Lithuanian president: NATO presence in Baltics still ‘unprecedented’

President Dalia Grybauskaitė
DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

“I would like to draw attention to the fact that eight fighter jets will remain in the Baltic states and that’s twice as many as we had before the Ukrainian crisis. So we retain the double air policing mission. Poland will handle things on its own, so that downsizing is not that significant,” the president said in an interview with the national radio LRT on Thursday.

According to Grybauskaitė, Lithuania and other Baltic states still enjoy NATO allies’ major attention and that is evidenced by decisions to establish NATO headquarters in the Baltic states and also deploy US heavy weaponry.

The president also added that the scope and intensity of NATO military exercises in the region is “unprecedented”.

“We need to look into the security situation on the whole, and I think there’s no need for us to react to the downsizing of the air policing mission that much. These are decisions that are made by taking into account all security bolstering elements in the region,” the Lithuanian leader said.

NATO will downsize the air policing mission in the Baltic states by half, with eight fighter-jets due to patrol the skies as of September, as compared to the current 16 jets, as well as one contingent left in Lithuania instead of the current two, NATO military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jay Janzen of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) confirmed on Tuesday.

Since the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO in 2004, the air policing mission was usually performed by four jets stationed in Lithuania. After Russia annexed Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year, NATO Allies sent additional jets to the three countries.

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