Tag: Defence Minister

As Russia threatens, Sweden ponders joining NATO

Vladimir Putin’s mock attacks on Scandinavia could make the Swedes end 200 years of neutrality

SWEDEN’S Aurora-17 drill, which continues until the end of September, is the biggest war game that the supposedly neutral country has carried out for 23 years. Not only does it involve 19,000 of Sweden’s armed forces (about half of them), including its Home Guard, but also more than 1,500 troops from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and America.

All except Finland are members of NATO, the big western alliance.

The size of the exercise and its main focus, the defence of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea some 350km (220 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is a reflection of how insecure Sweden feels.

Vladimir Putin, having gobbled up Crimea and attacked Ukraine, is flexing his muscles near the Baltics and Scandinavia. Russia’s massive Zapad-17 military exercise, which finished this week, involved sending 100,000 troops to Belarus and the Baltic to practise repelling the “Western Coalition”.

Foreign observers were banned, as they never are from NATO exercises. (Perhaps luckily: a Russian helicopter reportedly fired missiles at spectators by mistake, though the government denies this.)

There have been plenty of other causes for disquiet. In March 2013 Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters, across the Gulf of Finland to within 40km of Gotland.

Su-27UB , Su-27P and Tupolev Tu-22M3

The planes only veered off after carrying out what NATO analysts believed was a dummy nuclear attack on targets in Sweden. After many years of static or declining defence spending, Sweden had to rely on Danish F-16s, part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing operation, to respond.

In 2014 a Russian submarine penetrated the Stockholm archipelago, departing without being found. Since then Russia has stepped up the frequency of menacing, no-notice military drills in the region.

Small wonder many Swedes think they should end 200 years of neutrality by joining NATO. If they did, any Russian attack on Sweden would be treated as an attack on America and its 28 NATO allies.

All the main Swedish opposition parties want to join, apart from the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats, who like many European populists have a curious fondness for Mr Putin.

Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favour NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.

But for now the Social Democratic-Green coalition government, in office since 2014, wants to get as close as possible to NATO without actually joining it.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, is the author of a policy that tries to square the contradictions in the country’s security policy.

Part of the “Hultqvist doctrine”, as it is known, is to improve Sweden’s neglected capacity for self-defence. Military spending is rising—by about 5% annually in real terms over the next three years—and conscription is being reintroduced next year.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister

The other part is building closer defence co-operation with its non-NATO neighbour, Finland, as well as with America and Baltic littoral states in NATO. All of which Aurora-17 is meant to demonstrate.

Both Sweden and Finland also entered into a “host country support agreement” with NATO, which allows alliance forces to move through their territory and pre-position kit by invitation.

Mr Hultqvist himself is suspected of hankering after NATO membership. But for now the government has ruled it out. There is still a good deal of anti-Americanism on the Swedish left (which Donald Trump does little to dispel).

There is also a fear, expressed by the foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, of provoking Mr Putin (who has promised to “eliminate the threat” were Sweden to join NATO). Many observers doubt that Finland, where popular support for NATO is lower, would be ready to make a joint decision in favour of membership—something Swedish NATO boosters see as crucial.

There are good reasons why NATO itself might be keen for Sweden (and Finland) to join its fold. Defence of its Baltic members would be much harder without guaranteed access to Swedish ground and airspace. As a member, Sweden would be far more integrated with NATO’s command-and-control systems. Interoperability of its forces with those of the alliance would improve, making them more effective in a fight.

Sweden’s NATO question is being fudged for now, but it will loom large in next year’s general election. If the Swedes do eventually make the jump, Mr Putin will have only himself to blame.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A funny kind of neutrality”


Lithuanian Defence minister says there’s too much nervousness over Zapad

VILNIUS – The public in Lithuania is too nervous about Zapad 2017, a large-scale military exercise that has started in Russia and Belarus, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said on Thursday morning.

“This is what worries me most. It seems to me that we scare ourselves more than it is adequate in the situation,” he said on LRT Radio.

According to the minister, the situation was more complicated half a year ago than it is now, but the Baltic states and Poland managed to convince NATO that the Alliance as a whole had to be ready for the war games.

“When we spoke about Zapad and voiced our position, half a year ago the situation at our borders looked more serious than it is now. Our actions in drawing NATO’s attention to Zapad and putting all intelligence bodies, all NATO bodies, our allies on that path, and all joint actins and tactical moves — drills are taking place in Poland, as is the Aurora exercise near Sweden — have made Zapad a matter of not only Poland and the Baltic countries, but also of NATO as a whole. This is our biggest gain,” he said.

Karoblis underlined that Zapad 2017 poses a minimal threat, adding that one of the neighbors’ goals is to intimidate the Baltic countries.

