ships have been observed near Latvia’s borders in August. It has occurred sixteen times so far this month.

 

THE BALTICS AND EXERCISE

BALTRON warship unit held manoeuvres in Baltic Sea off Lithuania
BALTRON Squadron Exercise 17/2 of the Baltic unit of warships, BALTRON, took place in Lithuania’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea from the 31 July to the 8 of august. The manoeuvres included military units of Lithuania, Latvia and Germany, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Lithuania’s Navy was represented by staff and support vessel Jotvingis, mine-hunters Suduvis and Kursis, patrol vessels Aukstaitis and Selis, search-and-rescue ship Sakiai and a port boat, as well as a naval team of submarine actions. Latvia’s Navy was represented by support vessel Varonis and mine-hunter Rusins, while mine-hunter Pegnitz took part on behalf of Germany’s naval forces. In the marine phase of the exercise from Tuesday to Friday, crews of the vessels were to improve their skills of manoeuvring and communications procedures, perform artillery firing and defence from above-water targets, search-and-rescue training, as well defence against asymmetrical threats.

Cyber exercise of Estonia
On 7 August, a joint cyber defence exercise of the Estonian Defence Forces and the Maryland U.S. Army National Guard, Baltic Jungle, kicked off at Amari air base. Commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, and Estonian Defence Minister Juri Luik discussed during their meeting in Estonia the details of the exercise as well as defence cooperation and the training of A-10 military aircraft currently taking place in Estonia. The Estonian Defence Minister said that, cyber defence cooperation between Estonia and the Maryland Army National Guard is well developed. “The exercise taking place this week at Amari in the course of which cyber experts from Estonia and Maryland practice together how to assure cyber defence in different situations is a testament to that” the minister said. In cooperation with Estonian experts, experience on developing cyber practice fields will be exchanged in the framework of the exercise, and cooperation opportunities in the research and education field will be searched for. Ten A-10 military aircraft of the Maryland Army National Guard arrived in Estonia last week to practice cooperation with the Estonian Air Force, the Defence League volunteer corps and the NATO battalion’s battle group stationed in Estonia.

 

LITHUANIA

Lithuanian Defence Vice Minister: Software linked with Russia has spying gaps
Lithuania’s cyber security specialists are currently searching for a replacement of the unsafe software used by state institutions. Linked with Russia, the software leaves gaps that allow system hacking, Defence Vice-Minister Edvinas Kerza said. “There have been cases of suspicious software. (…) We have observed means to connect, and when they connect, we can only guess what they do and how they control” Kerza said. He did not specify the state institutions in danger or the software behind the threat; however, he said it was linked with Russia. According to the Vice-Minister, the gaps were discovered “before this year” and the software has yet to be replaced, as only the access to the systems is restricted. Earlier this week, three conservative MPs turned to the Prime Minister, asking to assess the scale of the use of the Russian software and information systems by state institutions and companies of strategic importance to national security. However, it remains unclear how many institutions are affected, but according to the three conservatives the affected state institutions include the Police Department, who had used the platform since 2006 until that the software was banned after the Federal Security Service established that Russia had been using it for spying purposes. Furthermore, the national railway company, Lithuanian Railways, also uses the system to control all of their locomotives. The director of the Cyber Security and Telecommunications Service, Darius Adomaitis, said that the systems had not yet been analysed, adding that a recommendation had been issued against using anti-virus software of Russian company Kaspersky.

