Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 137

Baltic Challenge-97, a military exercise in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, opened yesterday in the Estonian town of Paldiski, the former Soviet naval base. Some 2,700 troops, including 1,400 from the U.S., small groups from four Nordic countries and Ukraine (just 20 Ukrainians), and units from the three Baltic states as well as the joint BaltBat are involved in the exercise. The exercise’s first phase, July 14-17, includes practicing patrol and checkpoint duty by joint land units, an air exercise, and naval convoying and minesweeping in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. The second phase, July 20-21, will simulate combat action, including an operation to deliver supplies from Norway by sea and air and a paratroop landing.

A joint U.S.-Estonian command directs the exercise. The U.S. has paid the bulk of expenses and also delivered most of the hardware for the exercise aboard U.S. transport ships and planes. Baltic Challenge-97 is the largest exercise held since the restoration of the Baltic states’ independence. Latvia hosted last year’s edition, and Lithuania is scheduled to host next year’s follow-up. (BNS, July 12, 14)

On the previous day, U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright conferred in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius with the three Baltic foreign ministers, who strongly reaffirmed their countries’ goal of joining NATO. They welcomed the proposed U.S.-Baltic cooperation charter as a transitional step for their countries toward NATO membership, rather than a substitute for it. It was agreed that the charter will be signed by U.S. president Bill Clinton with the three Baltic presidents in Washington in September; and that it will be a single document, not a set of three bilateral documents as had hitherto been thought likely. Encouraging Baltic solidarity, Albright pointed out that the West perceived the three countries as a single region, and said that this perception maximizes the Baltic states’ international weight. Albright termed the three Baltic states "serious candidates for admission to NATO" and pledged continued U.S. support to enable them to meet the military qualifications for membership as "providers of security" and not just consumers. (Western agencies, BNS, July 14)

In Moscow, meanwhile, a military expert for the Russian Duma’s Security Committee charged that the "Baltic Challenge-97" exercise poses a threat to Russia’s national security. Colonel Aleksei Gordeichuk said that NATO is using the exercise to familiarize its troops with the former Soviet military infrastructure left in the Baltic states. He also contended that Ukrainian and Baltic troops are being used "as a cover for U.S. military actions." (Itar-Tass, July 14)

Ukrainian Tightens Budget Belt.