Monday, 28 April 2014

C is for Crisis, Coalitions and (Keep) Calm

A military build up on the borders, a city mayor is shot in the back, sanctions are announced and this evening a fight kicks off between rival groups. It's another (busy) day watching the crisis in Ukraine. 

Watching is exactly what many people are doing - both in Lithuania and the UK. 

Today four RAF Typhoon jets arrived in Lithuania to join six Polish aircraft at Zokniai airbase, just outside ┼áiauliai, in northern Lithuania. It furthers Lithuania and Britain's experience of working together within NATO and aims to reassure the Baltics' that NATO is taking their concerns seriously. 

It also comes after years of incursions and fly-bys by Russian jets (though the UK shares this experience with the Baltics too). Just days after I first arrived in Lithuania a Russian pilot even crashed his plane while flying over Lithuania and, according to a recent article from Reuters, 

"[T]he number of Russian jets flying close enough to Baltic airspace this year to prompt NATO jets being scrambled has increased to around one a week."1

Until the crisis in Ukraine there were only four NATO jets in total based in Lithuania. With the arrival of  around 100 support staff from RAF Coningsby, plus the Polish forces, one can't help wonder if it will feel a little cramped at at first, and not entirely dissimilar to parts of East London and East Anglia!

The air policing mission marked its 10th anniversary at the start of this year. With the Baltics being part of the economic and security unions of both NATO and the EU for a decade now, the increased NATO presence feels like a slightly bitter way to mark the anniversary.

I seriously doubt Russia will entertain any military nonsense in the Baltics. It will continue to shadow and enter NATO airspace and maritime interests, it will seek to highlight the place of the Russian populations (especially in Estonia and Latvia) and it will probably turn up the price of gas or turn of the tap. All these can be borne out with patience, and hopefully will be. They will also cause the Baltic States to look even more westward and strengthen the economic, military and cultural ties it has established over the last decade and longer.

As this research shows, Poland and Lithuania are the most 'hawkish' when it comes to tackling Russia, but Lithuania in particular has the most to lose economically.

Should there be an attack, the 4 Typhoons and the Polish Mig-29s would be unlikely to repel it, but doing so would invoke Article 5 and we'd all be asking some very tough questions if that happened.

On a happier note, I say welcome to the RAF! I hope you enjoy your stay, I hope it builds even stronger links between Polish and British airmen and that your experience of Lithuanian hospitality will be second to none. I also hope that your stay doesn't last too long, we can all keep calm, and have a nice cup of tea (oh, Brits, you'll need to ask for milk in that).


adomas said...

Watch footage of the planes on their way here

Tony M. said...

Good post.