Baltic leaders fish for further Nato boost as Visegrad offers aid

Baltic leaders fish for further Nato boost as Visegrad offers aid
The Baltics and Poland have consistently called for increased Nato presence, citing fears of Russian aggression.
By bne IntelliNews May 26, 2016

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas both called again on May 26 for Nato to increase its military presence in the Baltic region to deter Russia. The reiterated demands came a day after the Visegrad Four pledged they are ready to send troops to the region.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia agreed at a meeting of defence ministers in Prague on May 25 to send a rotation military unit to the Baltics in 2017. The four will submit the offer to Nato during the summit in Warsaw on July 9-10. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - as well as Poland - have previously asked the alliance to send units, citing fear of Russian aggression.

The V4 initiative would come on top of already agreed military help from Nato for the Baltic states. The US, Nato’s most powerful country, also pledged in early 2016 to increase defence financing for CEE. The moves has provoked an angrey response from Russia, which claims it is seeing mounting forces deployed on its borders.

While the pledge from Poland, and perhaps even the Czech Republic, is unsurprising, Slovakia and Hungary are seen as closer to Moscow. As the V4 defence ministers met in Prague, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was welcoming Russian Foriegn Minister Sergei Lavrov to Budapest, where a raft of deals was signed.

Still, the Visegrad unit will number just 150, with each country's troops spending three months in the Baltics to take part in training and exercises. While it is clearly a symbolic move, it is unlikely to worry Moscow much.

However, it adds fuel to claims in the Baltic that the region needs added protection. “[Troops] must be constantly present. There cannot be any gaps. Deterrence has to be the new normality," Roivas told Die Welt. The Lithuanian president’s office, in turn, said “at the upcoming Nato summit due to take place in Warsaw in July, allies must finally agree on a significant increase in Nato’s presence in the Baltic countries.”

Ironically, it was Lavrov who was quick to respond. He claimed steps to increase Nato’s strength in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states are “undermining the balance of power on the continent,” according to Bloomberg.