The joint military exercise Baltic Challenge-98 is underway in Lithuania’s city of Klaipeda. It is NATO’s largest exercise anywhere this year, and the largest-ever held in the Baltic states. The exercise has, in fact, been in process since July 10 (see the Monitor, July 10) at sea and in the air, and will officially close on July 25. It involves approximately 5,000 troops, sixteen ships and twenty-four aircraft from eight NATO member and partner countries and the three Baltic states. The United States contributes 2,150 troops and the lion’s share of the financing. Lithuania’s Chief of Staff Colonel Valdas Tutkus and U.S. Marine Colonel James Haynie are the joint commanders of the exercise.
Baltic Challenge exercises have been growing in scope from year to year. They began in 1996 in Latvia with some 800 U.S. and Baltic troops, and continued in 1997 in Estonia with 2,800 troops from five NATO countries and the Baltic states. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, whose country participates in this year’s exercise in Lithuania, stated in connection with the current exercise that “Poland can not be secure if its eastern neighbor Lithuania is not secure.” Russia has been given an opportunity to send observers to this series of exercises. (BNS, July 13 and 16)
FORMER ESTONIAN TOWN FLIRTS WITH ESTONIA.