Dutch PM and Lithuanian President talk regional security, NATO and Russia
During his visit to Lithuania, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that he did not see signs of improvement of the regional security situation. It is NATO that should continue its commitments to the Alliance’s Eastern members that fear Russian actions in Ukraine, the Prime Minister said after meeting with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė on 11 August. “I think what we are doing here is of great of importance. The deteriorated security situation on Europe’s eastern and also southern flanks shows no sign of improvement, so we have a continued responsibility to fulfil” Rutte said in a joint news conference with Grybauskaitė. He said that after Russia annexed Crimea and started supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s foreign policy had become “more and more aggressive in recent years.” Speaking on the Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad 2017, Rutte stated, “The exercise has a huge impact in scale. It is very big, very huge. (…) Being of this size, it only underlines the need for NATO to be present here and to help our Lithuanian partners”. Grybauskaitė emphasized that the September exercise is aggressive and aimed against the West, adding that Lithuania would send its officials to observe the training, with an invitation received from Belarus. Furthermore, Grybauskaitė stated that NATO battalions are an integral part of regional defence and the best deterrence measure and that the Allied decision to station troops in the region “demonstrates firm NATO unity, determination and readiness to deter any threat to the Alliance’s territory and people.”
 

LATVIA

Canada sends warship, additional troops and equipment to Latvia
On 12 August, more Canadian troops and equipment arrived at the Riga port to ensure additional support to the military exercise of Canadian-led NATO multinational battlegroup and other allies. The Canadian armed forces have sent about 100 troops of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, four M777 howitzers and other equipment that will be used for the exercise. In addition, on 9 August, Canada sent its Navy Frigate Charlottetown to the Baltic Sea to participate in a NATO operation. Canada, who leads the eFP battlegroup rotating in Latvia, will provide half of the troops in the battalion, which will also include soldiers from Albania, Italy, Spain, Poland and Slovenia. The Defence Ministry added that the Charlottetown’s mission to the Baltic Sea will last six months and will be the second in the last three years.

Group of Chinese naval ships visit Riga
On 5-8 August, a group of three Chinese naval ships visited the Freeport of Riga. As these Chinese warships crossed from the North Sea through the Danish Straits into the Baltic Sea they were met in international waters by Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) for a joint manoeuvre, which the two groups of vessels performed to enter the Baltic Sea. The visit of the Chinese ships in Riga is scheduled and in line with Latvian-Chinese bilateral relations, which is yet another confirmation of the two countries’ successful cooperation, the ministry’s representatives said.

 

ESTONIA

Estonian Foreign Minister discusses security with head of US Congress House Committee
On 8 August, Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser discussed partnership relations and security issues at the meeting with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Edward Royce, in Tallinn. Mikser and Royce affirmed the good partnership relations of Estonia and the United States and discussed security topics, spokespeople for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. They also discussed the importance of strategic communication. Both Mikser and Royce found that together the two countries can help other Eastern European countries in their fight against Russian propaganda. “The United States is one of Estonia’s most important allies and the relationship between the two countries is very strong. This is demonstrated in numerous mutual visits, the presence of U.S. soldiers in Estonia as well as very close cooperation in the field of cyber security,” Mikser said. Other topics discussed at the meeting were strengthening the relationship between the European Union and the U.S. in the fight against terrorism, in cyber defence as well as in transatlantic trade.

Estonia: NATO ships arrive in Tallinn for the weekend
On 11 August, the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) arrived in Tallinn for a scheduled port visit over the weekend to replenish the ship’s supplies and prepare for upcoming exercises. During the visit, the vessels are to make preparations for returning to sea and will give members of the crew the chance to rest for a few days. After the visit the NATO ships will remain in Estonia to carry out several exercises and be prepared for the upcoming mine clearance operation. “The presence of NATO naval units and the clearance of World War era mines will make Estonian waterways safer for us all” Cmdr. Peeter Ivask, commander of the fleet of the Estonian Navy, said. Head of the SNMCMG1 Lt. Capt. Gvido Laudups also visited the headquarters of the Estonian defence forces and the NATO command element and met with Meelis Oidsalu, Deputy Secretary General of the Defence Ministry for defence planning. The flagship of the group is the Latvian Navy’s support vessel LVNS Virsaitis. The Estonian minehunter Sakala is also part of the international unit this half-year.

 

 

The newsletter was prepared by Anders Faarup Nielsen (intern, Tallinn), Jakob Greve Kromann (intern, Riga), Jacob Dalsgaard Pedersen and Leah Elizabeth Winther Hamborg (interns, Vilnius)