Friday, March 12, 2010

NATO military exercises planned as Baltic States hit panic button

The military alliance has announced, it plans to carry out a series of air force exercises over Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from March 17-20 2010. The exercises will represent "the most recent demonstration of NATO solidarity and commitment to its member countries in the Baltic region”, says Thomas Dillschneider, spokesman for the Allied Air Headquarters in Ramstein, Germany. The training mission will involve French Mirage, Polish F-16 fighters, Lithuanian L-39 Albatross aircraft, as well as U.S. aerial tankers. The announcement comes shortly after the news that NATO-member France is in “exclusive talks” to sell Russia up to four warships. The French 20,000-ton Mistral-class command and control helicopter carriers will significantly enhance Russia’s naval ability to project power over greater distances. The deal, estimated at about $2.2 billion, is the first military sale to Russia by a NATO country. However, NATO has denied there is any link between the Russia-France arms deal and the planned exercises: “There is no relationship between our training event and the potential Mistral deal,” said Dillschneider. News of Moscow’s intent to buy the French warships have put the Baltic states on alert over Russia’s escalating military power, as Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania still see Russia as a threat to their national security. France, however, argues that Russia must be treated as a partner, and not as an enemy, calling on the allies to “turn the page” of the cold war.