The Russia-Belarus joint exercise formally begins on Thursday and will run through Sept. 20. Moscow says that the war games involve fewer than 13, 000 troops, but Western officials believe that around 100, 000 soldiers will actually take part.

Lithuania military intelligence says that the Zapad scenario will very likely include an armed conflict with NATO. With part of the drills taking place close to the Lithuanian border, Lithuanian officials do not rule out possible incidents and provocations.


Poland’s defence chief to hold talks in Paris Today

Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz (UAWIRE)


Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz will travel to Paris today for talks with his French counterpart Florence Parly, against a backdrop of strained relations between the two countries.

The visit followed an invitation from the French defence minister, the Polish ministry said late Tuesday, adding that the two would discuss cooperation and other matters.

French and Polish officials have been trading barbs over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to overhaul a controversial EU rule on sending workers abroad.

Poland fiercely opposes any change to the so-called Posted Workers Directive, since it would make it harder for thousands of Poles to work elsewhere in the EU.

Last week, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo accused Macron of “trying to introduce protectionism,” dismissing claims from wealthier European countries that the measure creates unfair competition on labour markets.

Poland is also facing the ire of the European Union over concerns about the country’s planned judicial reforms, which the EU says pose a “systemic threat” to the rule of law.



Estonian Defence Minister to visit Finland on Wednesday

Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik

HELSINKI, Sep 12, STT-BNS – Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik is to visit Finland on Wednesday, the Finnish Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.

Among others, Luik is to meet with Finnish Minister of Defense Jussi Niinisto, with whom he will discuss bilateral relations, the security situation on the Baltic Sea and bilateral and international cooperation, the ministry’s statement said.

Jüri Luik has held the positions of Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estonian Minister of Defense and the permanent representative for Estonia in NATO. Currently he is the Estonian minister of Defence.

Prior to his current position, Mr. Luik was from 2003 – 2007 the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Estonia to Canada, the United Mexican States and the United States of America. He has been active in Estonian foreign affairs since 1991.


Preparations for Belarusian-Russian army exercise Zapad 2017 over

Belarussian Defence Minister Andrei Ravkov

ASHULUK EXERCISE AREA, 7 September (BelTA) – Preparations for the Belarusian-Russian strategic army exercise Zapad 2017 have been completed, BelTA learned from Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov on 7 September.

The official said: “Preparations for the Zapad 2017 exercise are now over. The deployment of the command system will be finished on 13 September. On 14 September we will get down to fulfilling tasks of the joint strategic army exercise.”

The military personnel have been already been stationed where they will fulfill their combat training missions. The united command of the regional military force is being deployed.


Germany disputes size of Russian wargames, predicts 100,000 troops

FILE PHOTO: German German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

TALLINN (Reuters) – Germany said on Thursday that Russia was planning to send over 100,000 troops to war games on NATO’s eastern flank this month, disputing Moscow’s version that only 13,000 Russian and Belarussian servicemen would participate.

The Sept. 14-20 exercises known as Zapad, or “West” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are stirring unease in NATO despite Moscow’s assurances troops would rehearse a purely defensive scenario.

“It is undisputed that we are seeing a demonstration of capabilities and power of the Russians,” German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters at an EU defense ministers’ meeting in Tallinn.

“Anyone who doubts that only has to look at the high numbers of participating forces in the Zapad exercise: more than one hundred thousand,” she said in a joint news conference with her French counterpart Florence Parly.

While Baltic nations have voiced concerns about a bigger-than-reported exercise and while NATO’s secretary-general expects more than 13,000 troops, Von der Leyen’s remarks are the first time a top Western politician has called out Russia publicly on what NATO sees as the true size of the war games.

Such numbers would be legal under international treaties on war games, but would require inviting international observers.

With less than 13,000 troops, international observation of the drills is not mandatory, Russia says.


An exercises on that scale is one of NATO’s most pressing concerns. France, for one, believes the war games are no simple military drill, even though Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told Western military attaches in Moscow in August the West had nothing to fear.

Russia accuses NATO of building up forces on its frontiers in a manner reminiscent of the Cold War. But NATO says it is protecting the interests of member states bordering Russia who are troubled by Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and links to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Previous large-scale exercises in 2013 employed special forces training, longer-range missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that were later used in the Crimea annexation and in actions in eastern Ukraine and Syria, NATO diplomats said.

“Russia has a global strategy of a visible, deliberate demonstration of force,” Parly said before heading to meet French troops in Estonia as part of NATO’s deployment of deterrent forces in the Baltics and Poland.

“They have a strategy of intimidation,” Parly said, warning that any attack on a Baltic country or Poland by Russia would be considered an attack on all of the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Ralph Boulton


Russian-Belarusian drills pose threat to Poland: defence minister

Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz. Photo: PAP/Paweł Supernak

Contrary to claims by Moscow, Russian and Belarusian war games scheduled near the Polish border later this month pose a “real danger” to Poland, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said on Friday.

