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VILNIUS, February 9 (Itar-Tass) —— Lithuania welcomes NATO’s decision to permanently protect the Baltic skies and will increase its contribution to this mission, Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said.
“There is no deadline. It will be a long-term mission that will be reviewed from time to time,” she said.
In their turn, the Baltic countries will assume an obligation to “increase their contribution” to the mission. The minister said Vilnius has already submitted relevant suggestions that are “subject to negotiation”.
German Air Force pilots have started patrolling the skies over the Baltic countries.
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.
Up till now, the NATO mission has been scheduled until 2014. 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.