Baltic, Polish ministers discuss regional security challenges, NATO

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Riga skyline.
Riga skyline. Source: Jürgen Randma/Riigikantselei

Foreign and defense ministers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland met in an "unprecedented" format in Latvia on Monday to discuss security challenges and policy.

The ministers discussed regional security, irregular migration from Belarus, Russian military exercise Zapad 2021, decisions made at the NATO summit in June and the development of NATO's next strategic concept.

At a joint press conference, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkevics said the meeting of foreign and defense ministers from all four countries was taking place for the first time.

He said they discussed the countries' joint response to conventional and hybrid threats and attacks.

Speaking about irregular migration from Belarus, which the Baltics and Poland have called "hybrid aggression", Rinkevics said a change to the European Union's legal framework is needed.

"It is clear the legal framework, which has never foreseen that migration might be used as a hybrid tool should be changed to accommodate these kinds of threats as well," he said.

Rinkevics said NATO is already providing what is needed in relation to Zapad 2021, which is taking place on the border of all four countries: "If we feel we need additional assistance from NATO, the countries that are represented here today will express their needs to the alliance."

Lithuania foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called the meeting "unprecedented" and said it was useful to discuss issues not only with other foreign ministers, as usual, but with the ministers of defense too.

"The main theme of the meeting was the security deficit that we are feeling," he said. "I can say that it is not only felt in Vilnius after this summer, but I could say that it is also felt all the way from Warsaw to Tallinn. The region is feeling new threats arising."

"While facing these threats we need to better coordinate what is our answer," he said, specifying this mean to military threats outside the EU's border, to hybrid threats, and coordinating within in the EU so that more information is known about what is happening in the region.

Additionally, better coordination is needed with the U.S., he said.

Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) said the group focused mostly on NATO issues and the transatlantic alliance, as well as cyber and hybrid threats and support for Georgia and Ukraine.

She said Estonia fully supports "our Baltic friends" and also Poland at both the political level and with as much practical support as needed.

"It is unacceptable that the Belarusian regime is using migrant trafficking for this hybrid attack that we have seen over the last few months," she said.

Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau said: "What is worrisone is the fact that the Belarusian regime is not going to give up these tactics, so we are ready to face even more immigratory pressure, but nevertheless we are aware we are defending not only our national border but also the border of the European Union... We count on support from each and every European member state."

The Baltics-plus-Poland format has been building momentum for some time already, with the four EU member states presenting a united front on many issues, Latvian national broadcaster LSM wrote.


Belarus: Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have attempted to cross the border from Belarus to Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in recent months. The waves of migration occured after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to send "migrants and drugs" to Europe in response to sanctions.

Estonia does not share a border with Belarus but has provided assistance to Lithuania, which has seen over 4,000 migrants cross its border. Estonia is concerned traffickers will try to smuggle migrants from Belarus to Finland through the country.

Zapad 2021: The weeklong military exercises started on September 10 along the western borders of Russia and Belarus. Up to 200,000 servicemen, approximately 80 planes and helicopters, 290 tanks, 240 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers, and mortars, as well as 15 ships will be involved in this year's drills, which are conducted every four years, RFERL reported.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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