Germany's responsibility for the Baltic Air Patrol mission in Estonia is coming to an end this week, with a contingent of Spanish fighters now taking over responsibility for the air mission out of Ämari air base. However, in a surprise coda to the four-month stint on the air patrol, the German newspaper Die Welt reported today that the rooms of the German pilots, staying in an unnamed hotel in Old Town Tallinn, were broken into during their stay.
The paper said (in German), that given incidents involving spies uncovered in Estonia by the Internal Security Service, there is a reason to suspect that the break-in was done by agents of the Russian government.
According to the Die Welt, soldiers noticed that on their return from Ämari, that items in their room were no longer in the same place, and the room looked like it had been searched. The German Bundeswehr also checked to see if one of the pilot's computers had been tampered with.
Estonian Air Force public affairs officer Alar Laats told ERR News that the military would have no comment on the incident, although they were aware of it. Any investigation is carried out by the Internal Security Service.
However, he did say that every nation that flies in the Baltic Air Patrol out of Ämari makes its own billeting decisions, based on the number of personnel. He said the Danish contingent was almost entirely based in the 50 rooms that the air force has at the base, but that the German force was much larger.
"The decisions are always made by their commanders," Laats said, "about what kind of accommodations they need. The German group was much larger, and based at Ämari and hotels in Tallinn." He said the arriving Spanish pilots and staff, which have been begun trickling into the country in stages, including some aircraft and pilots that arrived on Monday, will also split their staff between the base and public accommodations.
The Germans have been using the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in their deployment in Estonia, a relatively new plane in the arsenal of many NATO allied nations. Although the Germans have flown as part of the Baltic Air Patrol as far back as 2005, it was the first deployment of that plane in Estonia; the Spanish planes that arrived Tuesday at Ämari for the next four months will be the second.
Most of the aircraft that have been part of the Baltic Air Patrol have been older US models, such as the F-16 Eagle, in use in air forces around the world. The German have even used the F-4 Phantom, which saw its heyday in the American war in Vietnam, which ended in the early 1970s.
The German Defense Ministry has not yet issued a final report on their tour, although the paper said that such incidents have also occurred in previous air policing missions in the Baltic states. Aircraft have also been stationed at a Lithuanian Air Force Base near Šiauliai since 2004, with the purpose of air surveillance and airspace management over the Baltic states.
Because of heightened tensions between NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, air-based military activities near NATO countries has grown tremendously. Since September, the German planes have scrambled 19 times to intercept unidentified aircraft, said Laats, mostly composed of Russian planes flying without flight transponders or flight plans.
Editor: S. Abel