NATO has decreased the number of fighter jets taking part in the Baltic Air Policing mission, following the earlier increase in the wake of Russia's aggression against Ukraine.
A total of eight aircraft from Belgium and Poland began their four-month rotation on Thursday, down from 13 NATO jets deployed to the region between April and September 2019 and 12 between September and December 2019.
NATO official told BNS on condition of anonymity that the larger rotations were put in place following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. "The upcoming rotation of Baltic Air Policing will again be conducted by two detachments, as usual," the official said.
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Only four fighter jets had been on duty in the Baltics before the spring of 2014. The mission was expanded following Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The Lithuanian Defence Ministry did not comment on the decrease, saying the decisions on Baltic Air Policing deployments are made by "NATO SHAPE (the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)".
"At the same time, we want to emphasise NATO's air policing mission in the Baltic countries will continue to be strengthened by the Polish Air Force from the Estonian Air Force Aviation Base in Amari," Asta Galdikaitė, the ministry's spokeswoman told BNS.
NATO member states have taken turns to safeguard Baltic airspace since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which do not have fighter aircraft of their own, joined the Alliance in 2004.
In Lithuania, the aircraft are deployed at the air force base in Šiauliai.