The NATO air-policing mission carries huge symbolic value, Lithuania's Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said at the Air Force Aviation Base in Šiauliai on Wednesday.
fighter-jets Eurofighter Typhoon
© AFP/Scanpix

"I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic states is not just one of the best examples of the Alliance's commitment to collective defence, but also a superb proof of solidarity among Allies. It goes without saying that, regardless of the unquestionable military and political value of the mission, the NATO air policing mission has an enormous symbolic value. In our region, NATO operation means that NATO is actually present here," Olekas said at the NATO air policing mission changeover ceremony where Portuguese and Canadian contingents were replaced by Italian and Polish aviators.

During their first shift in the mission, the Italians will patrol the Baltic skies with four fighter-jets Eurofighter Typhoon, with reinforcement from Polish Air Force with four MiG-29.

NATO countries have been contributing their troops and fighters to protect the Baltic air-space since Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO in March of 2004.

Until the Russian annexation of Crimea, the mission was usually carried out by four fighter-jets from Šiauliai. This year, the number of jets in Lithuania doubled, with the mission also performed from Estonia and Poland.

Since the beginning of 2014, NATO fighter-jets were scrambled about 150 times to identify and escort Russian military airplanes flying close to the Baltic states, which indicates a threefold increase year-on-year.

BNS
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