Baltic states united in face of Russian posturing

Ministers from the three Baltic states said in Latvia Friday they were concerned but not intimidated by massively increased Russian military activity along their borders.

"The situation last weekend and at the beginning of this week with the Russian Air Force conducting flights over the Baltic Sea with strategic bombers, means a new milestone in the security situation and the increasingly aggressive behavior from Russia, which in turn creates international tensions," said Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis after two days of talks in Cesis with his counterparts from Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.

"Stepping up patrolling NATO airspace over the Baltic is more meaningful than ever."

Estonian Defence Minister Sven Mikser confirmed that Russia had even gone so far as to violate Estonian airspace as waves of Russian planes were repeatedly intercepted by NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission.

All three ministers described a spate of Russian air force activity over the Baltic Sea in recent days as “unprecedented”, repeating the words of Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak from Thursday, though Siemoniak left the meeting before speaking to the press.

“We had at least one incident of our sovereign airspace violation also during the weekend... these movements require NATO to stand firm and express its unity. Whenever there are violations of sovereign airspace we need to react appropriately to send a clear signal that allied solidarity is strong,” Mikser said.

“We've seen large scale movements in the air. We've seen long range strategic bombers flying which are not usual visitors in our region. Those moves are unnecessarily provocative.”

 

“Last weekend we saw huge numbers of Russian military forces in the Baltic sea and Baltic airspace,” said Lithuanian Defence Minster Juozas Olekas. “We live in a different situation than we did a year or two ago. What was unusual a year or two ago we should now accept as normal Russian activities and we should be ready."

“We increased the readiness of our forces on Saturday and this is an adequate answer to what is going on”

The trio also reaffirmed their commitment to implementing decisions taken at September's Wales summit and rejected claims reportedly made by Vladimir Putin to Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko also in September that he could capture the three Baltic capitals in two days if he wanted.

“Any aggressive move by any external power against a NATO ally will be met by an immediate and decisive response. There's no doubt that NATO collectively is vastly superior to Russia when it comes to conventional military power,” Mikser said.

“We would like to do what it takes to prevent the event that would trigger Article 5, because when we use Article 5 something bad will already have happened,” Mikser added, warning that in dealing with the Putin regime "weakness is more provocative than strength."

Meanwhile Oleckas drew on the lessons of history to rebuff Putin's boast.

“I just read a book about the Battle of Orsha 500 years ago. Before the battle the leader of Moscow's forces said 'We'll beat Lithuania in two days'. The final result was that Moscow was beaten by Lithuania. I'm not saying that history will repeat itself of course!” he quipped.

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