In an interview with the Financial Times, Lieutenant General Riho Terras, Estonia’s commander-in-chief, said an inadequate air defence capability made the Baltic region vulnerable to a Russian lightning attack. NATO needed to consider increasing the number of warplanes it has based in the region, and plan for the deployment of Patriot batteries.
“Of very great importance is our self-defence capability… what we need [for that] is air defence capability,” said General Terras. “We need to be ready and we need to look at what we need to do. Russia behaves opportunistically. If they have the opportunity, they’ll jump through the window to take it.”
NATO chiefs are set to finalise a package of measures aimed at boosting eastern European defences at the alliance’s summit, to be held in Warsaw in July.
It includes proposals to deploy four battalions in eastern Europe. The deployment of a force of no more than 4,000 personnel would be the first permanent basing of alliance troops in the region since the fall of the Iron Curtain.
“The Baltic states can be seen as an island,” said Gen Terras. “The gap is small… there’s one railway and two roads going through it.”
Basing new battalions there was a strong first step, said the general, but NATO also needed to develop its own anti-access aerial denial, or A2AD, strategy such as powerful surface-to-air missile systems — that the alliance has long feared Russia could use in the region.
NATO military chiefs say Russian missile systems in Kaliningrad have carved out an “A2AD bubble”, making it hard for the alliance to manoeuvre its forces anywhere in the area, even deep within its own territory.
The Baltic states cannot develop an A2AD capability on their own, said General Terras and need NATO to do so. “At the least, we need to be trained to get [Patriot missiles] here quickly… and to know where to position them, if not to have them based here [permanently] like it was the case in Turkey,” he said.