France could send four planes to Lithuania on protection duty if NATO decides to boost air defenses over the Baltic states, a source close to French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday, amid tension over Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
Le Drian began a rapid visit to Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia on Friday, with the aim of offering them reassurances on security, as European Union leaders sought to broaden sanctions against Moscow officials.
The French offer would come on top of a NATO mission that has offered air policing for the past decade and follows a U.S. offer to provide extra aircraft.
Since 2004, NATO has operated the "police the skies" mission over the Baltic states, with each NATO member country taking a turn every four months to supply planes that are based in Lithuania. The United States does the job at the moment and Poland will take over in May.
"France is ready to contribute four planes if NATO decides to beef things up," said the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
TALLINN – France has suspended most of its military cooperation with Russia, the French defense minister said Friday, March 21, as Paris was still mulling whether to nix the sale of two Mistral warships to Moscow.
Paris has suspended "the majority of its military cooperation with Russia" in the wake of Moscow's takeover of Crimea, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Estonia's capital Tallinn. "Contacts between the chiefs of staff of France and Russia have been annulled," a source close to the minister told AFP.
A joint military exercise between the EU, Britain, France and Russia planned for April has also been cancelled, the sources said. France will offer to send 4 fighter jets to the Baltic states and Poland to boost NATO air patrols over the region should the alliance request them, the source revealed.
But so far Paris has resisted pressure to suspend the controversial Mistral deal with Moscow. A final decision on the sale is expected in October, according to Le Drian, who will visit fellow NATO members Lithuania and Poland later in Friday.
Besides the Rafale and Mirage 2000 aircraft, Paris will also offer to ensure "AWACS patrols from France around twice a week" if asked by NATO, the source close to the minister said Friday. The AWACS aircraft – Airborne Warning and Control System – are among the most sophisticated planes in the NATO armory, capable of monitoring huge swathes of airspace.
Le Drian's Friday visit is a bid to reassure "Balts and Poles, Russia's neighbors, given the Ukraine crisis," the source said, adding that the NATO military alliance has assured patrols over the Baltics since 2004. The United States is responsible for the patrols until May. Given the tense situation in Ukraine, it sent additional F-15 fighter jets to the region earlier this month, bringing their total to 10 aircraft.
Poland will then take over the patrols from the US. The ministry source said France will offer the fighter jets, along with the AWACS early warning aircraft, if NATO and Poland deem them necessary.NATO has already deployed AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to overfly Poland and Romania as part of its efforts to monitor the Ukraine crisis