US Senator Durbin wants to see permanent presence of US troops in Baltics
On 21 February, Democratic US Senator, Richard Durbin, met with Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, in Vilnius. After the meeting, Durbin said that US troops should be permanently stationed in the Baltic countries. “I would like to see a permanent presence of US troops in the Baltic States not only to supplement the efforts of our NATO allies that we have a great faith and trust in, but also to make it clear that the US is committed to sovereignty and safety of the Baltics,” Durbin said.
Baltic Presidents tells US Vice President Baltic air defence expectations
On 18 February, the Baltic Presidents met with US Vice President, Mike Pence, at the Munich Security Conference. Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, said that she updated the Vice President on the expectations in connection to additional US military instruments to ensure air defence of the Baltic States. The US Vice President reassured the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian presidents on the US commitments to the Baltic security. At the meeting in Munich, Lithuania’s President, Grybauskaite, presented her stance on the need to speed up the NATO decision-making process and raised the issue of US direct participation in the efforts to guarantee air defence of the Baltic States. In her words, the decisions taken during the NATO summit in Warsaw last year on additional NATO capacities in Eastern Europe are no longer enough. “I spoke very specifically about what we expect from NATO. We see that the Warsaw decisions are no longer sufficient. (…) It is also crucial to consider that NATO and US forces are largely focused in Western Europe rather than the riskiest Eastern borders,” the Lithuanian president said.
Baltic officials have long said that air defence was one of the weakest links of the three nations in military terms. In an effort to consolidate it, the countries are considering broader commitments to the Allied military aircraft conducting the air-policing mission and additional land weaponry. The Lithuanian president, Grybauskaite, said the meeting also addressed the Alliance’s reform to speed up the decision-making process. Officials of Lithuania and other countries in the region have called for more powers to NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The proposals are based on fears that decision-making in the council, which includes representatives of all member-states, could take too long in case of crisis. Grybauskaite expressed certitude that the decisions could be taken during the NATO summit in Brussels later this year. Furthermore, Latvian President, Raimonds Vējonis, said that “Latvia and the Baltic states aren’t just interested in taking help from the US but also in giving help to the US and other NATO partners in the fight against terrorism in various places around the world.” After the meeting, Pence said in his Twitter feed that he reassured the Baltic presidents “of US commitment to their security & our partnership.”
BALTICS AND EXERCISE
Estonian Defence Minister, SACEUR speak about Russia’s Zapad military exercise
The Zapad large-scale military exercise to be held by Russia in the fall was one of the topics discussed by Estonian Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, with the commander of NATO forces in Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference that ended on Sunday 19 February. “We are keeping a close eye on developments related to Zapad, because among other things the large-scale military exercise will take place at a very important time for Estonia when Estonia will be performing the EU presidency,” Tsahkna said. “Estonia considers the implementation of the Warsaw agreements, including the presence of allies in the Baltic countries, very important,” he said.
Belarus’ nuclear power plant is Russia’s geopolitical project against Lithuania
On 23 February, President Dalia Grybauskaite said that the Astravyets nuclear power plant under construction in Belarus close to the border with Lithuania is Russia’s geopolitical project directed against Lithuania. “I regard the Astravyets power plant as Russia’s geopolitical project that is malevolently directed against Lithuania. A tool to blackmail and put pressure on Lithuania and to prevent us from synchronizing with the West,” she said. According to the president, Lithuania must use all possible means to stop the project and demand safety and transparency. “No doubt, we must do our homework: to protect our market from electricity from such a plant and expedite the synchronization project. We have to do our work and give a very clear political assessment to this project as geopolitical and hostile toward Lithuania,” she said. In the president’s words, Lithuania must do its utmost to ensure that the Astravyets project is not feasible and that it is identified as harmful and directed against Lithuania. Russia’s state corporation Rosatom is building two nuclear reactors of 1,200 megawatts each in Astravyets, around 50 km. from Vilnius, with the first unit planned to be switched on in 2019 and the second one in 2020. Lithuania maintains that the Astravyets facility falls short of safety standards, but Minsk rejects the criticism as unfounded, saying that the power plant will meet the highest standards.
Lithuanian parliament board updated on threats of cyber-attack
On 22 February, The Lithuanian parliament’s board met with military intelligence officers in Vilnius, focusing on threats of cyber-attacks, Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis said. He refused to elaborate on the information provided by the Second Investigations Department under the Defence Ministry, as the information is classified. Asked to specify the threats that were listed, he said that all of them were contained in the list of threats of the National Security Defence Strategy, with a bigger focus on cyber-attacks. “The National Security Strategy includes 14 threats, and all of them can be discussed in this context. We focused on cyber-attacks; they are ready for them and continue working in the direction,” Pranckietis said. Vytautas Bakas, chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, emphasized that this was the first time military intelligence information was presented in this format. “This year, the parliament will have a big number of issues in connection to national security on its agenda. This is due to the National Security Strategy we will have to implement. We will have an ill-disposed neighbour, and this will not end today or tomorrow. The state and its people must realize that the aggression that is demonstrated by the Eastern neighbour is not short-term, the escalation is permanent, it will continue in the future,” said Bakas, stressing the need to seek a high degree of NATO presence in the region. Darius Jauniskis, the head of the State Security Department, has said that Zapad 2017 to be held in Russia and Belarus later this year would be the main challenge to national security. In his words, they are always alarming, as they are always “aimed against the West.”
