NATO Due to Announce Modest Steps Toward Beefed-Up Presence in Baltic Sea Region (2)
NATO is due to release details this week on its next steps for making its Baltic presence more robust - something officials in the region have been lobbying for. Early reports indicate the plans are decidedly on the "symbolic reassurance" side of the scale.
Comments originally made by Western officials on Friday to the New York Times indicated that small exercises will be hosted by Estonia and Poland, probably next month.
The exercises in Poland would last two weeks and involve 150 US Army troops, according to the report, which characterized the action as "extremely modest."
In already announced new deployments, NATO will send four mine countermeasures vessels and a naval auxiliary to the Baltic Sea in the near future. The ships are from a rapid response component that was inactive just a week ago.
And Canada has joined countries such as Denmark, the UK and US in committing additional fighter planes to the Baltic Air Policing mission. The Typhoons and F-15s from the latter two countries are already in Šiauliai, Lithuania, while Denmark's are set to arrive in May.
Defense Minister Sven Mikser told ERR that the air and naval forces were one part of a "package" that will also include ground forces: "I believe that the week ahead will bring us positive news in this regard," he said.
NATO and US officials have remained guarded on what the future may bring after the Poland-Estonia exercises are over. Also unanswered is when and whether the Baltic Air Policing Mission will extend to a second base - Ämari in Estonia.
Two years after a NATO summit decided to extend the airspace mission indefinitely - a move roundly cheered by Baltic officials - Estonian leaders have indicated they would be satisfied with nothing short of rotating ground troop presence and fighters that could be scrambled from the Ämari base in northern Estonia.