Baltics want stronger NATO force

  • 2014-07-03
  • From wire reports

Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics has urged NATO members to come to an agreement during the next NATO Summit in Wales, in favor of permanent NATO allied forces’ presence in the Baltic region, reports LETA. Rinkevics made the announcement while taking part in the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels last week, where the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales (on Sept. 4-5) was being discussed. During the talks, the Latvian foreign minister emphasized the importance of transatlantic cooperation and the improvement of collective security. He also indicated that the security environment in Europe has changed, and that the alliance has to take several measures in order to improve collective defense in the long-term.

The NATO Summit will mark the conclusion of the International Security Assistance Force operations at the end of this year and any further planned NATO presence in Afghanistan. Is there widespread support for a permanent NATO presence in the Baltic States? Nearly three quarters of Germans say they oppose NATO having permanent military bases in Eastern Europe, which Poland and the Baltics say are necessary because of a perceived threat from Russia, according to a new poll released on June 25.

The poll, carried out by the research center Forsa, indicates that 74 percent of people surveyed were against the idea while only 18 percent supported it. Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have been among the loudest voices calling for tough sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimean peninsula and have expressed concern about the integrity of their own borders. They count on the Western military alliance for support and have called for a bigger, and in some cases, permanent, NATO presence. Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas told Reuters two weeks ago that Western allies must “open your eyes” to the threat. Russia is an important trading partner for Germany and the source of more than a third of its gas supply.

This relationship has encouraged caution in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The poll indicates strong opposition to sending German troops abroad even when diplomacy or sanctions fail. NATO has tripled the number of fighter jets based in the Baltics and NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said in May that NATO would have to consider permanently stationing troops in Eastern Europe. However, some NATO allies argue that permanent basing of large numbers of troops in the former Soviet bloc is too expensive, is not a military necessity and is needlessly provocative to Moscow. Poland wants NATO to base troops on its territory, though Moscow says this would violate Russia’s 1997 agreement with NATO.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, however, already quashed this objection, saying in April that Russia had already broken this agreement. In his view, Russia breached international law and violated the NATO-Russia cooperation agreement by invading Crimea. The 1997 charter on a ‘Distinctive Partnership’ was the basis for relations between the two, and states that neither party will use force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of each other or third countries. Highlighting the increased NATO presence in the Baltics since Russia’s occupation of the Crimea, the guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin arrived in Riga for a port visit last weekend. This was part of an ongoing effort by U.S. military forces to strengthen ties with NATO allies and regional partners, while working towards mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the Baltic region.

Paet back in April also welcomed the suggestion made at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting to increase the number of planes in the Baltic Air Policing mission, offering Amari near Tallinn as the site for a prospective permanent NATO base in the Baltic States. “The Amari airbase is ready to permanently participate in the Baltic Air Policing Mission,” he said in Brussels. Paet said a long-term and permanent NATO presence in the Baltics is necessary, as merely reacting to crises as they erupt is not enough.

Changes in today’s security situation require more contributions to improve military capabilities, Latvia’s Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said at the conference ‘Secure Europe: Reshaping the Security Paradigm and Seeking New Approaches’ in Batumi, Georgia last week. Vejonis said that this year has brought significant changes to the global security situation: “Russia loudly demonstrated its geo-political ambitions, failing to accept that more former Soviet bloc countries choose Europe and NATO [over Russia].” He said Russia would still like to see the Baltic States in its sphere of influence; therefore, it is necessary to improve the military capability, and boost self-confidence, in order to resist the external influence, which is why the Baltics are so persistent about NATO soldiers being stationed in the region.