Remaining military equipment of NATO battalion leaves Germany for Lithuania
On 21 February, the remaining military equipment to be deployed in the German-led NATO battalion in Rukla, Lithuania, has left Germany for Lithuania. A train with 30 German infantry fighting vehicles Marder, six heavy battle tanks Leopard 2 and six armoured repairs and evacuation machines were sent off from the Grafenwöhr military base in Bavaria. The equipment will be stationed in the Rukla-based International NATO Battalion, which is being set up in response to Russian policies towards Eastern Europe. The first group of German troops arrived in Lithuania back in late January. Up until now, the battalion only received the gear needed for logistics and staff, including a few non-combat armoured vehicles Boxer. The German-led battalion is one of NATO's four combat groups being deployed in the Baltic States and Poland. The battalion in Estonia will be headed by the United Kingdom, while those in Latvia and Poland will be led by Canada and the United States, respectively. About 300 of the planned 450 German troops are already in Rukla, central Lithuania, which will be joined by forces of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, France and Croatia.
NATO air-policing military aircraft scrambled twice from Lithuania last week over Russian military aircraft
Last week, military aircraft serving in the NATO air-policing mission in Lithuania were scrambled twice to identify and accompany Russian bomber flying in the international air space, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Il-22 was flying from mainland Russia to the Kaliningrad region on February 14, accompanied by two Russian military aircraft Su-27, with their automatic transponders switched off. On February 16, an analogous bomber was on route from Kaliningrad to mainland Russia. It was also accompanied by two Su-27 military aircraft that had not switched on their on-board transponders. The NATO air-policing mission to patrol the Baltic skies is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
Two new Vice Ministers of National Defence in Lithuania
On February 20, two new Vice Ministers of National Defence have been appointed in Lithuania: Giedrimas Jeglinskas, former Citigroup corporate banking vice-president will be in charge of procurement, while Edvinas Kerza, former IT head at the Foreign Ministry, will be in charge of cyber security. Jeglinskas’ earlier positions included Citigroup capital markets and corporate finances specialist in Sydney, Singapore and Tokyo. He has been an officer in Lithuania’s Armed Forces. Jeglinskas is a graduate of the West Point academy in the United States, which he graduated with a degree in political sciences. He also has a master’s degree in national security from the Georgetown University in Washington and a master’s degree in business administration from the Columbia Business School in New York. Kerza was lately coordinating key information system projects at the Foreign Ministry and the Lithuanian mission at the European Union. His functions at the Defence Ministry will include cyber security, hybrid resistance, budget formation and implementation. Kerza has a master’s degree in statistics and a bachelor’s degree in engineering informatics from the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University.
Hoax about offence by German troops came from outside EU
The false report to parliamentary speaker and the police about an alleged rape of a small girl by German troops in Lithuania came from outside the European Union, says chief Kaunas prosecutor Darius Valkavicius. He confirmed that the information that has been published is about a crime that did not take place. Lithuania’s Defence Minister, Raimundas Karoblis, has said that the provocation could “originate from Russia” in an effort to discredit NATO forces in Lithuania. Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and the Lithuanian police received the emails on 15 February. The Kaunas police said the data was wrong, launching a pre-trial investigation into misleading reporting or reporting of a crime that never occurred. Pranckietis' spokeswoman said the letter told about German-speaking people surrounding a girl from the Jonava foster institution and raping her. Germany started stationing troops in Lithuania in January. The troops will form basis of the international NATO battalion, which is being deployed in response of Russian actions in Ukraine and the Baltic Sea region.
Latvia is to purchase used self-propelled howitzers from Austria
On 22 February, the Defence Ministry announced that Latvia is to purchase used self-propelled howitzers from Austria as part of its ongoing equipment purchase program. In total, 47 units of military hardware will be purchased from Austria, including not only M109 155mm self-propelled guns but also driver training platforms and a mobile tactical control centre. The Defence Ministry announced furthermore, that the total cost of the deal would be around 6 million EUR, giving an average unit price of 127,000 EUR. A deal to buy the big guns will be signed “in the near future” the ministry said. It is planned that the first howitzers will be delivered this autumn.
Almost half of residents believe that security situation in Latvia has improved
On 20 February, a public opinion survey carried out for the Defence Ministry found that 45 % of Latvia’s residents believe that the security situation has improved in Latvia. The presence of NATO troops, military exercises, and equipment and weapons being bought for the National Armed Forces are mentioned as the main reasons for the improving security situation. When asked for their opinion on the permanent presence of a Canadian-led multinational battalion sized battle group in Latvia starting in 2017, 43 % of respondents said they approved of it, while 17 % were critical. The public opinion survey also showed that in case of a Russian attack, 14 % of respondents said that they would leave Latvia, while 25 % said they would not do anything in particular and continue to live as usual. 39 % would support active resistance, including 8 % who would join the Home Guard. The survey also found that 55 percent of respondents believe Latvia is worth protecting it in every possible way, even if that meant significant loss of life. 26 % disagreed with this. Most of those who disagreed with this are non-Latvians residents with low-income.
