Viewing cable 04VILNIUS1353

04VILNIUS13532004-10-29 14:14:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 001353 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/28/2014 
     ¶B. VILNIUS 1350 
     ¶C. VILNIUS 987 
     ¶D. VILNIUS 845 
     ¶E. VILNIUS 305 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Officer Trevor Boyd 
for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 ¶1. (C) Summary.  Lithuania's opposition to hosting a Baltic 
regional air safety conference under NATO-Russia Council 
(NRC) auspices (ref A) is rooted in its assessment that 
Russian policy aims to disrupt NATO relations with its newest 
members and raise pressure on the air policing mission. 
Though Russian violations of Lithuanian airspace, once 
annually numbering in the thousands, have dropped to a 
handful in recent years, Lithuania remains concerned that its 
neighbors are violating its airspace to test Lithuania's and 
NATO's technological ability and diplomatic resolve.  In 
discussions regarding a permanent Baltic air-policing 
mission, Lithuania will stress the need for NATO assets given 
its own meager air defense capabilities, highlighting the 
fact that recent incursions have occurred over the Ignalina 
nuclear power plant and that NATO aircraft have intercepted 
suspected Russian intelligence aircraft traversing the Baltic 
Sea Coast.  End Summary. 
Russia's Disruptive Presence 
¶2. (C) Lithuanian government officials believe that Russian 
air space violations illustrate that the GOR is unwilling to 
accept the new NATO reality in the Baltics and would use any 
NRC discussion on the issue to subvert it.  Despite its 
continued concern over Russian air incursions, Lithuania is 
not yet ready to support initiatives like the proposed 
NATO-Russia Council Regional Air Safety Conference (reftel 
A), fearing that the forum would be used by Russia to create 
a rift within the NATO alliance.  The GOL does not feel it 
necessary to continue to assuage unfounded Russian concerns 
over the nature of the Baltic air-policing mission in 
Brussels or elsewhere. 
¶3. (C) Kestutis Jankauskas, Director of MFA's Security Policy 
Department told us that the GOR would use initiatives like 
the NRC Conference to "single out" the Baltic region in the 
belief that NATO itself, by calling for a special conference, 
believes that there are differences between its new Baltic 
members and its Western European founders.  NATO, he said, 
affords indivisible security to its members.  A Conference 
focused on the Baltic region, therefore, would add no value 
to the NATO-Russia relationship, and might, in fact, imply 
inter-alliance instability to the GOR.  Noting the recent 
visit of a Russian Vienna Document inspection team (reftel B) 
to the Zokniai airfield and NATO's Baltic air policing 
assets, Lithuania, Jankauskas said, prefers to work through 
established CSBM confidence-building instruments to mitigate 
NATO-GOR tensions rather than create new fora that Russia may 
exploit to imply there are problems where none exist. 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
The History of Violations of Lithuanian Air Space 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
¶4. (SBU) There have been nearly 5,500 recorded violations of 
Lithuania's airspace by both fixed wing and rotor aircraft 
since January 1, 1992.  Though aircraft from Latvia (on three 
occasions), the United States (once; a BE-20 flying without 
proper authorization July 28, 2000), and Sweden (once) have 
violated Lithuania's airspace, only aircraft from Russia or 
Belarus have done so since June 2001. 
Summary of Violations of Lithuania's Airspace 
¶5. (SBU) The Government of Lithuania recorded the following 
number of violations of its air space: 
--1992      2,557 violations 
--1993      2,621 violations 
--1994      133 violations 
--1995      59 violations 
--1996      14 violations 
--1997      10 violations 
--1998      5 violations 
--1999      4 violations 
--2000      8 violations 
--2001      8 violations 
--2002      4 violations 
--2003      3 violations 
--2004      5 violations 
¶6. (SBU) The GOL argues that, in the mid-late 1990s, 
Lithuania's participation in transatlantic security programs 
and anticipated membership in NATO were key to discouraging 
Russian air incursions.  They point in particular to 
Lithuania's joining the PfP in January 1994 to explain the 
sudden drop of airspace violations from over two thousand to 
fewer than two hundred.  Improvements in Lithuania's ability, 
both technically and multilaterally, to detect and address 
incursions into its air space, such as the development of 
national air sovereignty operations and the 2001 inauguration 
of the Regional Airspace Surveillance Co-ordination Center in 
Karmelava, Lithuania, have also discouraged air incursions. 
