By Christopher Harress
August 10, 2015
The Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have begun discussing joint military procurement to bring about cost savings, enable better cooperation and help deal with Russian hostility at their borders. The discussions over the weekend, amid continued provocative moves by the Kremlin, were designed to allow the three small ex-Soviet countries to get more defense for less while also deterring Moscow’s jets and warships.
“We face an increased security threat, and this requires us to strengthen defense cooperation,” said Juozas Olekas, Lithuania’s defense minister, in a statement, according to aDefense news report. “Regional defense collaboration among the Baltic states is more critical now than ever. Our assurance in terms of our security is our solidarity.”
The talks that took place in Finland also marked the beginning of an official relationship with the Nordic Defense Cooperation Partnership, which consists of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. It will see the Baltic states gain access to Scandinavian armaments and training, as well as develop enhanced cooperation and capacity-building. The nations also will discuss joining a missile defense system that would be based on the large Swedish island of Gotland. The missile system would cover the entire Baltic region.
The new relationship is built on a shared fear of an unpredictable Russian state that has already infiltrated the sovereign airspace and territorial waters of nearly every country that shares a Baltic coastline. And with the May 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea fresh in the minds of the three former Soviet states, adequate defense has become a priority.
“Issues related to strengthening military cooperation were covered, and talks included the joint acquisition of weaponry, especially relating to air defense,” Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said at a news conference after the talks, while also noting that joint acquisition offered the advantage of reducing overall costs on future equipment buys.
The talks also covered the increasing U.S. defense role across the three countries. In strengthening Eastern European defense under its NATO mandate, the U.S. has deployedtanks, troops and advanced missile defense units to the border with Russia, and has conducted extensive training there.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned in a speech Aug. 3 that Russia was gearing to take over the “whole of Europe,” and would start with the Baltic region and Finland.
All the three Baltic States currently use the Lithuania-based NATO air policing mission that keeps the skies above the country clear of Russian aircraft. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia lack functional air forces.