Viewing cable 05VILNIUS1228

05VILNIUS12282005-11-21 14:51:00 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 02 VILNIUS 001228 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/20/2015 
Classified By: Political/Economic Officer Alexander Titolo for reasons 
1.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (C) Summary:  Extending NATO's interim Baltic air 
policing program or making it permanent is one of the GOL's 
highest security policy objectives.  The GOL will look for 
continuation of 24/7 Baltic coverage as the optimal outcome 
of NATO's review of its air policing policy, and for NATO to 
defend this policy vigorously in discussions with Russia. 
The GOL fears a loss of confidence in NATO's security 
guarantees, and public demands that Lithuania provide for its 
own air defense will result if NATO ends 24/7 coverage.  Such 
an outcome could jeopardize GOL's defense transformation 
plans and overseas operations.  MOD and MFA officials express 
guarded optimism that proposals currently under discussion in 
NATO will maintain the interim mission.   They voice 
significant concerns, however, regarding readiness standards 
and rules of engagement.  End summary. 
¶2.  (C) The GOL has taken careful notice of the Russian 
Government's actions since the September 15 crash of a 
Russian Su-27 in Lithuania (reftel).  After an initial period 
of bluster and blame-shifting, the last few weeks have 
witnessed Russian recognition of its responsibility for the 
accident.  These include public reprimands of two senior 
Russian Air Force officials, swift payment of the agreed-upon 
damage claim, increased willingness to explore confidence 
building measures, and Russia's request to put "transparency 
and predictability in Baltic airspace management" on the 
November 23 agenda of the NATO-Russia Council.  Lithuanian 
Minister of Defense Gediminas Kirkilas has publicly applauded 
these steps.  At the same time, GOL officials privately tell 
us they still regard Russia as a threat that merits close 
¶3.  (C) Darius Mereckis, the MFA's point man on air policing, 
underscored in discussions with us November 17 the GOL's 
insistence that all NATO allies have a minimum level of 
protection from air-based threats.  Mereckis said the GOL 
will argue from this premise that the only way to achieve 
this goal is for NATO to station interceptors in the Baltics. 
 Mareckis said that the NATO Air Defense Committee's October 
14, 2005 note to the Secretary regarding NATO's air policing 
policy (NADC-D REV1) largely assuages GOL concerns about the 
future of the Baltic air policing mission.  He interprets the 
draft policy paper as an indication that the final policy 
statement will keep planes in the Baltics on a permanent 
¶4.  (C) Mereckis detailed the GOL's hope that the NATO 
Military Committee will incorporate lessons learned from the 
Su-27 crash in formulating readiness standards and command 
procedures for future Baltic air policing operations. 
Mareckis identified problems with communication procedures 
between the Regional Air Surveillance Coordination Center 
(RASCC) in Lithuania and the Combined Air Operations Center 
(CAOC) in Germany as one reason for the delay in scrambling 
Lithuania-based NATO interceptors in response to the SU-27 
incursion.  He acknowledged that Lithuania and the other 
Baltic nations must improve surveillance coverage of their 
airspace to help ameliorate this problem.  To that end, the 
MOD has requested USD 6.2 million above its initial budget 
request to parliament for radar equipment upgrades. 
¶5.  (C) Mereckis opined that NATO needed to change the 
protocol that requires the interceptors to scramble only 
after a plane violates Baltic airspace.  He argued that the 
NATO planes should respond when unidentified aircraft or 
those of a non-NATO country approach or appear to approach 
NATO airspace.  Mereckis cited as model procedure for NATO's 
air policing planes the actions of Finnish and Danish 
national forces, which scrambled September 15 to monitor a 
squad of Russian planes flying near Finnish and Danish 
airspace.  (The squad included the Su-27 that later broke 
formation and crashed in Lithuania.)  Mereckis said the 
current requirement that the planes scramble within 15 
minutes of receiving an order is acceptable. 
¶6.  (C) Putting security concerns in a political context, 
Marius Puodziunas, of the MOD's Defense Commitments Section, 
claimed to us that the Su-27 crash diminished public support 
for NATO.  Puodziunas also noted heightened public suspicions 
that good relations with Russia are a higher priority for the 
Alliance than the security of Lithuania.  He pointed to 
polling after the Su-27 crash that indicated that 74% of 
Lithuanians want NATO to take a harder line in addressing 
Russia's actions.  The GOL, Puodziunas said, is keen to 
prevent calls for Lithuania to develop a domestic air defense 
capability in the face of public perception that NATO does 
not adequately defend the Baltics.  The MFA's Mereckis also 
drew attention to polling data showing that 40% of 
Lithuanians had lost confidence in the Lithuanian Armed 
Forces.  Mereckis said the GOL wants to restore the public's 
confidence in the Armed Forces and NATO. 
¶7.  (C) Comment:  We think that the GOL is overstating 
concern about public confidence in NATO, reflecting the 
security establishment's intense desire to make the NATO air 
policing mission in the Baltics permanent.  Lithuanians 
understand that they have no other security alternatives 
besides NATO, and that they are simply too poor to field 
their own fighter aircraft capability, even in the unlikely 
event that the other two Baltic republics pitch in.  At the 
same time, it remains politically important for the GOL to 
show Lithuanians that NATO air police will be on the 
neighborhood beat for the foreseeable future and that NATO 
understands that Russia's behavior towards the Baltics is not 
always friendly.