He added that “for the first time” the approaching Russian-Belarusian Zapad military exercises were “aggressive.”

“They are not at all defensive, but aggressive and that’s dangerous,” Macierewicz told state television broadcaster TVP Info.

He also said the drills may see “incomparably more soldiers involved than permitted by the Vienna Convention and than the Russians are declaring themselves when they speak of only 12,500 troops.”

Macierewicz added: “According to information that has been reaching us, nearly 100,000 soldiers have been mobilised for these exercises.”

The Russian-Belarusian Zapad’17 maneuvers are scheduled to take place from 14 to 20 September.

According to official data, some 12,500 troops, including 3,000 from Russia, with 700 pieces of military equipment are to take part in the drills in Belarus, which Poland neighbours to the east, but Polish observers have said there might be many more.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported last week, citing estimates by “Western officials and analysts,” that “up to 100,000 military personnel and logistical support could participate in the Zapad (West) 17 exercise.”

According to Macierewicz, there are also concerns that some of these troops will remain in Belarus after the exercises end.

“And they will significantly change the balance of power, the balance of power on NATO’s eastern flank. That is why we treat these exercises as a real danger,” Macierewicz said.

Macierewicz also said he hoped that more American troops will be stationed in Poland in the future and that “they will increase their presence as required by the geopolitical situation.” (gs/pk)

Source: PAP


New British aircraft carriers unwelcome in South China Sea

Royal Navy photo of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea trials.

Responding to the possibility of new UK aircraft carriers operating in the South China Sea, China’s foreign ministry said the deployment would only “stir up trouble”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang made these remarks after UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson hinted at the possibility of the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth carriers being sent to the waters of the South China Sea.

“At present, countries in the region are working together to safeguard and promote regional peace, stability and prosperity, yet we see some countries outside the region who insist on stirring up trouble while the situation is trending towards calm in the South China Sea,” Kang said.

“Whoever they are, under whatever pretexts and whatever they say, their precedents of interfering in other regions on high-sounding reasons but only leaving behind chaos and humanitarian disaster warrant sharp alert of regional countries and people.”

During his visit to Australia on Thursday, Boris Johnson said the UK would not be prevented from sending its two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea where Beijing is in dispute with its neighbor countries over who has control over the strategically important waterway.

“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,” Johnson said.

In addition to the foreign secretary’s announcement, UK defense minister Michael Fallon told Reuters he hopes the UK would be able to send a warship to the region next year adding that the country would not allow China to constrain its movement in the South China Sea.

Liberals limiting options for stopgap fighter jet deal

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets.

CBCNEWS, By Murray Brewster, 23 June 2017

Talks with the Pentagon about filling the Canadian air force’s short-term need for jet fighters remain on track, said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Those negotiations for a so-called “interim capability” continue despite the Liberal government making a very public display at the Paris Air Show this week of snubbing Boeing executives.

The U.S. aerospace giant’s commercial trade complaint against Montreal-based Bombardier has thrown the military contract into limbo.

Boeing wants trade regulators in Washington to investigate subsidies for Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft, claiming they allow the Canadian company to export planes at well below cost.

The Liberals had intended to purchase 18 Super Hornet fighters — at a potential total program cost of between $5 billion and $7 billion — from Boeing. The deal was supposed to be a stopgap until the government can finalize the purchase of 88 permanent replacements for the aging CF-18 fleet.

After Boeing filed the trade complaint earlier this year, the government broke off contact with the U.S. company and said it was reviewing the “interim” fighter deal. It heightened the rhetoric last month, saying the aircraft maker was no longer the “trusted partner” it had been.

Sajjan said that, regardless of the trade dispute, the urgent requirement for fighters has not gone away and must be filled somehow.

“We’re still continuing our discussions with the U.S. government, making sure that we fill this capability gap,” Sajjan said.

Other options?

If Boeing has been frozen out, what is the Liberal government talking about with the Pentagon?

Sajjan said there are “other options,” but refused to explain what they might be.

There are limited choices for a government-to-government purchase with the U.S. if the Super Hornet has been excluded.

During a recent trip to Singapore, Sajjan met with the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is eager to sell Canada its advanced, but often maligned, F-35 — a plane the Liberals promised not to buy during the last election.

A defence industry source with knowledge of the file said Lockheed Martin has sent a letter to the Liberal government, expressing interest in providing its jets as the “interim solution.”


Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan unveiled the government’s long-awaited vision for the Canadian Armed Forces last week. The new policy calls for the purchase of 88 new jet fighters but also says the government will continue to explore a stopgap purchase until the full fleet arrives. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Sajjan dismissed the notion of making the stealth fighter the “interim” solution and seemed to place his faith in the trade dispute being settled.

