TALLINN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Latvia last month, on Aug. 18 said that NATO will defend the Baltic States should there be need for it, but she ruled out the possibility that NATO would set up permanent bases in the Baltics. Estonian leaders, however, continue to reiterate that NATO’s presence in the Baltic region must grow, reports Public Broadcasting.
Merkel ruled out permanent NATO bases, saying this would violate the 1997 agreement between Russia and NATO on the use of troops.
However, Chairman of the Estonian Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson said that German Chancellor Merkel’s opinion that bringing allied forces to the Baltic countries would violate the 1997 Russia-NATO agreement is based on false premises. “This agreement does not exist anymore because already in 2008, Russia violated [the agreement] when it attacked Georgia. The final blow to the Russian-NATO partnership was given by Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, the occupation and annexation of the Crimea.”
Merkel added that although there will be no NATO permanent bases in the Baltic States, military exercise capacity will be increased. “We need to do everything so that the Baltic countries have the necessary infrastructure for rapid response,” she asserted.
Mihkelson said that in such a situation, it is extremely important that NATO member states, who are preparing for a summit, would treat Russia as a real threat, and work in the name of strategic balance in the Baltics and the Polish region. This requires a permanent presence of allied forces in the whole region, he believes.
“The Estonian government must now do everything to make sure that this aim was NATO’s common goal,” said Mihkelson.
Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser said that Estonia’s firm aim is that the presence of allies in this region needs to grow.
“Certainly a lot of explaining work has to be conducted among allies at the summit on how the Russian aggression against Ukraine has dramatically changed the European security situation,” Mikser said.
Just recently, the United States announced sending heavy equipment units to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Mihkelson pointed out that Russia has already for more than half a year escalated the situation in Ukraine and has in no way demonstrated a willingness to end support for terrorism in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, Russia has increased its troop presence behind the Baltic borders by establishing new bases, such as an assault helicopters unit in Ostrov, or strengthening the battle capacity of the existing units.