Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has downplayed NATO's plans to reduce the air policing mission in the Baltic states, saying that eight fighter-jets are perfectly sufficient for efficient protection of the air-space. In his words, rotations are planned for the coming five years.
Linas Linkevičius
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

"The situation is not unexpected and implies no major changes in the commitments or implementation thereof," the minister told BNS on Wednesday.

Linkevičius' comment came the next day after a NATO spokesman confirmed that the NATO air policing mission in the Baltics would be performed by eight jets starting September, i.e., half of the current number but two times more than before the Ukrainian crisis.

Contingents of two countries have been lately stationed in the Lithuanian Aviation Base in Šiauliai, in addition to two more in Estonian and Polish bases. From September onwards, Allies will no longer send mission jets to Poland, with one contingent approved for Lithuania and Estonia.

"Eight fighter jets is the need that has been generated, it is not changing, and 16 is indeed above the military needs," said Linkevičius, adding that "conversations and negotiations" are underway about a 2nd contingent in Šiauliai.

"It would be unfair to say that the air policing mission will become less efficient or inadequate for the situation. Quite the opposite, everything is going as planned. The situation is being observed, and NATO's HQ would be ready to take steps, if more is necessary," said the foreign minister.

"There are no problems in connection to generating the forces. As far as I know, there is a preliminary plan of the change of contingents until mid-2020," he said.

"The air-policing mission is intended to respond to threats emerging around the air space, and it is performing its function perfectly. It responded to 524 cases over 2014. This year, the number is already 310," said Linkevičius.

The air policing mission was stepped up last year following Russian annexation of Crimea. In response to concerns in the Baltic states, NATO intensified its exercises in the Baltic region, with the US planning to station its heavy weaponry in the three countries.

"We should look at the whole picture – it is not less, and maybe the more important thing is the combat training, joint exercises and deployment of equipment, this is all proceeding as planned and in a rather intensive manner," Linkevičius noted.

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