“No, right now for us we need to fill this interim capability gap and keep on with these discussions with the U.S. government on this,” he told CBC News. “We are going to be looking at other options as well. We are looking for this to be resolved by the U.S. Department of Commerce quickly, so we can get back to business.”

During an appearance before the Commons defence committee late Tuesday, the country’s top military commander also dangled that possibility.

“What I would tell you is that, as the minister has said, the option for the Super Hornet is still open,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Referring to Boeing, he said: “They’re a bad partner now. Maybe they [could] become a good partner again.”

New versus used

But if the dispute drags on, it is unclear what the Liberal government can do if both the Super Hornet and the F-35 are ruled out as the gap-filler.

Defence experts have suggested there is a remote possibility the U.S. could sell Canada refurbished F-18s, similar to the current CF-18s.

The Pentagon recently had modernized F-16s on the market, which the Polish air force considered but eventually declined. That would be an even more unlikely fit, since Canada has never flown the single-seat fighters, which were the backbone of the U.S. air force for decades.

The “interim” fleet is meant to fill the gap until the Liberal government decides on a permanent replacement for the CF-18s.

Conservative MP James Bezan, his party’s defence critic, wants the government to proceed to an open competition to buy fighter jets. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

the Liberals are twisting themselves into knots for a temporary solution when they can simply proceed to the open competition they promised for the full fleet.
Sajjan said that is still in the cards, but federal procurement officials have said a competition could take up to five years to run.

“If you look at what other states, other countries are doing in their recent procurement to replace their tactical fighters, none of them are taking five years to do this competition,” Bezan said.
“If you look right now, Denmark is doing theirs in two years; Belgium means to complete theirs right now in 18 months; and just earlier this week, Finland started their F-18 replacement program, and they plan to have their first deliveries in 2021 and the entire fleet replaced by 2025, which coincidentally is the same time that our life extension on our CF-18s run out.”


NATO F-16 warned away from plane carrying Russia’s defense minister [VIDEO]

MilitaryTimes, By Ashley Bunch, June 22, 2017

A NATO F-16 fighter approached and was then warned away from a jet carrying Russia’s defense minister over the Baltic Sea Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, citing reports in Russian media.

The incident occurred over the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe, according to reporters traveling with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in international airspace crowded with Russian and NATO jets, the Washington Post reported.

The NATO jet was reported to have been flying parallel to Sergei Shoigu’s plane when a Russian Su-27 accompanying him tipped its wing and showed it was armed, causing the F-16 to veer off.

The Post reported NATO was conducting military exercises in Eastern Europe, but there was no report of which nation was flying the jet which came in close proximity to Shoigu’s plane.

In an email to the Post, NATO confirmed the intercept, saying that “three Russian aircraft, including two fighters,” had been tracked over the Baltic Sea.

“As the aircraft did not identify themselves or respond to air traffic control, NATO fighter jets scrambled to identify them, according to standard procedure,” the statement said. “NATO has no information as to who was on board. We assess the Russian pilots’ behavior as safe and professional.”

Wednesday’s incident is the latest in a string of aerial incidents that have caused rising tensions between the West and Russia.

Finnish Squadron 2020 project tender process to begin this year

Hamina-class Missile Boat, Finnish Navy.

DAILY FINLAND, 14 June 2017

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö on Tuesday authorised the Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command to send an invitation to negotiate and a preliminary invitation to tender to three supplier candidates for the Squadron 2020 project.

The suppliers are Atlas Elektronik GmbH, Germany, Lockheed Martin Canada Inc, Canada, and Saab Ab, Sweden, said a government press release.

The battle system to be delivered will consist of weapons, sensors, command and control systems and their integration into vessels.

Hamina Class Missile Boat Mistral Launcher.

The Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy was in favour of sending the invitation to negotiate and the preliminary invitation to tender.

The first round of negotiations will be conducted in the course of 2017 and the deadline to submit a preliminary tender is in autumn 2017.

The second round of negotiations will be started at the end of 2017 and it will be continued in winter 2018. The final round of tenders and the signing of the agreement will take place during 2018.

At the end of last year, the Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command will sent requests to 12 companies to participate in the tender procedure to deliver the battle system for the Squadron 2020 vessels.

Eight companies had sent a request to participate; of these, three were selected for the next stage. The Logistics Command evaluated the requests in cooperation with the Navy, the Defence Command and the Ministry of Defence and an external actor verified the independent nature and quality of the request procedure.

Integration expertise, technical competence, project competence, commercial and legal requirements, life cycle expertise, industrial cooperation, quality and safety were the criteria applied to select the companies.

Niinistö has now decided to establish an obligation of industrial cooperation for the Squadron 2020 project. The decision includes grounds for establishing the obligation and it supports the central objective in materiel policy: to ensure military security of supply in all situations.

The obligation aims at ensuring that the domestic defence industry is an integrated part of Finland’s defence and security of supply while also promoting international cooperation of defence industries.