(Fixes typo in dateline)
TALLINN/VILNIUS, April 28 The last deployment of
U.S. troops arrived in the Baltics with four British fighter
jets on Monday as NATO steps up efforts to reassure its allies
in the face of Russian tensions with the West over Ukraine.
Four British Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets landed in
Siauliai airbase in northern Lithuania, the first of 12 fighters
that will boost air patrols in the Baltics, and 150 U.S. troops
were deployed to the Amari air base in Estonia.
The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
have small military forces and have been warily watching Russia
reasserting itself in its former dominions.
A total of 600 U.S. troops have now been deployed to Poland
and the Baltics for infantry exercises, where they are expected
to remain on rotation until the end of the year.
"Clearly we are here to reassure our Baltic allies that we
are able to protect their airspace, should it be needed," RAF
commanding officer Simon Hulme told reporters in Siauliai,
standing in front one of the Typhoons.
Siauliai airport, a major military base in Soviet times,
lacks modern infrastructure, so the UK squadron will be housed
in temporary hangars built on the tarmac. Mission headquarters
are housed in a block of metal containers clustered nearby.
Two of the four hangars were half-completed on Monday.
The Baltic states have been members of NATO since 2004, but
foreign troops have not had a permanent presence before, partly
to avoid antagonising Russia.
NATO prepared plans for a defence if the Baltic region first
in 2010, after Russia invaded Georgia, according to U.S.
diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle-blowing website
(Reporting by David Mardiste in Tallin And Andrius Aytas in
Vilnius; Editing by Simon Johnson and Sonya Hepinstall)