TALLINN, February 9 (Itar-Tass) — The NATO Council’s decision to make air patrolling in the three Baltic countries permanent will allow Estonia to focus on improving its defence capability, Defence Minister Mart Laar said.
He believes that this decision can hardly be overestimated. “For the people living in Estonia, NATO air police are a clear sign of the alliance’s presence,” Laar said.
Now Estonia will not have to create from scratch a sophisticated and expensive system of fighter planes. “Instead, the country will be able to concentrate on further development of its defence capability,” the minister said.
NATO partners patrol the airspace of the three Baltic countries from the Lithuanian air base Zokniai. Brussels regards it as an example of “smart defence” when NATO member states do the job instead of making large investments in the creation of the air forces in the Baltic countries.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia do not have necessary aircraft for patrolling their airspace. This has been done by their NATO partners since 2004. They will continue to do so at least until 2014. The Baltic countries request that such patrolling be made permanent.
Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn have been sharing the accommodation costs of NATO air personnel in Lithuania since 2009, and transportation expenses for both the personnel and equipment since 2010. One month of air patrolling costs 20 million euro.