The 800 troops that will be committed by Britain to Estonia will help form one of four NATO battalions in the region that are being assembled amid growing tension between the west and Russia. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Theresa May who called for the international community to put additional pressure on Moscow regarding Russian actions in Syria.
What we have seen, sadly, is that the Russians are already able to unleash attacks on innocent civilians in Syria. What matters is that we put pressure on Russia to do what everybody agrees is the only way that we are going to resolve this issue, which is to ensure that we have a political transition in Syria, and that’s where we should focus our attention.
The announcement comes in the wake of Britain and other NATO countries putting pressure on Spain (also a NATO member) to refuse permission for the Russian carrier group currently sailing in to the Mediterranean to dock in the country for refuelling and replenishment of supplies. In the wake of the protests the Russians decided to first withdraw their request and then deny they ever made one in the first place. The Spanish government stated they had received confirmation from the Russian embassy in Madrid that they were withdrawing their request however a Russian military spokesman then said that the Russian defence ministry had made no such request in the first place.
The Royal Air Force’s Typhoon FGR.4s will resume NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission later this month taking over from a Spanish contingent flying their version of the Eurofighter 2000. This will be the second time in less than a year that the RAF has assumed the responsibility on behalf of NATO having carried out the role between May and August 2015.
Since March 2004, when the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, fighter aircraft contributed by the alliance’s members have assumed responsibility for securing their airspace since none of the three countries own militaries have an indigenous fighter force. Member states that contribute aircraft operate on a four-month rotation from Lithuania’s First Air Force Base at Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport, near the northern city of Šiauliai and the Ämari Air Base in Harju County, Estonia. Usual deployments consist of four fighter aircraft with between 50 and 100 support personnel. The upcoming RAF deployment will be based at Amari Air Base.
As well as the RAF fighters, the Type 23 frigate HMS Iron Duke will also be deploying to the Baltic. The frigate is currently conducting a six month northern European deployment and will provide patrol and security duties in the Baltic on behalf of NATO’s Baltic members. According to Forces TVan additional four British warships will operate alongside Iron Duke in the coming months including the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said;
British planes protecting Baltic skies alongside our warship patrols and troops exercising, show how serious we are about the security of our eastern European partners.
Footage has appeared on the Russian government funded news channel RT of NATO jets intercepting and escorting the Russian defence minister’s aircraft as it flew over the Baltic. The aircraft were Eurofighter Typhoons and it is likely that these are the Spanish air force examples currently based in Lithuania carrying out NATO’s Baltic air policing mission on behalf of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The defence minister’s aircraft was itself escorted Sukhoi Su-27 “Flankers”.
RT news repeated Russian claims that there was a “build up” of NATO forces in eastern Europe implying that this was a direct threat to Russian security.
NATO’s on-going Baltic policing mission saw armed combat fighters launch 160 “live” intercepts of Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea in 2015. According to figures produced by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense this number represents a 14% rise over 2014.
Since March 2004, when the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, fighter aircraft contributed by the alliance’s members have assumed responsibility for securing their airspace since none of the three countries own militaries have an indigenous fighter force. Member states that contribute aircraft operate on a four-month rotation from Lithuania’s First Air Force Base at Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport, near the northern city of Šiauliai and the Ämari Air Base in Harju County, Estonia. Usual deployments consist of four fighter aircraft with between 50 and 100 support personnel.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has revealed that a number of British troops will be stationed in the Baltic states (Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia) as part of a wider mission to deter further Russian aggression in the region. Fallon made the announcement during a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels stating the deployment was intended to reassure former Eastern Bloc members that the NATO alliance will stand by them.
This is further reassurance for our allies on the eastern flank of NATO – for the Baltic states and for Poland.
Fallon outlined that the NATO mission including British troops will primarily revolve around evaluating the current strategic situation and provide training and support to the former Eastern Bloc countries in order to improve their defensive stance. The move is certain to attract criticism in the wake of heightened tension between the Western powers and Moscow following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch airstrikes in Syria which sources in Washington and London have claimed are aimed at supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government rather than defeating Islamic State (IS) as Moscow have claimed.
After nearly four months operating out of Estonia on behalf of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission the pilots, groundcrew and aircraft of the RAF’s 121 Expeditionary Air Wing have stood down and began the process of returning to the UK. The mission has now been assumed by the German Luftwaffe’s 31st Tactical Air Wing which operates the German version of the Eurofighter Typhoon. The transfer of duties was carried out at a special ceremony on Tuesday attended by the British ambassador to Estonia, Chris Holtby.
This deployment was the third time the Royal Air Force has undertaken the duty on behalf of NATO since October 2004 when a flight of Tornado F.3s were deployed to the region however this has certainly been the busiest. Since arriving in May of this year the Typhoons have undertaken 17 live scrambles recording a total of 40 individual Russian aircraft operating near Estonian air space as Moscow becomes ever more hostile to the west over the situation in the Ukraine. On one day alone ten aircraft from across the Baltic found themselves shadowed by a heavily armed RAF fighter.
Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas took to Twitter to thank the RAF detachment by tweeting;
RAF Typhoons flying out of Estonia have intercepted a quartet of Russian MiG-31 “Foxhounds” ahead of a visit to the RAF contingent in eastern Europe by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. The two Typhoons had barely been back at base an hour before the Minister touched down after having spent yesterday aboard the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ocean taking part in NATO exercises in the region.
As NATO exercises continue to provoke a response by the Russians the RAF Typhoons providing air defence services for the Baltic members of NATO have seen their busiest period since taking over the commitment in May. Since the exercise began two days ago the Typhoons have intercepted four MiG-31BM “Foxhound” fighters, two Tu-22M3 “Backfire-C” bombers, two An-26 “Curl” surveillance aircraft and an A-50 “Mainstay” AWAC aircraft in four separate incidents over 36 hours.