Tag: Lithuania

Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, 173rd U.S. Airborne Brigade, Reoprts on life as part of NATO’s Battle Group

U.S. soldiers with the 173rd Infantry Brigade observe the training area during live-fire training in Pabrade, Lithuania, Sept. 20, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

PABRADE, Lithuania — At a camp nestled in Lithuania’s remote, rainy forests, Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez and his platoon of artillerymen settled into a cycle: maintain the howitzers, work out and chow down on palate-pleasing international field rations as they wait for the order to fire.

Martinez and his platoon are among 500 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers that swooped into the Baltics this month on a mission to deter Russian aggression.

They have joined war games with local troops and new NATO battle groups deployed to the broader region — a buildup that collectively represents the alliance’s largest reinforcement of its eastern flank since the end of the Cold War.

A U.S. soldier with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) fires an M4 carbine from atop a Humvee during live-fire training in Pabrade, Lithuania, Sept. 20. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

“The hours are long, but the morale is high,” Martinez said from inside a camouflaged artillery enclosure within the mossy woods.
“We keep ourselves busy each day, taking care of our area and doing what we have to do. But then we get the order to fire, and we’ve been firing a lot. We’re loving it.”

The 173rd’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment is leading the U.S. effort in Bayonet Shield, which will culminate in the weeks ahead with a massive international live-fire drill.

U.S. Army soldiers with the 173rd Infantry Brigade provide cover during Exercise Bayonet Shield in Adazi, Latvia, Sept. 19, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

In places like Pabrade, the brigade’s soldiers are working side-by-side with international forces as they train with high-powered weaponry. The crackle of .50-caliber shots repeatedly echoes from the target range into the woods where soldiers take shelter in tents.

In between the drills, one of the rewards for the soldiers in the Baltics is a break from American MRE monotony.
In Latvia, soldiers get traditional kebabs and meat dishes, while those camped out in Lithuania’s forests receive Canadian MREs, complete with a longer-lasting version of poutine, the Quebec specialty of mushy fries bathed in gravy and cheese.

Members of a multinational NATO battalion handle much of the cooking and have had the most interaction with U.S. troops.

Soldiers have relished the chance to mingle with their counterparts.

U.S. Army UH-60 helicopters land to transport U.S. and Slovenian soldiers during Exercise Bayonet Shield in Adazi, Latvia, Sept. 19, 2017. MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

“We’re working with people from all over the world. We’re sleeping on mattresses. We have tents over our heads and we have controlled heating,” said Capt. Thomas Huens, 1-91 Headquarters troop commander. “Life’s about as good as it can get in the Army.”

For Army senior leaders, placing paratroopers in the Baltics was part of a plan to bolster allied presence in the region as Russia conducted its own large-scale war games just across the dividing line between Russia and NATO turf.

But for most of the soldiers on the ground, the geopolitics are an afterthought as they go about their daily tasks.
“Some days our guys are starting training at (9 a.m.), and working until (2 a.m.) the next morning.

They don’t have time to focus on anything else,” said Lt. Col. Hugh Jones, commander of the 173rd’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne). “We’re focusing on training and doing what we do. We are making the absolute most of our time here.”

 

Lithuanian airspace must be respected – defense minister

Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis

Lithuanian airspace must be respected, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said on Monday after two Russian military aircraft last week entered the country’s territory over its territorial waters.

“Our rights must be respected and our airspace cannot be entered without permission,” he told BNS.

According to the minister, last Saturday’s flight of the Il-76 transport aircraft over the Baltic Sea could be related to the Zapad military exercise underway in Russia and Belarus as equipment or troops could have been aboard the planes.

“Certain mistakes are possible, given the number of troops moving and the high intensity. It can’t be ruled out that it was a mistake, but it can’t be ruled out either that our vigilance was tested this way,” he said.

According to Lithuanian officials, the incident occurred as six Russian IL-76 military aircraft flew from mainland Russia to its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Two of the planes deviated from their flight plans, entered Lithuania’s airspace over its territorial waters at 22:50 p.m. and 23:10 p.m. and stayed there for up to 2 minutes before heading on to Kaliningrad.

The defense ministry said that Lithuanian airspace had been violated above the Curonian Spit.

