Estonia is to pursue greater cooperation with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania in defensive capabilities, including in air defense, Kalle Laanet (Reform) says. The defense minister added that the three countries are likely to jointly procure Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS).
Laanet joined his counterparts Artis Pabriks of Latvia and Arvydas Anušauskas of Lithuania in Šiauliai, Lithuania, Friday. Šiauliai is, together with Ämari in Estonia, home of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.
"I have previously emphasized that cooperation in the field of capability development between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has a great deal of potential and an extremely important role in strengthening security in the region. The development of strategically important capabilities is resource-intensive, which is why we need to think carefully about how to ensure the most efficient realization of limited resources. Therefore, we decided today to start a more detailed analysis and preparatory work for the joint procurement of MLRS," Kalle Laanet said, according to a defense ministry press release.
U.S. and U.K. MLRS units have been seen in action in Estonia as recently as earlier this month, when they took part in Exercise Swift Response. A U.S. MLRS system on exercise in Estonia last September was reportedly the first time the unit had been used in this way outside of Germany, where it is based.
The three Baltic defense ministers also signed a joint communiqué Friday emphasizing – in light of the current security situation – the importance of the sustainable development of defense capabilities and ensuring deterrence, the importance of transatlantic relations, and the need for the presence of Allied NATO forces in the Baltic Republics, the defense ministry reports.
The main focus of the discussions was Russian aggression, the ministry said; the meeting took place before Sunday's hijacking of a Ryanair airliner by Belarusian authorities, in the airspace of that country.
Kalle Laanet said: "We thoroughly discussed the expectations for the forthcoming NATO summit with our Baltic colleagues."
"We believe that NATO needs to send a clear and strong message about the Russian threat and make collective defense the most important task of the alliance in the next decade," Laanet went on, according to a ministry press release.
"The threat picture has become more complicated due to Russia's unpredictable and opportunistic behavior. The recent concentration of Russian forces and armaments on the borders of Crimea and Ukraine is a prime example of this. During the large-scale Russian training exercise Zapad-2021, set to take place in August and September, we must be at a heightened state of readiness," Laanet added.
The three ministers also noted that air defense cooperation between the three Baltic Republics remains key, with more air defense exercises in the region, together with NATO allies, needed to strengthen and develop this area.
The minister also inspected the National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) air defense system at Šiauliai air base Friday.
Further defensive and other cooperation in support of Ukraine is also needed, Kalle Laanet said, adding that the three Baltic States acting in concert would be a way of facilitating this.
Lithuania holds the presidency of Baltic Defense Cooperation in 2021 and has set cooperation in capability development across all three Baltic States and with the countries' allies as a priority.
Editor: Andrew Whyte