NATO to hold air drills over Baltics this week

31st March 2014, Comments 0 comments

NATO will hold air drills over the ex-Soviet Baltic countries on Tuesday -- an annual exercise that has gained added significance this year amid growing concerns over Russia's territorial ambitions.

"It is yet further proof of the alliance's solidarity and commitment," Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told AFP on Monday.

The two-day exercise will involve American F-15 fighter jets and NATO's AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, as well as JAS-39 Gripen combat jets from non-NATO member Sweden.

Russian action against Ukraine has rattled nerves in the region, as the three Baltic nations of 6.3 million people -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- were firmly under Moscow's thumb throughout the Cold War.

The trio spent five decades under Kremlin rule until winning independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991. They joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Because the Baltic states lack sufficient aircraft to police their own skies, larger NATO members have taken turns patrolling their airspace.

The United States reinforced its presence earlier this month by sending six extra F-15 fighter jets to boost the mission.

Britain, Denmark and France have also offered additional warplanes, while Germany will allegedly follow suit according to a report from German magazine Der Spiegel.

© 2014 AFP

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