Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 159

The three Baltic states’ NATO candidacy is advancing not only on the political front (see the Monitor, July 30, August 27) but on the military level as well. Three joint exercises under NATO aegis and other measures to enhance military preparedness are currently underway in the Baltic states.

The Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian joint battalion, BALTBAT, began on August 24 a training exercise at the Pabrade military range in Lithuania. Code-named Baltic Wolf, the exercise is designed to practice offensive and defensive infantry tactics and peace enforcement operations according to NATO models. Some 200 troops from each of the three states are involved. The battalion’s national elements have regularly participated, usually as platoon-size units, in NATO-led operations in the Balkans.

On August 30, BALTBAT joined the Amber Hope-2001 international exercise, which will continue until September 6 at the Pabrade and Rukla training ranges, situated 150 kilometers apart from each other in Lithuania. Some 2,800 troops from NATO and Nordic member and partner countries are involved. These include the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as the joint Polish-Lithuanian battalion, LITPOLBAT. Lithuania’s armed forces commander, Colonel Valdas Tutkus, is in overall command of the exercise.

The scenario envisages deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping contingent to end an irredentist conflict over territory between two countries outside the alliance. The mission includes peace enforcement and combat action against troops of one of the hypothetical warring sides, which rejects the truce and enters the NATO-policed buffer zone. Amber Hope is being held every other year since 1995. On August 23, 2001 in Riga, the three Baltic states’ Defense Ministers signed an agreement on funding, staffing and supplying BALTBAT, thus ensuring its continued development as a tripartite force.

On August 28 in the Gulf of Riga, Latvian and U.S. special troops conducted a joint training in the presence of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and senior officials. The airborne troops practiced dropping dinghies into the sea and parachuting into the dinghies, which the U.S. Navy had supplied.

On August 30, Lithuania’s cabinet of ministers, holding a session in the port of Klaipeda, decided to build new quays and docks in a deep-water area of that port for accommodating NATO naval squadrons. At present, Klaipeda’s deep-water sections belong to private companies and have to be rented by the government for visiting warships of NATO countries. The cabinet’s August 30 decision is a quick follow-up to last month’s visit to Klaipeda by a NATO naval squadron, the strongest to have laid anchor in any of the three Baltic states since 1991. Lithuanian and NATO officials agreed during that visit that the Klaipeda port needs a separate section for deep-draught warships and exclusive naval use.

Meanwhile, the Baltic joint naval squadron BALTRON is conducting since August 21 a minesweeping and minehunting exercise in Estonian waters under the command of that country’s flagship, the Danish-donated frigate Admiral Pitka. In Tallinn for the occasion, Denmark’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mogens Lykketoft cited the joint Baltic defense project as a further argument for the admission of the three Baltic states to NATO as a group, rather than in separate successive stages as a dwindling number of West European officials suggest (BNS, August 23, 24, 27-30; ETA, August 29; see the Monitor, March 16, June 11, July 5, 13, 30).