NATO keeps mum on 'Baltic brigade' request: Lithuania

1st July 2015, Comments 0 comments

NATO has vowed to hold "continuous" military exercises in eastern Europe to deter Russia but has yet to respond to a request by Baltic states for a permanent brigade, Lithuania said Wednesday.

In May, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formally asked NATO's top commander to deploy a "permanent rotational" battalion-sized unit in each country amid concerns triggered by Russia's military resurgence.

NATO has so far refused to approve a substantial permanent deployment, with some saying it could breach a 1997 agreement with Russia and trigger an arms race.

Lithuania's military spokesman Captain Mindaugas Neimontas confirmed to AFP Wednesday that US General Philip M. Breedlove sent Vilnius a classified document "several weeks ago" vowing that NATO's military drills would continue without considerable breaks.

"NATO's military exercises program in the region (will be) continuous, that is, exercises will be held without major intervals," he added.

Lithuania's top military man, Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, said in a Wednesday statement that he "expected a positive answer" from NATO on the issue of a permanent Baltic brigade.

Currently, Lithuania is hosting over 600 troops from the United States, Germany, Portugal, Norway and Italy participating in military drills and NATO's long-term Baltic air police mission.

Last month, the US pledged to deploy unmanned heavy weapons, including tanks, in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.

Russia has denounced the NATO moves as Cold War-style provocations while upgrading its own armed forces, including a pledge to deploy more than 40 new nuclear ballistic missiles this year.

The Baltic republics with a combined population of six million were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained under Moscow's thumb until 1991.

They joined EU and NATO in 2004 and now fear that Moscow could try to destabilise them to test NATO's commitment to collective defence.

Russia's Prosecutor General's office said Tuesday it was reviewing the legality of the independence of the three Baltic countries, drawing furious reactions from Baltic leaders.

The Kremlin and Russian foreign minister said they were unaware of the initiative.


© 2015 AFP

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