According to Karoblis, NATO fighter-jets were not scrambled to escort the six IL-76 aircraft as the Russian planes flew according to pre-filed plans, maintained contact with air traffic controllers and had their onboard transponders on. US fighter-jets patrolling Baltic airspace from Siauliai did not have enough time to react to the border violation.

The United States in late August deployed seven fighter-jets to the Siauliai air base, three more than normally used for the air policing mission. Four Belgian fighter-jests are also currently deployed in Estonia.

By Saulius Jakucionis.

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Two Russian military aircraft violated Lithuanian airspace

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76MD

VILNIUS, Sep 18, BNS – Two Russian IL-76 military transport aircraft last week violated Lithuania’s airspace, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The incident occurred during the time of the Russia-Belarus military exercise Zapad.

Alexander Udaltsov, Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, on Monday was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed a diplomatic note over the airspace violation, the ministry said in a press release.

According to it, two Russian IL-76 planes, flying from mainland Russia to its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, late in the evening of Sept. 16 entered Lithuania’s airspace and stayed there for up to 2 minutes.

The ministry “expressed its protest to the Russian ambassador and requested competent Russian authorities to provide an explanation over the incident as soon as possible”.

It also “called on Russia to take all necessary measures to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future”.

The active phase of Zapad started on Sept. 14 and will run through Sept. 20. Before the drills, Lithuanian officials did not rule out possible incidents and provocations.

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Dutch troops start exercise in Lithuania Monday

VILNIUS, Sep 18, BNS – NATO Enhanced Forward Presence team’s combat group is starting an exercise in Jonava, Kaisiadorys and Elektrenai districts in central Lithuania on Monday. During the exercise, Dutch troops serving in the battalion will drill arrest and defense operations, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said.

The exercise will take place between Kazokiskes and Gaiziunai on Sept. 18-23, with troops moving in an around the training grounds.

“The exercise will mainly take place at daytime, we will use blank cartridges. The troops said daily lives of local residents would not be interrupted, pledging to cause as little inconvenience as possible,” the ministry said in a press release.

The Dutch contingent in the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battalion consists of troops from the Dutch Army’s 13th light brigade and the 42nd Limburg Jaeger Armored Infantry Battalion.

The Dutch troops have brought all of the unit’s equipment to Lithuania, including Boxer infantry fighting vehicles and multiple function vehicles Fennek.

Dutch army Fennec armoured fighting vehicle

 

Citizens of seven EU states polled: 58% Europeans support Ukraine’s joining NATO, 48% for Ukraine’s joining EU

Some 58% Europeans support Ukraine’s joining NATO, and only 48% are for Ukraine’s joining the European Union.

This is evidenced by the findings of an opinion poll held by KANTAR PUBLIC and commissioned by Yalta European Strategy (YES).

Citizens of seven EU member states were polled within the survey – Germany, France, Italy, Lithuania, Great Britain, Poland and the Netherlands – based on a sample that was representative for each country (more than 1,000 people per country).

The findings of the public opinion poll were presented today, on the 16th of September, at the plenary session of Yes 14th Annual Meeting “Is This a New World? And What Does It Mean for Ukraine?”

Similar opinion polls, commissioned by YES, had been held in 2005 and 2007. 12 years ago, when the first poll was held, the situation was different: majority was for Ukraine’s becoming an EU member: 55% Europeans polled.

Today, the idea of Ukraine joining the EU is best supported in Lithuania and Poland (68% and 67% respectively), and least supported in the Netherlands (27%). The level of support in France, Germany and the UK is less than half of the people polled.

“Those who are against Ukraine’s joining the EU are explaining it using various reasons. One-third of the people polled believe that at this stage of development, the EU cannot afford a further enlargement. And a comparable number (31%) think that Ukraine’s accession would cause economic issues in the European Union,” the press release says.

Some 40% of those who support Ukraine’s membership believe that Ukraine is part of Europe. And 34% of the accession supporters stress that this step would boost democracy in Ukraine.

With regards to Ukraine’s joining NATO, the situation is different. In almost every country where the survey was held, most people are for accepting Ukraine as a member of the North-Atlantic Alliance.

“Even in France and the Netherlands, there are 49% people supporting this, and in other countries, the level of support is higher. In Lithuania and Poland, this number is 72% and 76% respectively,” the press service says.

The main argument for Ukraine’s integration with NATO, according to the Europeans, is its countering Russia (40% of those who support joining). Also, there are 8% who believe that Ukraine’s joining NATO will boost the ability of Europe to counter the Russian aggression.

