NATO fighter jets will continue air policing in the Baltic states (photo: creative commons)
NATO will continue air policing in the Baltic states and will send a fresh rotation of fighter jets to the region next year, the alliance has announced.
The rotations come amid fears from Baltic officials a similar Crimea style scenario may be repeated in the region by Russia following the crisis in the Ukraine.
Russian defense officials have criticized NATO for targeting Moscow and said the build of forces in the region would not make Europe safer.
"Today's Baltic air policing mission requires both high readiness and interoperability," said NATO Air Command Director, US. Air Force General Frank Gorenc said.
The Baltic air space is currently patrolled by fighter jets from Portugal, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. NATO forces are
NATO jets were put on alert last month after a Russia jet allegedly entered Estonian airspace illegally. The jet was chased away by NATO jets, a claim Russia has flatly denied.
The build of NATO forces in the region has been met with suspicion by officials in Moscow.
“The exercise scenario is aimed at drilling actions of staffs of various levels in the conditions of an attack of ‘a hostile major state’ on a member of the alliance,” said Sergei Koshelev, head of the main international co-operation department of the Russian Defense Ministry.
“It is obvious that the course NATO member states have chosen will not make the situation in Europe safer,” the official added, cited by Russia's TASS news agency.
More than 2,500 troops and 300 military vehicles from nine NATO member states are currently holding military exercises in the Lithuania.
The goal of the exercises is to enhance the defense of Lithuania and the Baltic States, improve interoperability of allied troops and prepare properly for various military scenarios. The exercise also serves to test preparedness of the armed forces for standby in the NATO Response Force (NRF).
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said: "Collective defense is the basis of the united and strong NATO. The Wales Summit agreed on concrete collective defense measures for the Baltic States. This exercise is a good proof that NATO is placing special focus on our security and taking concrete measures to ensure it."