NATO to scale back Baltic air policing aircraft by half

Despite Russian aicraft being intercepted more and more often, NATO will be scaling back the Baltic air policing mission, reducing the number of patrol aircraft by half, announced Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen, chief of media operations at Nato’s Supreme HQ Allied Powers Europe. Later, Latvian Ambassador to the United States Andris Razāns said that the number of NATO jets will remain unchanged during this year.

The decision was made despite the fact that Russian planes have been increasingly common by the borders of member countries of NATO, the EU, and of Latvia in particular. For example, a formation of twelve Russian aircraft was intercepted over the Baltic sea in late July.

As of now, 16 aircraft are part of the NATO Baltic air policing mission, and their number will be reduced to eight in autumn. Before events in Ukraine, the patrolling mission consisted of four aircraft.

Janzen said the reduction was appropriate to the scale of the task, reported the Guardian on Monday. 

A Nato official explained that it was difficult to understand what motivated Russia and to know for certain if these events were provocations or could be explained by other factors such as weather.

Even though the air policing mission will be scaled back, it doesn't mean that the Baltics will be left defenseless.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to Estonia in June that the US military will be sending 250 units of heavy weaponry, including dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers to allied countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Talks have begun between Latvia and the United States on how and where precisely to deploy the heavy weaponry. 

On July 31, Latvian chief of defense Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube said that Latvia will buy Stinger air-defense systems from the United States.

NATO's Baltic air policing mission operates from bases in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.

NATO will not start reducing the number of jets policing Baltic airspace before the end of this year, Latvian Ambassador to the United States Andris Razāns said in an interview with Latvian Television on August 5.

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