Baltic countries request permanent NATO troop presence

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia call on NATO to set up a permanent presence in Baltics region

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Three defence chiefs from the Baltics has called on NATO to establish a permanent military presence in the region amid tensions between the West and Russia.

Lithuanian chief of defence spokesman Capt. Mindaugas Neimontas confirmed his country along with neighbours Estonia and Latvia had sent a joint letter to NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe earlier this week.

Speaking to the Associated Press on Thursday, Neimontas said the move was a necessary measure due to the current security situation in the region.

"It's not getting better in our region, so it will be a deterrent," Neimontas said, adding each country was requesting a rotational battalion of 700-800 soldiers.

Countries in the Baltics region have particularly been alert after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled a pro-EU uprising last year.

Russia is also accused of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine who have been fighting for the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic since

Yanukovych’s demise, leading to heightened tensions between Russia and Western allies in eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics.

In March, Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that a war of words between Russia and the West could degenerate into something worse, with "devastating" consequences.

Both Russia and NATO have increased their military exercises in the Baltic region since the Ukraine crisis put the two military giants at odds with one another.

The Baltic states have also been increasing their defense budget this year in comparison to last year.

According to a report released last month by Swedish think-tank SIPRI, Lithuania has upped its weapons budget by 50 percent, while Latvia increased its budget by 15 percent.

In March, the US sent 750 military tanks, helicopters, and other heavy equipment, along with nearly 3,000 soldiers to the region to participate in a three-month training exercises in a show of strength against Russia.

The sending of heavy military equipment by the US to Latvia was condemned by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said the move was not helping the restoration of trust between Russia and NATO.

NATO is bound by a 1997 agreement with Russia which prevents it from stationing permanent troops in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia.

TRTWorld and agencies