NATO boosts presence in Baltics, Poland

  • 2014-05-01
  • Staff and wire reports

VILNIUS - Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said at the opening of the Lennart Meri Conference on Friday, April 25, speaking about the security of the Baltic Sea and trans-Atlantic space, that the international security situation has utterly changed following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and new solutions must be found to ensure security, reports LETA.

“For Europe’s response to be credible, we must, among other things, deal seriously with corruption in business and make money laundering impossible in Europe,” President Ilves said. He also recalled that while some European countries worry about the effect that the sanctions may have on their economies, Europe must also consider the price of not responding, including the economic price.
“For example, the acceptance of millions of refugees from a conquered Ukraine would have a considerable economic impact on Europe,” Ilves added.

The key issues at the conference, organized by the International Center for Defense Studies, were security in the Baltic Sea region, and the international security situation in general.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, and the illegal annexation of the Crimea, has destroyed a long-standing peace that had settled over Europe. In doing so, this has served to reinvigorate the NATO defense organization, which views Russia as a potential threat to member states.

U.S. delegation arrives in Baltics
U.S. Republican Senators John McCain, John Barrasso and John Hoeven were on a fact-finding trip in mid-April through the Baltics, and which also included stops in Norway and Moldova. Senators McCain and Hoeven, in Tallinn on April 15, said that the West has to respond in a wide-scale way to Russia’s steps in Ukraine, reported Postimees Online.
“We have to react together to Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and to the current military interference in eastern Ukraine,” McCain said at a press conference. McCain added that the West has to give Ukraine increased diplomatic, financial and military aid.

“It is inexcusable that we haven’t helped the Ukrainian government to defend itself,” said McCain. “Ukraine doesn’t have defensive weapons; they need night vision goggles, anti-tank weapons,” he added.
The President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor met with senators, with the discussion focused on security issues in Europe, including energy security. Nestor acknowledged the resolutions in support of Ukraine issued by the U.S. Congress, and the specific steps taken by the senators in preventing the escalation of tensions.

“Ukraine, just like Moldova and Georgia, needs clearer support for their reforms and social reorganizations from the democratic countries. These countries have expressed their wish to share our values. And this sharing is also a happy duty for us,” Nestor said.

“Russia’s military activities in Ukraine, changing the borders of countries, justifying the occupation of Crimea with a fake referendum and applying continued pressure on rebuilding Ukraine as a state – this is how Russia itself is complicating its cooperation with Europe and the USA,” stated Ilves at his meeting with McCain and Hoeven.
Both the Estonian head of state and the senators emphasized that in a situation where Russia is opposed to democratic values and has abandoned the basis for international law, the uniform, visible, consistent and defiant attitude of the European Union and NATO, who protect these values, is becoming more and more important.

“This means precise and effective sanctions, together with activities that are required to increase NATO’s presence along the eastern border of the alliance,” President Ilves said. “We need some action because words alone are too weak.”
In Latvia on April 15, McCain, following his meeting with President Andris Berzins, denied reports that a new military base would be established in Latvia.

McCain asked if it is acceptable for Russia to invade another country on the pretext of protecting fellow Russian-speakers, replied: “We would all like to protect our own people, but if every nation of the world would behave as Russia does, in invading, or threatening to invade another country in order to protect Russian-speakers, we would have endless conflict around the globe.”
“It would be a gross violation of international law,” he added.

The senator stressed that Putin needs to fully understand America’s commitment to defending its Baltic allies. “There are consequences for [Putin’s] behavior, both in the short and long term,” he said.
“I want to send a clear signal to [Putin] that his behavior is not acceptable in the 21st century.”
Senator Barrasso spoke of the need for an “immediate response, that shows the strength and force” available to encourage Russia to stop its aggression. This is “the only thing Putin understands.”
In Lithuania, President Dalia Grybauskaite on April 16 met with the senators. The discussion points were the same: Ukraine and the threats posed to the security of Europe.

McCain spoke in favor of enhancing military cooperation with the Baltic States. He said that military cooperation can and has to be enhanced, along with carrying out military exercises and deploying troops on a rotation basis.
The influential senator also said of defense funding: “It is important that Lithuania’s defense spending reached 2 percent of GDP as soon as possible.”
According to Grybauskaite, Russia’s actions in Ukraine pose a threat to the security system of all of Europe. It is very important that Western states take a common position and seek common solutions to resolve the situation in Ukraine. Russia no longer respects international agreements and continues to escalate the conflict.

Boosting defense
The Baltic States, NATO members since 2004, have already seen increased security measures. Additional fighter jets have been sent to patrol the Baltic skies. U.S. troops have been deployed to the Baltic States and Poland, numbering 600 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Italy.
Of these, 150 troops arrived in Poland on April 23, while an additional 450 troops arrived in the Baltic States to participate in military training.

In Latvia, plans are for them to stay until at least the end of the year, said the U.S. Embassy in Latvia.
The U.S. will provide this rotational military presence based on NATO’s various capabilities in the air, on ground and sea, in effect boosting the presence of the U.S. army in Europe in the region.
“The prompt reaction by the United States is praiseworthy, and Latvia is grateful to its NATO partners for their decisions that will increase the country’s security,” stressed Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis.

The deployment of troops as part of the new exercises is the first step confirming NATO support for Latvia and the Baltic region. “We expect that the presence of the allies’ troops in the Baltic region will become more intensive and that more troops will be deployed,” said Vejonis.