As the big questions surrounding the future of the Ukraine crisis persist, the countries neighboring the former communist nation, and especially the Baltic states which are members of NATO, are asking for safeguards should Russian ambitions end up just a little too big to be contained solely by the Ukraine. As a result, the WSJ reports they are considering calling for a greater North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in their countries “if the situation gets worse” in the Ukraine, Ojars Kalnins, the chairman of the foreign-affairs committee of the Latvian parliament, said Monday. Mr. Kalnins said that a worsening of the Ukraine crisis “such as an outright invasion” of areas outside Crimea would present a threat to all of Russia’s neighbors, including the Baltic states–which are members of NATO. Such an expanded conflict should be reason for NATO to “bring extra military support to the Baltic region as a safeguard.”
Atis Lejins, a member of the Latvian parliament’s foreign-affairs committee, said increasing the number of NATO aircraft patrolling Baltic airspace could be one way to beef up NATO’s presence.
Currently a small, rotating contingent of fighter aircraft from NATO countries operates from a base in Lithuania. Mr. Lejins, a former U.S. Marine, said one example of a heightened presence was the U.S. Air Force Aviation Detachment (AV Det) program in Poland, which rotates fighter and transport units to bases in Poland.
Critics of an increased NATO presence say that costs to both Latvia and NATO could be a hurdle to expanding air patrols. Increased air patrols would upgrade the NATO presence in all three countries because aircraft cover the airspace of all three Baltic countries.
Mr. Kalnins spoke after a joint meeting of the Saeima’ s Foreign Affairs and European Affairs committees that condemned Russia’s incursion into Crimea and called for European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers to be sent to the Ukraine.
He spoke on Monday at the same time as the Lithuanian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and National Security and Defence Committee passed a resolution condemning Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of the territory of Ukraine. The Lithuanian resolution also called on the North Atlantic Council to temporarily redeploy NATO military forces to its “eastern part, including the Baltic states.”
One country which may have already acted in this regard is Poland. According to Dziennik Wschodni, earlier today F-16 fighter jets could be seen above the Polish town of Lublin and other towns of the province. "Military jets appeared over our region between the hours of 2 and 3 pm. Our Internet users say that they heard the roar of the engines also in the morning."
"One of the aircraft from our base flew the route from Lublin to Krakow" confirms Cpt. Marek Kwiatek, Press Officer of the 32nd Tactical Air Base at Lask.
The second aircraft came probably from a base in Krzesiny. There were also questions whether the flights are connected with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. - This is the stadard of training, which are held throughout the country. Pilots among others support this so-called. habits flights - explains Cpt. Flower. He adds that the aircraft is on standby.
So more drills or something more? Recall that Russia commenced a massive "drill" last week in the West and Central regions before it quite demonstratively invaded the Crimea. It is only logical that the countries that stand to lose the most from an expansion of the Russian invasion match that drill with "drills" of their own.
Finally, recall that as we reported in December, Russia then had positioned tactical, nuclear-capable missiles along the Polish border. Based on this, and Poland's recent history with friendly and not so friendly neighbors, one can see why the Baltic nation would be very nervous.
From December 2013:
Russia Stations Tactical, Nuclear-Capable Missiles Along Polish Border
2013 was a year when Europe tried to reallign its primary source of natgas energy, from Gazpromia to Qatar, and failed. More importantly, it was a year in which Russia's Vladimir Putin undisputedly won every foreign relations conflict that involved Russian national interests, to the sheer humiliation of both John Kerry and Francois Hollande. However, it seems the former KGB spy had a Plan B in case things escalated out of control, one that fits with what we wrote a few days ago when we reported that "Russia casually announces it will use nukes if attacked." Namely, as Bloomberg reports citing Bild, Russia quietly stationed a double-digit number of SS-26 Stone, aka Iskander, tactical, nuclear-capable short-range missiles near the Polish border in a dramatic escalation to merely verbal threats issued as recently as a year ago.
The range of the Iskander rockets:
- Russia has stationed missiles with a range of about 500 kilometers in its Kaliningrad enclave and along its border with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Germany’s Bild-Zeitung reports, citing defense officials it didn’t identify.
- Satellite images show a “double-digit” amount of mobile units identified as SS-26 Stone in NATO code
- Missiles were stationed within the past 12 months
- SS-26 can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads
In other words, Russia quietly has come through on its threat issued in April 2012, when it warned it would deploy Iskander missiles that could target US missile defense systems in Poland. From RIA at the time:
Moscow reiterated on Tuesday it may deploy Iskander theater ballistic missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad that will be capable of effectively engaging elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland.
NATO members agreed to create a missile shield over Europe to protect it against ballistic missiles launched by so-called rogue states, for example Iran and North Korea, at a summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010.
The missile defense system in Poland does not jeopardize Russia’s nuclear forces, Army General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said.
“However, if it is modernized…it could affect our nuclear capability and in that case a political decision may be made to deploy Iskander systems in the Kaliningrad region,” he said in an interview with RT television.
“But that will be a political decision,” he stressed. “So far there is no such need.”
Looks like a little over a year later, the "political decision" was taken as the need is there. But why does Russia need to send a very clear message of escalation at a time when the Cold War is long over, when globalization and free trade, promote game theoretic world peace (or "piece" as the Obama administration wouldsay), oh, and when Russia quietly has decided to reestablish the former USSR starting with the Ukraine.
We'll leave the rhetorical question logically unanswered.