RIGA - Top NATO and international officials have said that Baltic defense must be strengthened to counter the threat of a potential Russian invasion.
After Russia's assault on Georgia, Kurt Volker, the new U.S. envoy to NATO, stated that NATO must fortify its defense system. "Those countries are members of NATO; so if there is any attack on those countries we will all respond," Volker told the Financial Times.
"NATO is a defensive alliance, and Article 5 is the routine business of NATO. It is a political body and so it makes political statements and decisions, but underneath that, the structure of NATO is planning and exercising," a U.S. embassy representative quoted Volker as saying.
Volker went on to say that NATO must send signals to help the Baltics uphold Article 5, which guarantees the defense of each nation from the rest.
"They are feeling a little rattled by seeing Russia use military force to invade a sovereign, small neighboring country. We need to send signals to shore them up a little bit," he said.
However, according to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Baltic States' concerns regarding their security are groundless.
"Their concerns about the policy of Russia following the Georgia conflict are only a way to keep the political elite there in a somewhat exalted state," Medvedev said in an interview with the Italian TV channel RAI.
Medvedev dismissed the Baltics' concerns as "phantom limb pain."
NATO and international officials pointed out that the Baltics as member states are not being treated any differently than other states. Gen. Egon Ramms, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, said in a conference in Tallinn to take his visit as a "good sign of it that NATO cares for the Baltic States."
General Ramms also made a two-day visit to Lithuania to get better acquainted with the proceeding of the Lithuanian Armed Forces' NATO integration and its level of readiness.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai, meanwhile, told journalists that the U.S. proposal was under discussion by NATO states and was expected to be a topic for NATO defense ministers when they hold an informal meeting in London on Sept. 18.
"I think he has reflected a sentiment that is more widely shared within the alliance," Appathurai said regarding Volker's comments.
The spokesman said he was not aware of any request from the Baltic States for more visible NATO deployments, but they had previously sought more routine defense planning.
The Baltic governments are also taking action to ensure the best defense. "Following development of international situation, conclusions are obvious 's all Latvian home guards at any time should be ready for new challenges," Latvian defense minister Vinets Veldre said at a Sept. 6 Home Guard conference.
Volker, a career diplomat who was formerly an adviser to John McCain, the Republican U.S. presidential candidate, took over as NATO ambassador as the Georgia crisis was unfolding.
"We will have to make sure ... that the Article 5 commitment is realizable not just as a political matter but as a military matter too," Volker said. He continued: "We need to do what NATO ought to do, not in a provocative way and not in a rushed or hasty way. But NATO being credible is what's important."