NATO EXERCISES IN FULL SWING IN THE BALTIC STATES.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 178
British Bulldog, an infantry exercise in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, has been underway since September 18 (to end on September 28) at Latvia’s Adazi military base. British instructors are training Latvian troops in tactical combat methods and command procedures. The exercise focuses on defense against an attack by a hypothetical enemy’s armored forces.
In Lithuania, the Baltico-2000 exercise is in progress at the Pabrade training grounds outside Vilnius. Some 1,000 riflemen of the Italian army’s elite Giulia Brigade are conducting (from September 15 through October 6) combat training with elements of Lithuania’s Panevezys battalion and Lithuanian staff officers. The Italian side is shouldering the full cost of the exercise. Meanwhile, elements from the Zemaitija brigade, based near Kaunas, are being dispatched this week for peacekeeping duty in Kosovo under NATO command. The Lithuanians are to serve there jointly with troops from Poland, a NATO member.
The naval exercise Open Spirit-2000 was held successfully off Latvia’s coast from September 11 through 17. The joint Baltic squadron, Baltron–composed of two ships from each of the three Baltic States–operated with twelve ships from eight NATO and Nordic countries. The crews practiced mine-hunting operations as part of a longer-term program to rid coastal waters–particularly the Gulf of Riga–of explosive devices which date back to the two world wars. A total of seventy-seven mines, torpedoes and bombs were found and disposed of during this practice. Mine warfare is Baltron’s primary mission at this early stage in its existence. Its role, however, is set to diversify. During Open Spirit-2000, Denmark announced that it is handing a frigate over to Estonia. The 75-meter (246-foot) ship, with a helicopter deck and a crew of fifty-six, will become the Estonian fleet’s flagship and the largest vessel in the three Baltic states’ inventories at present.
On September 21-22, Baltron ships joined those of NATO’s Atlantic naval force (Stanavforlant) for the Passex-2000 exercise in the Gulf of Riga and the Irbe Strait. The Baltron squadron practiced convoy maneuvers with the combined force of seven NATO countries.
Along with defense spending, the participation in joint exercises and in NATO-led peacekeeping serve as indicators of the Baltic states’ resolve to qualify for joining the alliance. That resolve often needs to be sustained against conflicting budgetary and political pressures. This year, Estonia’s defense spending increment is on target, while Latvia’s and Lithuania’s, while also rising, is falling short of the initial goals. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly this month, Estonia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Toomas Ilves stated that “security can not be obtained at discounted prices. That is why we are willing to pay more for what will hopefully be a better product” (BNS, ETA, September 13, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23).
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