Now is a bad time to reduce the number of fighter jets stationed in the Baltic states as part of NATO's air policing mission, Lithuania's Deputy Minister of National Defence Marijus Velička says.
© DELFI (M.Bajarūno nuotr.)

"If you ask for my opinion, I think no. I think that today it wouldn’t be a good time to reduce it but that's the decision of the NATO supreme commander and it's the way it is," Velička told journalists at the Lithuanian government office on Wednesday.

He noted that it was the "support element" and not the mission itself that was to be downsized.

According to the vice minister, Lithuania will respond to the decision to cut the number of NATO jets in the Baltic states "during certain format whenever it will have the opportunity to do so," without elaborating.

"I cannot tell you today. It involves the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and such a position should be coordinated," he said.

Velička underlined that Lithuania would like "the air policing backup to remain bigger but we should not forget that besides the air policing backup, we also have the land force backup which is currently in place in Lithuania under the NATO flag".

On the whole, defence measures have been stepped up due to the recent changes in the security situation in the region and only one element is being downsized, Velička noted.

"Our goals haven’t changed as we want bigger allied presence in our region as we see that if the situation is escalated, allied presence in the region would help to ensure defence of Lithuania more than we would have done with our own capabilities," Velička 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 NATO air policing mission was usually performed by four jets stationed in Lithuania. After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last year, NATO Allies sent additional jets to the three countries.

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