Belarus Also a Cause for Concern 
¶7. (C) Though many of the most recent violations appear more 
incidental than directed, as when helicopters have drifted 
across Lithuania's border for under two minutes, Lithuanians 
worry that Russia and Belarus undertake targeted incursions 
to test Lithuania's air detection and defense capabilities. 
They point in particular to two incursions, in April and June 
2003, when aircraft from Belarus violated Lithuanian airspace 
over the Ignalina nuclear power plant.  The Ignalina plant, 
four miles from the Belarusian border, is Lithuania's only 
area of restricted airspace, and is only modestly protected 
against threats from the air by a single platoon of six 
Swedish-made BOFORS L-70 40mm air defense guns. 
Surveillance Aircraft Concerns 
¶8. (C) Lithuania is concerned about surveillance aircraft 
moving between Kaliningrad and Russia.  A Russian IL-18 
traveling to Kaliningrad violated Lithuanian airspace in 
November 2003.  Russia flies modified IL-18 electronic 
surveillance planes (IL-20 or COOT-A) along the Baltic Sea 
Coast.  Lithuanian interlocutors note that one of the few 
times NATO's planes scrambled to address a Baltic airspace 
violation since the Baltic air-policing mission began in 
March was in response to a likely IL-20 traversing Estonian 
airspace without a flight plan, in June.  The Russian crew, 
interlocutors stress, only submitted a flight plan after 
Belgian F-16s had intercepted their aircraft. 
Limited Domestic Air Defense Assets 
¶9. (C) Lithuania lacks the air assets to police and defend 
its airspace against air incursions on their own.  The 
country's meager national air assets, namely a pair of L-39 
Albatross airframes and small helicopter fleet are not 
night-capable and, therefore, can provide air defense, 
protect against renegade attack, and assist in civil air 
emergencies only during daylight. 
Russian Pressure? 
¶10. (C) Russia seems determined, say interlocutors, to play a 
game of cat and mouse with Lithuania to test the 
technological ability and diplomatic resolve of the GOL to 
address violations of its airspace.  Even in instances where 
Russian aircraft are tracked, and air space violations 
recorded, say interlocutors, the GOR refutes GOL evidence 
with blanket denials and technical doubletalk.  Russian 
actions lend little credence to the belief that the GOR will 
ever be more than a disruptive presence in the region. 
¶11. (C) Darius Mereckis of MFA's NATO Division shared with us 
an official GOR reply to a GOL query about two airspace 
violations near the Kaliningrad border by Russian military 
aircraft in May.  Russia's diplomatic note denied that any of 
its aircraft "conducted flights in the airspace of the 
Kaliningrad Oblast" at the time of the incident.  In response 
to Lithuanian electronic evidence that a Russian AN-26 
violated Lithuanian airspace over the Baltic Sea, Russia 
denied the violation, and said the flight was conducted in 
accordance with its request and corresponding permit to 
utilize established air transit routes over Latvia. 
EU Parallels 
¶12.  (C) Lithuanians also claim Russians play a similar game 
with their relations with the EU, by regularly claiming in EU 
fora that Lithuania is attempting to disrupt Russian 
transport links to the Kaliningrad exclave - though objective 
observers regularly praise the Lithuanian government for 
scrupulous implementation of the EU-Russia-Lithuanian 
agreement regulating such transportation. 
¶13. (C) Violations of Lithuania's airspace are rare. 
Nevertheless, in discussions of a permanent Baltic air 
policing solution, the GOL will likely play up perceived 
targeted Russian or Belarusian threats to Lithuania's 
security; but they would also concede that they don't expect 
a Soviet air invasion.  Such a response are perhaps only 
natural in response to what the Lithuanians perceive 
nationalist hostility towards Baltic NATO membership 
emanating from Russia.  Lithuania is ready to play a 
constructive role within European security mechanisms such as 
the Vienna Document - as it evidenced in successfully hosting 
a Russian inspection this week.  But it will unlikely agree 
to putting Baltic security concerns on the agenda of any NATO 
interaction with Russia until they believe Russia takes 
obvious steps to back off from what the Lithuanians believe 
aim to disrupt relations within NATO.