26th Oct 2016

Russia calls selective Baltic security talks

  • Nato warship the USS Cook was harassed by Russian jets in the Baltic Sea earlier this year (Photo: Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa)

Russia has invited experts from most Baltic countries, but not Denmark and Germany, for talks on regional security.

"I can confirm, that we have received an invitation and that similar invites were also sent to other countries - Poland, the Baltic states and Finland," Sweden’s defence minister, Peter Hultqvist, told Swedish radio station Ekot on Wednesday (17 August).

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  • Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom and her Finnnish counterpart Timo Soini at a Nato foreign minister's meeting in May. (Photo: Nato)

Russia's deputy minister of defence, Anatoly Antonov, who is on an EU blacklist over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, earlier told the Tass news agency that the meeting would take place in Moscow in September and that ”despite differences of opinion, Russia is ready for constructive conversations about common issues”.

He said the meeting would cover the military-political situation in Europe, increased military movements near borders, and regional flight security.

According to Nato, Russia has built up a force of more than 300,000 troops on its Western borders, together with new air bases, naval assets and nuclear-capable short-range missiles.

In the two years after its Ukraine invasion, it has held dozens of unannounced military exercises, some involving movements of more than 100,000 soldiers at a time.

It has also violated Nato states’ airspace in the Baltic region.

Danish military jets, for instance, were activated 98 times to respond to Russian airspace incursions in 2014 and 2015.

The Danish military has only once had to intercept Russian jets in Denmark’s air space since the start of 2016.

But with Denmark not invited to Moscow, the Swedish defence minister told the radio station that he could not guarantee Swedish participation either.

"For us it is very important that the countries situated around the Baltic are acting collectively on this kind invitation,” he said.

United Nordic front on Russia

The Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers, who were meeting in Stockholm on Wednesday, also discussed the Russian initiative.

"I think in general these kinds of contacts and negotiations should be on a wider scale," Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini said at a press conference in Stockholm.

"Above all we'll discuss with other countries who received invites and decide what this is all about," added Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstroem. "We won't allow a wedge to be driven between countries."

The three Baltic states, Denmark, Germany, and Poland are all EU and Nato members.

Finland and Sweden are in the EU but not in Nato. They have started to build closer Nato ties as well as closer US defence ties since the outbreak of the Ukraine war, however.

Baltic Sea safety

Nato deputy head Alexander Vershbow wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper, on Tuesday that it was “hard to think of a period, at least since the end of the Cold War, when relations [with Russia] have been as strained as they are today”.

His opinion piece noted that the last time Nato officials met their Russian counterparts, in Brussels in July, Russia had made a “welcome but narrow proposal on air safety in the Baltic Sea”.

But he said the large-scale military drills and false claims by Russian officials must end for ties to improve further.

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