NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday opened the NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU) in Vilnius. This and five other NFIUs in Central and Eastern European countries have been set up in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The NATO command centres in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania were officially activated on Tuesday and are expected to reach full operational capability by the NATO Summit in Warsaw in 2016.

Around 40 officers will serve at each of the NFIU set up by NATO to facilitate rapid deployment of the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and also coordinate international exercises.

Attending the opening of the NFIu in Vilnius, the NATO secretary general said the opening of the command centres is a symbol of NATO solidarity.

"As the NATO flag goes up in six of our Eastern allies, our whole Alliance takes a big step forward towards greater solidarity, greater strength and greater readiness," the NATO chief said.

Also attending the opening ceremony, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said Russia cannot be a partner of NATO. "Russia's aggression in Ukraine is a threat to the security of the European continent. This is why aggressors cannot be partners. This is why we have decided to bolster our security," Grybauskaitė said.

During the solemn ceremony, Lithuania 's national flag, flags of NATO, Vilnius City and the NATO Force Integration Unit were hoisted to the tunes of the anthems of Lithuania and NATO. And also Soldiers of the Hungarian Air Force performed a flypast with JAS–39 Gripen fighter jets which have recently arrived in Lithuania to take part in the NATO Baltic air policing mission.

The NFIU in Lithuania will be led by Danish Colonel Jakob Sogard Larsen. Its staff will also include representatives of more than ten NATO countries, including Germany, Canada and Poland. All officers are scheduled to arrive by the end of this year.

In response to Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and unrest in Eastern Ukraine, NATO stepped up exercises in the Baltic Sea region, air and sea patrol, and the United States pledged to deploy heavy weaponry.

The Baltic states and Poland have also asked for military units to be permanently deployed in the region to deter Russia but some allies in Europe believe such deployment might violate the 1997 agreement with Moscow and fuel tension in the region. Company-size US army units are currently deployed in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland.

BNS
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