Tensions rise as NATO expansion nears

  • 2004-03-25
  • From wire reports
MOSCOW-TALLINN - Russia stated this week that it might take retaliatory steps if NATO proceeds with its plans to station warplanes and air defenses in the Baltic states.

"If the alliance considers that such defenses are needed in the region, then Russia reserves the right to make its own conclusions and if necessary, take corresponding measures," Alexander Yakovenko, a spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry, told reporters March 23.
He stated that the questions surrounding the deployment of new military infrastructure near the country's immediate borders affects Russia's security.
"It is clear that such plans directly threaten Russia's security," he added.
Russia is particularly irked by reports that the three Baltic countries were set to receive four F-16 fighter jets from Denmark next month when they join NATO, according to comments from a Danish spokesman.
This week Lithuania announced that the air unit that would patrol the Baltic skies would be stationed in Siauliai, with a reserve airfield in Estonia.
"The reserve airports will also be in Estonia and Latvia, but [the planes] are planned to be deployed in Lithuania," Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius said in remarks to Radio Free Europe.
Diplomatic sources have said that the fighter jets will be provided by rotation, and that Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands would probably take part in the project, while Norway would help with flight control.
The alliance's decision, Russia's Yakovenko said, "poorly conforms to the spirit of the current partnership between Russia and NATO."
He added that it was a "pity" that NATO overestimated the situation in the region where "security threats are absent, thanks to Russia's efforts, among other things."
Last month Russian military officials made accusations that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spied on the country using AWACS surveillance planes over the Baltic region. NATO retaliated with claims that the planes were simply conducting demonstration flights for incoming member Latvia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov urged the alliance last month not to install new military facilities in Poland and the Baltics. He stated that his country would boost its military presence in the Russian exclave Kaliningrad if NATO proceeded.
Despite these disputes, the ceremony to mark NATO's expansion will be held at its headquarters in Brussels on April 2. The events will include a press conference by the alliance's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and foreign ministers from the acceding countries.
NATO at present includes the former Soviet satellites of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, which joined in 1999.