News / Europe

US Reassures Baltics Against Russian Threat

  • At Estonia’s Amari Airbase, a Danish F-16 fighter jet takes off from a newly renovated NATO standard base. Waiting to take off is a Soviet era AN-2 biplane, one of two fixed wing aircraft in Estonia’s fledgling air force. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • A Danish F-16 in a new hangar at Amari. Four Danish F-16s are training out of Amari, part of a program that has cycled American and British pilots and planes through Estonia’s main air base. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • Lt. Col. Rauno Sirk, commander of Estonia’s Amari Airbase, welcomes NATO pilots to the base, which has gone through $100 million in construction, since Russian troops left in 1994. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • At Almari, barracks in rented containers hosted American troops in May. They are kept ready for new NATO troops that will arrive later this year. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • A container barrack for women at Almari. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • Symbolizing the millenial military confrontation between East and West in Estonia, a Swedish-built fortress stares across the Narva River at a Russian-built fortress in Ivangorod, Russia. (Vera Undritz)
  • Brian J. Diebold, commander of the US Navy destroyer, USS Oscar Austin, at the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • U.S. Marines present the colors at the Fourth of July party in a tent on the lawn of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Tallinn, Estonia. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • Lt. Col. Kyle A Reed, leader of a company of U.S. Airborne troops, was one of dozens of uniformed American soldiers mingling with Estonians at a Fourth of July party in Tallinn. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • At Tallinn’s new Seaplane Harbor Maritime Museum, Estonia teaches a new generation of Estonians about their 20th century history of defense. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
  • At the Maritime Museum, Estonia’s flag flies off the bow of the freshly restored icebreaker Suur Tõll. During its century in existence, this German-made boat has passed through the hands of Czars, Soviets, and Estonian nationalists. (Vera Undritz/VOA)
James Brooke

At a new NATO-standard airbase in Estonia, four F-16s train over the Baltic Sea, sometimes coming within 100 meters of Russian war jets that tail them.

The new $100 million base flies flags of the countries of NATO pilots who have trained here recently: Poland, Estonia, Britain, Denmark and the United States.

The training helps ease concerns here in the Baltics, unnerved by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and its arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine. The three Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – were ruled by Moscow for nearly half a century, only winning their independence in 1991.

At an early celebration of America’s Independence Day, in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, U.S. Ambassador Jeff Levine talked to a crowd about America’s, and NATO’s, commitment to defend this small country:

“The United States, both as a friend and as an ally in NATO, is committed to Estonia’s security,” Levine said. “In the last four months, we have had boots on the ground, planes in the air and ships at sea.”

Mingling in the crowd of almost 1,000 Estonians were uniformed soldiers from an American airborne regiment and sailors from the USS Oscar Austin, an American destroyer anchored near Tallinn.

Brian Diebold, commander of the Navy ship, described the NATO naval exercises recently completed off Estonia.  “It can be characterized as 28 ships, 14 nations -- and one team finished,” he said.

Almost half of NATO’s 28 member countries sent ships, he said: “Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, there was Lithuania, Latvia, France, Demark, Germany, the UK, the U.S.  I can’t even remember all 14 of them.”

In honor of traditional July 4 festivities, an Estonian choir sang the American anthem.

Estonia’s gratitude to the U.S. and NATO has grown in direct proportion to its fears about Moscow, most recently following Russia’s March annexation of Crimea and its ongoing support for pro-Russian secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

At Estonia’s Defense Ministry, Mikk Marran, the permanent secretary, said the three Baltic nations have watched in alarm as Russia has rearmed in recent years. He said much of Russia’s military modernization has been concentrated near the Baltics.

“The conflict in Ukraine showed us pretty clearly that Russia is willing, and Russia is able to move the forces pretty quickly,” Marran said.

The three Baltic nations are members of NATO, and all are banking on that mutual defense treaty to protect themselves against Russian aggression. Marran praised the NATO training maneuvers here as sending a clear message of deterrence to Moscow.

“We have to send constant messages to the potential adversary that they should not even think about doing something similar to Crimea or the eastern part of Ukraine, in Estonia,” he said.

For now, Estonia’s defense strategy centers on holding off Russia long enough for the big firepower to arrive from NATO. In coming weeks, the Estonians are placing a large order of American anti-tank weapons.

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Comment Sorting
by: Ben
July 03, 2014 2:02 PM
Same as it reassured Ukraine for its nuclear disarmament? Is that why the U.S. is so reluctant now sending Ukrainian troops mere night vision goggles? All these so called reassurances are worth nothing. That's the lesson Ukrainians have learned.

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