Prior to the start of the Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 military exercises, the United States decided to strengthen the air police mission of the Baltic States by sending seven F-15C Eagle fighters. They landed at the Lithuanian Air Force base in Siauliai on Tuesday, reported the Lithuanian edition of Delfi, citing the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense.
For the last two years, the mission from Lithuania had four allied fighters. About 140 soldiers from the U.S. base in Great Britain will participate in the mission. They will replace a contingent of the Polish Air Force, which has been guarding the airspace of the Baltic States for the past four months. The U.S. military will participate in the NATO air police mission in the Baltic States for the fifth time.
In Minsk, it is claimed that 12,700 troops will be involved in the exercises, but Lithuanian representatives believe that this figure is underestimated due to the fact that the exercises are broken up into separate parts. Lithuanian officials believe that the real figure may be as many as 100 thousand.
At the same time, Lithuanian military intelligence maintains that part of the Zapad-2017 exercise scenario will likely include an enacted armed conflict with NATO, and does not preclude deliberate or accidental incidents. However, Russia and Belarus say that the exercises will be of a defensive nature.
In the Lithuanian Defense Ministry’s press release about the arrival of U.S. fighters, the Zapad-2017 exercises are not mentioned. It simply states that this is the United States’ way to “demonstrate the unshakable commitment of NATO to ensure the security of the Baltic countries.”
The official change of the NATO mission contingent will take place on Wednesday.
The Russia-Belarus Zapad-2017 exercises are scheduled for September 14-20. Russian troops began to arrive in Belarus on August 15.