The air forces of Spain, France and the United Kingdom are taking on the rotating NATO Baltic air policing duties from May, with the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air Française ) operating out of Ämari, west of Tallinn, replacing the Polish Air Force (Siły Powietrzne), ending its term.
NATO Baltic air policing dates back to 2004 when all three Baltic States joined the alliance and complements those nations own defense capabilities; in 2019 its jets scrambled a total of 200 times, according to NATO's site.
The missions took on greater prominence following Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, NATO says, and in practical terms jets from the two bases routinely scramble to intercept and escort Russian Federation military planes, which often fail to adhere to international safety norms when flying over the Baltic Sea close to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and between the Russian Federation Kaliningrad exclave and the Russian "mainland".
The four-month stint will also see the air forces of Spain and the U.K. operating out of Šiauliai in Lithuania.
Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) thanked the outgoing Polish forces on his social media account, and welcomed the incoming French ones, who had to make use of European rail networks in bringing their equipment to Estonia amid the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions.
I had a video call with Polish troops in Ämari. Thanked ???????? for patrolling the skies over Baltics. Solidarity among @NATO Allies is very important during COVID-19 crisis, we appreciate your contribution especially high. Warm welcome to ????????, who will start their mission soon. pic.twitter.com/izDqysMGcF— Jüri Ratas (@ratasjuri) April 29, 2020
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda wrote on Twitter that he thanked NATO for their solidarity and commitment.
My sincere gratitude goes to @NATO for their solidarity and commitment. ????????, which conducted #NATO air policing mission in #Lithuania, hands it over to ???????? contingent reinforced by ????????. Two countries badly suffering from the #COVID19 commit safeguarding the Baltic airspace. pic.twitter.com/t0kKg0ECsV— Gitanas Nausėda (@GitanasNauseda) April 30, 2020
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright