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    Latvia Wants US Air Defense, Permanent NATO Presence in Baltics

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    Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said that military representatives will be requesting an air defense system and a permanent NATO troop presence in the Baltics during meetings with US officials this week.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) Latvian military representatives will be requesting an air defense system and a permanent NATO troop presence in the Baltics during meetings with US officials this week, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told Sputnik on Tuesday.

    “At the present moment, we are looking for an air defense system,” Vejonis said, adding that Riga needs radars and Stinger missiles to counter low-flying objects. “Of course, we will discuss possible permanent NATO presence in the region — it is a key question for us.”

    Latvia’s defense minister said he hopes to meet with US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and US lawmakers to discuss Baltic and Nordic security concerns during his visit to Washington, DC. 

    Information and intelligence sharing will be another emphasis of the Vejonis’s meetings in Washington, DC, he said. Vejonis also intends to discuss joint procurement of equipment, and closer collaboration between the two countries’ defense industrial firms.

    “We want to discuss how the United States can strengthen its presence [in the Baltics] by soldiers, by equipment, and by ammunition in the region,” Vejonis stated.

    Since 2014, the Latvian government has started to increase defense spending in response to its perception of a Russian military threat. By 2020, lawmakers expect military spending will reach NATO’s benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product spent on defense, Vejonis said.

    Following the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, an agreement was reached to establish a rotational NATO presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Some NATO allies, including the Baltic States, have requested a permanent NATO presence.

    Russian leaders have argued, however, that a permanent deployment of NATO forces close to the Russian border violates the 1990 Russia-NATO agreement that stipulated NATO must not advance to the Russian border.

    This week US representatives will be taking part in the first US-Nordic-Baltic Political-Military Dialogue in Denmark, according to the US State Department. The newly inaugurated forum will bring together senior civilian and military officials to discuss regional security issues and enhanced cooperation.

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