Baltics to ask NATO for thousands of troops
The Baltic states will formally ask NATO to deploy several thousand troops as a deterrent, Lithuania said Thursday, amid tensions with Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"We are seeking a brigade-size unit so that every Baltic nation would have a battalion," military spokesman Captain Mindaugas Neimontas told AFP.
He said Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian generals would soon send a joint request to US General Philip Breedlove, NATO's top commander.
Neimontas said the Baltic states were to seek "permanent rotational NATO forces" as a "deterrence measure given the security situation in the region".
He refused to elaborate on specific numbers but a standard brigade could have around 3,000 troops.
Latvia's defence ministry also confirmed the move in a Thursday statement saying "the joint letter will be sent next week".
The ministry said military commanders from all three Baltic states recently decided to request a "brigade level permanent Allied military presence with a roughly battalion-level placement of units in each country."
"An Allied presence is an essential prerequisite for Latvia's security in a situation where Russia does not change its policies regarding the Ukraine conflict and at the same time strongly demonstrates its military presence and potential in the Baltic Sea region," the statement said.
Baltic and Nordic countries have reported an uptick in Russian military activity in the region over the last year. Russian war planes flying with their transponders switched off have endangered civil aviation.
Last month, Lithuania also accused Russian warships of thwarting work on a key underwater power link to Sweden that would reduce the Baltic state's dependence on Russian energy.
Since last year, the United States has deployed around 600 troops in the Baltic states and Poland on rotational basis.
But some European NATO allies, like Germany, have been sceptical about a substantial permanent deployment, saying it could breach a 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia.
Some NATO diplomats also say the alliance is focusing on new "spearhead force" which could be rapidly deployed to deal crises both in the South or East, rather than new permanent deployments.
The Baltic republics were under Soviet rule from the end of World War II to 1991. They now fear Moscow could try to destabilise them to test NATO's commitment to collective defence.
© 2015 AFP