Europe is striving to increase financing for defence
On 20 February, the Latvian Defence Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, said that Europe is striving to increase financing for defence, which is in line with the wish of the US that all other NATO members spend more on defence. Bergmanis said that the Europeans already now are spending more on defence – last year Europe’s defence spending rose by 3.8 percent. The minister underscored that in line with increase of financing, it is also equally important how efficiently this money is used.
Good governance and strengthening of institutions is strong defence against hybrid threats
On 18 February, President Raimonds Vejonis said during a discussion session on the security of Northern Europe at the Munich Security Conference, that good governance, and the strengthening of institutions and the media is a strong defence against hybrid threats. He said that hybrid threats are one of the main challenges facing global security today. These include cyber-security, information and border security, energy security, as well as other areas, the president said. “It is clear that European countries must take more responsibility for their own defence. The EU’s abilities in security and defence must be strengthened. However, this does not mean more bases and generals. The EU could contribute to countering hybrid threats with good governance, strengthening the rule of law, supporting strong institutions and media, as well as lessening social inequality,” the president said.
Estonian defence forces to get cyber command, new main rifle
On 23 February, Defence Minister, Margus Tsahkna, signed the development plan that sets out the development goals of national defence for the coming years and the resources to be allocated to achieve these goals, spokespeople for the Ministry of Defence said. Tsahkna said that during the next four years Estonia’s independent defence capability will increase significantly so that the country was able to react immediately if necessary. The minister described the launch of an additional defence investment program from next year as an important step. “In the course of three years, 60 million euros will be allocated from the program to augment stocks of big calibre ammunition,” Tsahkna said. The armoured manoeuvre capability program is one of the biggest capability building projects under the new four-year development plan. By 2019, the Scouts Battalion will have at its disposal 44 CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, and will have support armour next to them by 2020. The first self-propelled artillery that the defence forces are in the process of procuring is expected to arrive in Estonia in 2021. To develop the command capability and military cyber defence capability of the defence forces, a cyber command will be set up on the basis of the existing Headquarters Support and Signal Battalion that will bring together the cyber competencies of the entire area of government of the Ministry of Defence. The development plan also calls for the development of an air operations command centre and making investments in improving awareness of the maritime situation.
US missile cruiser Hue City arrives in Tallinn
On 22 February, Hue City, a Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser of the US Navy, berthed in the port of Tallinn. A press officer for the Estonian Navy said that the cruiser, Hue City, is visiting Estonia this week and the aim of the visit is to reaffirm consistent cooperation of the allies. Commissioned in 1991, Hue City has a crew of 400 and is equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, RUM-139 VL-ASROC anti-submarine missiles and RIM-66 Standard and RIM-67 Standard surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles.
Estonia’s intelligence chief warns of provocations targeting NATO soldiers
On 21 February, Mikk Marran, head of the Estonian foreign intelligence agency, said that Russia will target hundreds of British troops when they are deployed to Estonia in the coming weeks in order to discredit the NATO mission to reinforce the alliance’s eastern flank. Honeytraps, staged pub brawls - designed to make British troops look like thugs - and subversive efforts to penetrate social media accounts to find information for blackmail purposes are expected to be attempted by “the opposite team,” Marran said. He said Estonian and British officials have been discussing the threat for months to prepare the 800 British personnel bound for Estonia to avoid Cold War-style spy games. The deployment will provide a perfect opportunity for Moscow to create a false impression of Western aggression by spreading fake news stories. In Lithuania some media outlets picked up false news last week alleging that soldiers of the German contingent currently deployed in that country had raped an underage girl.
Panel backs bill to increase efficiency of operations of security agencies
On 20 February, the parliament’s constitutional committee endorsed a bill of legislative amendments that seeks to ensure greater efficiency and secrecy of the security operations conducted by the Internal Security Service (ISS) and the Information Board, an agency to be renamed Foreign Intelligence Service soon. The bill to amend the Security Authorities Act and other laws initiated by the government would amend the regulation concerning shadow information and measures of conspiration necessary for the performance of the duties of security authorities in order to make the work of security institutions more effective. It would explicitly set out the right of a security institution to use false data or means of conspiration in order to hide the parties that are performing an action, the purpose of performing the action, and the party to whom rights or duties or a piece of immovable or movable property belongs. The committee backed the bill unanimously and forwarded it to the plenary for the first reading, which will be held on 7 March.
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 training flights in Estonian airspace from Monday 20 February to Thursday 23 February. 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.
Newsletter was prepared by Emil Dyrby (intern, Tallinn), Marie Høstrup (intern, Riga), Anna Sandberg Vig Jensen and Alexander Secher (interns, Vilnius)