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22nd Feb 2020

Latvia and Lithuania call for tighter EU rules on arms sales

  • The Mistral: Estonian defence analysts say the sale would "change the balance of power" in the Baltic Sea region (Photo: David Monniaux)

Latvia and Lithuania have called for tighter EU rules on arms exports in reaction to French plans to sell a state-of-the-art warship to Russia.

The Baltic countries made their appeal during an informal EU defence ministers' meeting in Majorca on Thursday (25 February).

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"The EU and Nato should only sell their military equipment and weapons to third countries if it does not create risks of regional security tension," Latvian defence minister Imants Liegis said, according to his press statement. "EU member states should consult among themselves on issues that might compromise the security of other member states before clinching strategic and military deals."

"I said I supported my Latvian colleague," Lithuanian defence minister Rasa Jukneviciene told EUobserver in a phone interview. "It is time for the EU and Nato to formulate a more clear and firm policy on rules for military export control. There are no clear rules now."

The two former Soviet republics raised the alarm earlier this month when they found out via media that France is in talks to sell a Mistral class warship to Russia.

The vessel can be used to launch large-scale amphibious assaults, with a Russian admiral recently remarking that he could have won the 2008 war against Georgia in 40 minutes with the help of such a ship.

The Latvian and Lithuanian ministers also voiced their concerns in bilateral meetings with French defence minister Herve Morin at the Spanish event.

"They don't understand our relationship with Russia. They don't see a problem. France said that times have changed, that we should forget about the past," a Latvian official said.

The Lithuanian meeting was friendlier. "We left with different positions on the subject. But I was told that no final decision [on the sale] has been made yet," Ms Jukneviciene said.

"A number" of EU states, including Poland, voiced support for her proposals on new rules in the margins of the Majorca gathering, she added.

The EU already has a Code of Conduct on arms exports, adopted in 2008. But it is not legally binding and is routinely flouted by EU states.

Defence ministers eye new powers

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton skipped the Majorca meeting to be at the inauguration of President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev. But her proposals for an institutional shake-up on EU defence policy, put forward in a letter, gained wide support.

Currently, EU defence ministers meet just four times a year and do not take formal decisions, which are left up to EU foreign ministers. But Ms Ashton said they should meet as often as once a month and to have executive powers.

"This should happen. I don't see any problems at all," an EU official said. The proposal is to be discussed again in April.

EU defence ministers also sketched out plans for expanding the EU's anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. The Atalanta mission may in future seek to establish control over Somalian ports which support pirate activity and target assailants' refueling boats.

"The maritime mission has to look landward now to see what is happening there," Spanish defence minister Carme Chacon said. "It's very important for our fishing vessels that we neutralise them [the pirates] and their refueling vessels," she added, referring to Spanish tuna boats which operate in the region.

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