Mullen Offers Reassurance to Baltic Republics
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
RIGA, Latvia, Oct. 21, 2008 Following a meeting this morning in Helsinki, Finland, with his Russian counterpart, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff traveled here to discuss defense issues with Latvian officials.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, accompanied by Latvian Brig. Gen. Juris Maklakovs, the chief of defense, discussed defense and NATO issues with Latvian President Vladis Zatlers, Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins and Defense Minister Vinets Veldre.
The Baltic republics – all members of NATO – are nervous following Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all want more precise NATO defense plans in the wake of the Russian action in the Caucasus. Mullen said his trip is designed to assuage some of the nations’ concerns.
“One of the reasons I am here is to send a very visible message of reassurance,” the chairman said during a news conference with Zatlers.
Alliance members are having discussions on the Russian actions and all nations remain committed to staying unified on the Georgia invasion, the chairman said. “It’s been pretty clear across the board that NATO was not accepting in any way, shape or form what Russia has done in Georgia,” he said.
“All of us are concerned by the recent invasion into Georgia of Russia,” Mullen said. “In my past experience in NATO, I’ve always tried to understand the views of the Baltic [republics] because of the history and how they view what has happened. Those are part of the conversations we have had today. I think it is very important that … NATO recognizes what the alliance means and the responsibilities and obligations that go with it.”
NATO fighters guard the Baltic nations’ airspace and perform the peacetime air defense and air policing function. U.S. Air Force F-15 aircraft based at Lakenheath, England, currently have that mission as part of NATO.
The mission over the Baltic republics is an important one, Mullen said. The alliance had a recent exercise of that mission, he noted. All nations realize its importance to the alliance and to the Baltic nations, he said, though he would not go into specifics about air police plans or specific scenarios used to train the NATO flyers.
“It is a NATO mission that many nations have stepped up to in the past and will continue, certainly through 2011,” Mullen said.
The chairman thanked Latvia for its support in the Balkans and for sending personnel to Afghanistan.