by Staff Writers
Vilnius (AFP) Sept 26, 2016
Lithuania said Monday it is in talks to buy Norwegian anti-aircraft missile systems to address the defence gap on NATO's eastern flank, amid concerns over Russia.
The NASAMS medium-range air defence systems, which would be the first such shield in the Baltic states, would cost around 100 million euros ($115 million), defence ministry spokesman Vaidotas Linkus told AFP.
Tensions between the 28-member NATO defence alliance and Russia are running high following Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Last week, NATO jets were scrambled seven times from its Baltic bases to escort Russian military aircraft over the Baltic sea, according to Lithuania's defence ministry.
NATO agreed in July to deploy four battalions of around 1,000 troops each in the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- and Poland to assuage their fears of Moscow.
Long seen as NATO's Achilles heel, Baltic forces alone would be incapable of resisting a full-scale attack brought on by Russian forces and bolstered by Moscow's overwhelming air superiority.
But experts say that their ability to fend off Moscow until NATO could scramble a broader response is decisive. New air defence capabilities would also make any attack more costly.
"The lack of air defence systems increases the likelihood of a successful snap attack with limited forces. Our military power is important for deterrence," retired colonel Ignas Stankovicius told AFP.
Moscow denies any territorial ambitions and accuses the US-led alliance of destroying Europe's military balance around Russian borders.
Russian bombers flying too close to airliners: Iceland
The Icelandic foreign ministry said three Tupolev Tu-160 bombers flew between 6,000-9,000 feet (1,800-2,700 metres) below the plane flying from Reykjavik to Stockholm last Thursday.
The ministry told AFP it "has repeatedly objected to unidentified Russian military flights, due to the danger this may pose to passenger flights" and would be doing so again.
But Aleksei Chadisky, spokesman for the Russian ambassador to Reykjavik, said the danger had been exaggerated.
"It is quite understandable that this is how the matter is presented in the local papers. This is an excuse to open the (US) naval base in Keflavik again," he told the Morgunbladid newspaper.
Earlier this year Washington and Reykjavik signed a deal authorising the occasional return of US forces to Iceland -- a NATO member with no military of its own -- amid rising tensions with Moscow,
During World War II, the Keflavik military base was a key US base and it remained important to the NATO alliance during the Cold War.
Its usefulness to the alliance then dwindled over the years, prompting Washington to withdraw its armed forces in 2006.
But in the past two years, the US military has run surveillance missions in NATO airspace operated from Icelandic territory.
"The old Russian bogey is being brought to life again," Chadisky said.
Gudni Sigurdsson, spokesman for the Icelandic Aviation Authority ISAVIA told AFP that airline pilots had been alerted about the problem.
"This is international airspace so nothing illegal was going on," he added.
Other Nordic countries have made similar complaints about Russian military flights in recent years which have switched-off transponders, devices that allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions.
The Icelandic foreign ministry said that, in the latest case, the transponder failed to transmit the plane's altitude and speed.
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