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RIGA, February 9 (Itar-Tass) — The NATO Council’s decision to extend the air patrolling mission in the three Baltic countries indefinitely is a sign of the alliance’s solidarity, Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said.
He said Latvia is ready to create necessary conditions for the countries that will participate in the patrolling. “I hope that this will allow us to carry out a number of other equally successful cooperation projects with NATO in the future,” he said.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevic also lauded the NATO decision. “This is the main priority for Latvia at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago in May of this year. Today’s decision will allow the summit to officially extend the NATO air patrolling operation in the Baltic countries,” he said.
In his opinion, this mission shows the solidarity of the allies and their readiness to ensure collective security.
Latvia hopes that NATO will patrol the airspace of the three Baltic countries indefinitely.
Latvian President Andris Berzins said earlier that the decision on this issue would be adopted before the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012. He intended to discuss this issue with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his Baltic tour on January 19-20.
“The point is that it [patrolling] cane become indefinitely long. This issue has already been discussed with Mr. Rasmussen in Brussels,” Berzins said.
German Air Force pilots started patrolling the skies over the Baltic countries on January 4, 2012.
The pilots will use six F-4 fighter planes for patrolling purposes from the Zokniai air base during the next four months. The German contingent, which has replaced a Dutch one, has some 110 personnel - pilots, mechanics, signalmen, support group specialists and rescuers. Redeployed to Lithuania from their base in Germany, this will be their fifth time at Zokniai. Their previous mission was from January to April 2011.
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.