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Baltic Post.

 

 

NATO’s eyes in the sky zoom in on Russian Zapad war games

NATO has said it is not expecting a major increase in Russian air activity during the country’s Zapad military exercises. However, the alliance has accused Moscow of not “playing by the rules” on the ground.

From a Baltic point of view, when NATO’s second-highest military commander in Europe says he expects the Zapad 2017 exercises to be a “pattern of normal Russian activity,” it’s not exactly reassuring. Frequent buzzing of allied and international airspace by Russian aircraft is one reason there’s a regular rotation of NATO Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) planes in the sky over the alliance’s northeastern border. Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, British Gen. Sir James Everard, was aboard the first one in the air on Zapad’s opening day, and DW’s Teri Schultz was invited along for the ride.

‘Status quo’ expected for Zapad air activity

Speaking with DW aboard the AWACS plane that flew from its Geilenkirchen base in western Germany to its Latvian mission, Everard clarified that he means he’s not anticipating a spike in Russian warplanes buzzing NATO airspace or performing provocative maneuvers over the Baltic states. That said, the existing level of engagement means there are already incidents every week of Russian planes flying near or occasionally into Baltic airspace, often with transponders off and no contact with air traffic controllers on the ground.

During the almost four-hour surveillance mission, there were two suspicious aircraft spotted by the specialists aboard. They transmitted the location to counterparts on the ground, who “scrambled” into the air to identify the aircraft and put the pilots on notice that they were being tracked by NATO.

German Air Force Lt. Col. Alex Herrmann, the mission’s technical director, said he couldn’t reveal any information that had been gained from the scramble. Herrmann, who’s been flying AWACS for almost 20 years, also sought to ratchet down tension over Russian activities even as he notes the number of AWACS flights has steadily grown over his tenure. Herrmann compared the surveillance flights with police checking for speeders on the road. “This is a question of making it safe in the air,” he explained. “Right now we are living in peacetime; there’s no hostile flying around – it’s just ‘neutral’ or ‘friendly’ or ‘of interest to us.'”

US provides pre-Zapad boost to Baltic air patrol

Nevertheless, the US has boosted its “police” force in anticipation of Zapad. Late last month, leadership of the “Baltic Air Policing” mission, which provides cover for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, rotated to the US and Belgium. The US, replacing Poland, decided to increase its fleet to seven F-15s over the four jets Poland used in the previous period. US Army Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of American forces in Europe, told DW recently that this boost would be the only US ramp-up due to Zapad.

Herrmann and Everard are monitoring Zapad from the air as part of NATO’s AWACS mission

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics agrees with Everard that Russia won’t likely launch any direct military aggression, but he doesn’t rule out other destabilizing activities.

Everard: Zapad forces highest in 36 years

While portraying the calm, unrattled exterior NATO is seeking to project during Zapad 2017, Everard conveys there hasn’t been such a huge massing of Russian troops in more than three decades, since deep in the Cold War days. “You’d have to go back to 1981 to see one the scale of this particular exercise,” Everard said, revealing more than mere skepticism about the figure of “12,700” given out by Moscow.

So what “scale” is that? Even the AWACS can’t tell, as it detects aircraft within 400 kilometers (250 miles) of airspace in all directions, but can’t view objects on the ground, which is where open-source reporting is disputing Kremlin claims of a modest-sized exercise. Self-designated observers are tracking and publicizing Russian troop movements on Twitter.

Fudging figures?

“If very close to those [reportedly 12,700] troops, several thousand more troops are exercising, it doesn’t look very honest or transparent,” Everard said, hypothesizing about Russia’s official scenario. “One of our regrets is the fact that Russia hasn’t played by the rules.” He said NATO has “bent over backwards” to be transparent about its own drills.

And despite Moscow’s obfuscation, Everard believes with the AWACS above and what he calls a “very comprehensive intelligence platform” elsewhere, “we have a good handle on what the Russians are doing.” At the same time, he acknowledged, “I know people are scared and that’s a concern.”

Many observers say that’s a military success for Moscow already.

