Baltic leaders back Nato, Ukraine strategic ties, boost defense spending

Riga, Dec 9 (EFE).- The prime ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania on Friday reaffirmed their commitment to increase defense spending to 3% of their GDP in the coming years, to coordinate energy policies as they wean themselves off Russian gas, oil and electricity and to back a close strategic alliance between Nato and Ukraine.

Latvian prime minister Krisjanis Karins, Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas and Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte confirmed the announcements at a joint press conference after a meeting of the Baltic Ministers Council in Riga.

Karins, who chaired the Ministers’ Council in 2022, said the main topics of discussion were the war in Ukraine, defense issues, energy and the multi-billion euro Rail Baltica project that will eventually link the region’s rail network to western Europe.

The Latvian prime minister, tasked with forming a new government after the October 1 elections in his country, said Rail Baltica, which until now had mainly been presented as a project to improve trade in goods and tourism, had gained “strategic military significance” in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Estonia’s Kallas said the rail link would be used for military transport to the Baltic region should the need arise. She said her country would increase defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2024.

Simonyte said Lithuania’s 2023 budget had set a “floor” of 2.52% of GDP for defense, with the possibility of additional spending for specific projects that could boost the figure to 3%.

The Lithuanian prime minister said a main theme of the tripartite talks had been “solidarity with Ukraine”.

She said Lithuania, like Latvia and Estonia, had moved to provide electrical generation support to the country in the wake of “barbaric attacks” aimed at damaging critical civilian infrastructure and breaking Ukrainian morale.

Simonyte stated that despite Russia’s losses in the war, Russian president Vladimir Putin doesn’t want peace talks, but only wants a break in the fighting in order to consolidate his forces.

“Russia will remain a threat to the Euroatlantic alliance,” she said, adding that she looked forward to a Ukraine-Nato strategic partnership being drafted by the next alliance summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in summer 2023.

Karins reminded journalists that the three Baltic countries, in proportion to their national budgets and GDP, had given more military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine than anyone else and therefore could influence policy decisions in the European Union and Nato.

He pointed out that all three countries were committed to buying High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) platforms for their defense forces, giving them the capacity to conduct precision strikes deep inside the territory of any nearby aggressor.

On energy, Simonyte expressed confidence that the liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda had enough capacity to supply gas to the entire Baltic region through various supply and distribution agreements.

Kallas, who has recently hinted at possible electricity rationing in her country, said that Estonia has the political will to disconnect and de-synchronize its electrical grid from Russia, but still needs to take several technical steps.

In 2023, Estonia will take over the chairmanship of the Baltic Ministers’ Council from Latvia.EFE


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