NATO

Baltics in talks to increase NATO presence to deter Russia, Estonian PM says

Russia has demanded an end to Baltic deployments by NATO, but the alliance said any escalation in Ukraine could result in an increase.

A number of Baltic States are discussing an increase of military deployments from NATO allies on their soil to deter Russia, according to Estonia's prime minister.

Russia has demanded such deployments to the Baltic States end – with the British Army currently leading a NATO Battlegroup in Estonia.

The enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) mission in the Baltic States sees the deployment of multinational, combat-ready forces to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on a rotational basis.

Currently, about 900 British personnel rotate on a continuous basis alongside Danish, French, and host nation Estonian forces –  with additional troops deployed to Poland and Lithuania amid tensions at their borders with Belarus in December.

Estonia's premier Kaja Kallas said they are "discussing with our allies to increase their presence here to act as a deterrent" to Russia, which has massed troops on its border with Ukraine.

"If you look at the map, the Baltic states are a NATO peninsula and therefore we have our worries," she said.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, once ruled by Russia from Moscow, have been members of NATO and the European Union since 2004.

Russia laid out its demands for security guarantees to NATO earlier this week, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg said reinforcing eastern NATO members would be "seriously" considered if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Watch: NATO and Russia agree more high-level talks despite building tensions.

Mr Stoltenburg added, whilst he would not go into specifics, that NATO is “always ready to do what it takes to defend all [its] allies”.

Russia totally opposes further expansion of the alliance, but tension with Moscow is pushing Finland and Sweden towards joining NATO.

Henna Virkkunen, Finnish MEP, told Forces News most of Finland think it is better the country is not a full member of NATO, but admitted "the public opinion is slightly turning" because people can see "how the security challenge is changing in Europe".

And Karin Karlsbro, Swedish MEP, told Forces News there is "a majority in the Swedish parliament in favour of a so-called NATO option".

"It means that we have a majority for a situation where we say that NATO application is an option if and when Sweden finds it appropriate," she said.

The Finnish and Swedish Armed Forces says the alliance already meets most NATO standards and Mr Stoltenburg said Sweden and Finland's applications "can go very quickly if they decide to apply".

"But, at the end of the day, this will be a political decision that has to be taken in Sweden and in Finland if they want to apply," he said.

"I think that it's quite obvious that, since we are so close already, if the political will is there, the whole process can move quite quickly."