 

Belgian fighters to conduct low-altitude flights in Estonian airspace

A Belgian Air Component (Luchtcomponent) General Dynamics (Lockheed-Martin) F-16AM Fighting Falcon

TALLINN, Sep 14, BNS –  Belgian F-16 fighter jets stationed at the Amari air base in northwestern Estonia as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission will perform low-altitude training flights in Estonian airspace on Thursday and Friday.

The aircraft are to fly over Estonia in areas of low-altitude flights and will do so at an altitude of at least 152 meters and preferably away from populated areas, headquarters of the Estonian defense forces told BNS.

NATO member states allocate specific areas of their air space for the training and exercises of the air force, including low-altitude flights. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also allocated specific regions of their air space for carrying out low-altitude flights. The flights are performed in agreement with the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and the air traffic service.

According to a decision of NATO, air forces of NATO member states based on rotation participate in the air policing mission of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian air space since March 2004, when the Baltic countries joined the NATO. The Baltic air policing mission is part of the NATO Smart Defense concept, the aim of which is to save the resources of the member states of the alliance by contributing together to different capabilities.

A contingent of the Belgian Air Force took over the Baltic air policing mission from the Spanish Air Force on Sept. 5. At present the Baltic air policing mission is led by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, and the Belgian F-16s in Amari, Estonia.

 

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.

 

Estonia to send observers to Zapad drills

TALLINN, Sep 12, BNS – Estonia is to send observers to the Belarusian-Russian joint exercise Zapad 2017, the daily Postimees writes.

Russia has decided to introduce the exercise at a training range in Luga on Sept. 17-18 to defense attaches who have been accredited in Moscow, spokesperson for the Estonian Ministry of Defense Andres Sang said.

Estonia’s defense attache will also participate in the event. Official Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) invitations for observation have not been issued.

Belarus has formally notified the OSCE that Zapad will be held in the territory of Belarus on Sept. 14-20. In addition Belarus has, under the principle of voluntariness of the Vienna document, invited two observers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Ukraine and Sweden each to take part in a program lasting from Sept.16-20.

Estonia has accepted the invitation of Belarus and will send two people to participate in the program. The Ministry of Defense does not have information on the extent of the access that the participants will have to the drills.

Additionally, the Estonian defense attache will participate in a Zapad related program to be organized by the Belarus Ministry of Defense on Sept. 19-21.

 

NATO jets scrambled 3 times from Lithuania last week over Russian warplanes

An F-15C of the 493d Fighter Squadron (493 FS), nicknamed “The Grim Reapers”, scrambles on a practice intercept at RAF Lakenheath. The Squadron is presently on Baltic Air Policing duties in Siauliai, Lithuania

VILNIUS, Sept 11 (LETA–BNS) – NATO fighter-jets serving in the air-policing mission of the Baltic states were last week scrambled three times from Lithuania to intercept Russian warplanes flying above the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on Monday.

At the end of the week, air-policing jets identified and accompanied two Russian fighter-jets Su-27 flying in the international airspace. The NATO jets were scrambled two more times on Friday over An-12 transport airplane.

All four Russian aircraft had their onboard transponders off.

The NATO air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.

In response to the upcoming Russian-Belarusian exercise Zapad 2017, it was reinforced with additional US fighter-jets at the end of August.

 

NATO fighters to perform training flights in Estonian air space Today

A Belgian Air Component (Luchtcomponent) General Dynamics (Lockheed-Martin) F-16AM Fighting Falcon

F-16 fighter aircraft flown by pilots of the Belgian Air Component stationed at the Amari air base are to carry out training flights above Estonia today.

The aircraft are to fly over Estonia in areas of low-altitude flights and will do so at an altitude of at least 152 meters and preferably away from populated areas, headquarters of the Estonian defense forces told BNS.

NATO member states allocate specific areas of their air space for the training and exercises of the air force, including low-altitude flights. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also allocated specific regions of their air space for carrying out low-altitude flights. The flights are performed in agreement with the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and the air traffic service.

According to a decision of NATO, air forces of NATO member states based on rotation participate in the air policing mission of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian air space since March 2004, when the Baltic countries joined the NATO.

The Baltic air policing mission is part of the NATO Smart Defense concept, the aim of which is to save the resources of the member states of the alliance by contributing together to different capabilities.

A contingent of the Belgian Air Force on September 5 took over the Baltic air policing mission from the Spanish Air Force. At present the Baltic air policing mission is led by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, and the Belgian F-16s in Amari, Estonia.