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Poland takes over NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission from Germany

Prancūzų „Mirage 2000“ ir danų F-16 ore virš Zoknių
Andriaus Vaitkevičiaus / 15min nuotr. / Prancūzų „Mirage 2000“ ir danų F-16 ore virš Zoknių
Šaltinis: BNS

Polish troops have replaced German ones who have protected the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for the last four months. Polish troops will be conducting the Baltic Air Policing mission for the fourth time and patrol the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian airspace with four Mig-29 fighters.

All in all, around 100 Polish troops will be deployed in Šiauliai, led by Lieutenant Colonel Lezsek Blach. The formal changeover between the neighboring country’s air contingent and Germany’s air unit currently in charge of the mission took place on Thursday. The ceremony was attended by Lithuanian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vytautas Umbrasas, Polish Ambassador to Lithuania Janusz Skolimowski, German Defense Attaché to the Baltic States Lieutenant Colonel Achim Wolfgang Neitzert as well as representatives of the Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian air forces and Šiauliai city.

There have recently been controversial statements regarding Poland's participation in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė refused last week to attend a meeting of the Polish and Baltic presidents in Warsaw. Lithuanian officials say Poland threatened to review its support for NATO's air policing mission if Vilnius failed to take into account Warsaw's demands regarding Lithuania's Polish ethnic minority.

The Latvian and Estonian presidents attended the meeting, after which Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said Poland would continue protecting the Baltic airspace.

Earlier this week, Polish Minister of Defense Tomasz Siemoniak told the parliamentary Committee on Defense that Lithuanian and Poland's positions on security issues were identical despite recent disagreements.

"Despite well-known differences between Lithuania and Poland, their positions on security issues are identical just as their interests are," the minister said.

In early February, NATO decided to extend the Baltic Air Policing mission which has so far had a mandate until 2014.

Ambassadors in Brussels formally agreed that it would be a long-term mission with regular reviews, and did not set a final deadline. Meanwhile, the Baltic states committed themselves to increasing their contribution. The document itself is classified. But sources told BNS it says mission reviews will take place after 2018.

Lithuania and other Baltic states don't have air policing assets. Based on the decision by the North Atlantic Council, since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, the 24/7 task to police the airspace of the Baltic States has been conducted on three-month rotation from Lithuania's First Air Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport.

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