KBaltic troops prepare for Georgia

The Baltic Times
Monika Hanley, RIGA
2008. gada 21. augusts.

NATO leaders, including representatives of the three Baltic states, have decided to take action and send a group of peacekeepers to Georgia following the country”s military crisis.

“There will be 20 heading to Georgia today with the possibility of 100. They will go to the “secure zone,”” said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

As The Baltic Times went to press the Latvian armed forces were reportedly preparing troops for a peacekeeping and observation mission in Georgia, although international bodies and Latvian authorities have yet to give their mandate for such a mission.

All three Baltic states have previously expressed their willingness to take part in a peacekeeping mission in the region.

Speaking on the Latvian TV program “900 Seconds,” Latvian National Armed Forces Commander Juris Maklakovs said an analysis has been carried out to select servicemen who have experience in observation missions and would be suitable for deployment to Georgia. He said the NAF has about 25 such soldiers.

“I have received an assignment, we have started preparations, but of course it is connected to the decisions of the government and other institutions. Our task is to be ready for it, we are doing the selection and starting to prepare,” said Maklakovs.

Estonia and Lithuania have also expressed readiness to take part in an EU or other multinational peacekeeping mission.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that it is sending two of its leading cyberdefense experts to Tbilisi to help stave off cyberattacks from Russia. Estonia successfully defended itself against similar attacks during the “bronze soldier” riots of 2007.

The experts are likely to be part of the new NATO cyberdefense center established in Tallinn, and if so, the move would be one of the strongest instances so far of NATO lending practical support to Georgia.

While waiting for the expected withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, the Latvian parliament on August 14 adopted a statement condemning Russia”s military attack on Georgia.

The statement expressed condolences to relatives of the victims of the conflict and called on international organizations to take an active role in helping Georgia deal with the consequences of the war.

The stronglyworded statement condemns Russia”s attack on Georgia and raises worries that the Baltics could be threatened with similar action.

“The Latvian parliament believes that Russia has breached sovereignty and state inviolability of Georgia by launching military attacks against Georgia”s civil and military objects. This action arouses concern for the security, territorial inviolability and independence of every neighbor state of Russia,” said the statement.

EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels last week endorsed in principle a proposal to send observers to Georgia”s breakaway province of South Ossetia to oversee the observance of a ceasefire between Georgian and Russian forces.

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering made a visit to Latvia on Aug. 19 and after a meeting with parliament said “the recent events are clear aggression towards a sovereign state, Russia must withdraw its troops immediately.”

He also went on to express his happiness that the three Baltic states are members of NATO and the EU.

“Baltic countries are not alone, they are part of our community, we are united by equal values and solidarity,” Pottering told journalists.

Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins has noted previously that neither Georgia nor Ossetians are satisfied with the present peacekeepers and that it would be necessary to consider changing the peacekeeping format in this territory.

The Baltics have been among the most Georgia supportive groups so far in the conflict. Since the ceasefire was signed the Baltics have adopted a firm stance against Russia and in support of the territorial integrity of Georgia.

Despite the promise to withdraw its troops from Georgia, officials report that little movement has been made.

“I am ready to discuss anything and everything, but not under circumstances where Russian troops are not withdrawing when they have promised to. I am ready to discuss anything, but it is now in the hands of Russia to take action,” said Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.