07:46 GMT +314 November 2019
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    'Trying to Balance' Missiles: US Faces Ballistic Dilemma in Baltic States

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    In considering the deployment of Patriot missiles in the Baltic States, the United States seeks to meet Baltic leaders' wishes but at the same time fears retaliation from Moscow, Russian military expert Ivan Konovalov told Sputnik.

    In an interview with Sputnik, Russian military expert Ivan Konovalov commented on Washington's intention to temporarily deploy its Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries in the Baltic States.

    According to Konovalov, the move indicates that the White House is trying to balance between its desire to court Baltic leaders and concerns over Russia responding in kind.

    On Wednesday, Reuters quoted unnamed US officials as saying that "a Patriot missile battery could be deployed briefly to the Baltic region during NATO exercises in July that focus on air defense."

    Earlier, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned of the pitfalls of a "destabilizing" Russian missile deployment near the Baltic States, a clear nod to the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

    Washington will "deploy only defensive systems to make certain that sovereignty is respected. The specific systems that we bring are those that we determine necessary," Mattis said during a news briefing with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

    His statement came as Russia prepares for its large-scale Zapad military exercises in the west of the country, set to take place in August and September.

    As many as 100,000 Russian troops are expected to take part. Zapad exercises will also be held in the Russian enclave Kaliningrad, which is located between Poland and Lithuania.

    Commenting on the issue, Ivan Konovalov described the planned deployment of the Patriot missiles in the Baltic States as an indication of Washington's desire to meet the Baltic leaders' demands.

    "Most likely, this is a request of the leaders of the Baltic States, which will gradually become the most militarized zone in Europe, according to analytical data," Konovalov said.

    He recalled that despite the small military budgets of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, these three Baltic countries spent about one and a half billion dollars on military expenditures in 2016 – a figure that will increase to two billion dollars by 2020.

    "This is a huge sum given the [small size of] the territories of these countries. At the same time, they want additional military spending from the US in the form of the Patriot system being supplied on a permanent basis," Konovalov said.

    However, Americans are unwilling to do so because they are concerned about possible retaliatory measures on the part of Russia, according to him.

    "The Americans cannot say 'no' to the Baltic leaders, for they see them as allies, but at the same time they do not want to deploy the Patriot missiles on a permanent basis because they understand perfectly well that it will irritate Russia," Konovalov added.

    "They also realize the fact that that the Patriot batteries are related to the missile defense system and that Russia's possible retaliation will be severe. That is why the United States is trying to balance," he pointed out.

    Right now, a company of American servicemen, US Abrams tanks and the Bradley infantry fighting vehicles are stationed in Lithuania.

    During a NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016, a decision was made to strengthen the eastern flank of the alliance.

    NATO decided to deploy multinational battalions to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland on a rotational basis, in line with requests of these countries' leaders.

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    Tags:
    retaliation, military spending, budget, request, deployment, Patriot missile system, Lithuania, United States
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