CESIS, Latvia (Reuters) - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will step up military cooperation and increase funding to NATO’s air mission in the Baltic region in response to a surge in sorties along their borders by Russian planes, their defense ministers said on Friday.
The three Baltic states have viewed their Soviet-era ruler with increasing unease since Russia annexed Crimea in March and as the conflict in eastern Ukraine has rumbled on.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission has scrambled its planes more than 100 times in response to Russian air activity this year, three times more than in 2013.
On Monday, 28 Russian military planes including TU-95 and TU-22 strategic bombers were intercepted over the Baltic sea near Latvia’s border. On Tuesday, one Russian plane violated Estonia’s airspace for less than a minute.
The situation was unprecedented and marked a turning point, Latvia’s Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told a news conference.
Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser said such flights were “unnecessary and provocative”.
The Baltic countries, which are all NATO members, agreed to contribute 3 million euros each a year to the air mission, Vejonis said. Until now, Latvia’s annual contribution has been 1 million euros.
Vejonis said Latvia might face additional provocations from Russia when it takes over the rotating EU presidency in January.
“I am convinced that we will observe attempts to belittle both the country and state officials. We have to face that, and we are preparing for that,” he said.
Reporting by Aija Krutaine; Editing by Daniel Dickson and John Stonestreet