Times on-line and AFP: NATO summit will boost Baltic defence: Lithuania
NATO's Baltic state minnows will have their defences boosted by a crucial summit of the 28-nation alliance this week, Lithuania said Wednesday.
"Finally, six and a half years after we became a member of NATO, we'll have real, not just formal membership, with all the security guarantees," a spokesman for Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told AFP.
A summit of NATO leaders on Friday and Saturday in the Portuguese capital Lisbon is to sign off on defence plans for Lithuania and its fellow Baltic republics Latvia and Estonia.
The plans have already been agreed by NATO military and political experts after more than a year of closed-door talks, officials said, refusing to elaborate on their content.
Lithuania and its fellow Baltic republics Latvia and Estonia, which won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, joined NATO as well as the European Union in 2004.
The trio, with a total population of 6.8 million and a professional military of 20,500, have rocky relations with their former master Russia, which only withdrew its troops from their territories in 1994.
Baltic jitters rose after Russia's 2008 war with ex-Soviet Georgia, as well as Moscow's recent affirmation in its military doctrine that NATO's eastwards expansion is a threat.
The trio have repeatedly stressed that improving ties with Russia is by far their preferred option.
But they have called for the same kind of guarantees as other NATO members have.
Article Five of NATO's 1949 founding treaty views an attack against one member as an attack against the rest.
Beyond that, the alliance developed region-specific defence plans for older members during the Cold War. But they largely have been off the radar since then.
"These defence plans are a symbol of solidarity and NATO's commitments," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said Monday during a visit to the United States.
The Lisbon summit is also to sign off on plans for Poland, which split from the communist bloc in 1989 and joined NATO in 1999.
Officials told AFP that the Polish and Baltic plans had been rolled into one, given that the four countries are in the same region.
"We are glad that the alliance managed to draw up contingency plans for Poland," Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told a meeting of lawmakers from NATO member states on Saturday.
Poland has become a major player in the alliance, and with some 2,500 troops is one of the top contributors to NATO's 90,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The Baltic trio have almost 550 troops in Afghanistan -- one of the largest contributions in proportion to their size.
Press Service of the President