U.S. Consolidates New Military Outposts In Eastern Europe
Two weeks after the United States started its third rotation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Baltic air patrol on September 1, with the deployment of F-15C Eagle fighter jets operating out of the Siauliai International Airport in Lithuania, neighboring Estonia finished a three-year project to upgrade its Amari Air Base in order to accommodate more NATO warplanes.
The opening ceremony for the enlarged base, which with expanded runways is able to host "16 NATO fighters, 20 transport planes [and] up to 2,000 people per day" , was held on September 15.
The Estonian base, like its Lithuanian counterpart, is a Soviet-era one modernized and extended for use by NATO, which financed 35 percent of the expansion.
Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said of the augmented air base that "You could say that it wasn't just the Estonian Air Force that got a base, but
our allies now also have a home, or if you prefer, a nest in Estonia where they
can land and rest."  The head of the Estonian Air Force, Brigadier General Valeri Saar, said that NATO aircraft involved in the air policing mission in place for over six years could be stationed at the Amari Air Base in the future.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an American expatriate and former Radio Free Europe employee, made even stronger claims by stating the completion of the base will facilitate the deployment of fellow NATO members' troops and military equipment to his nation for prospective direct intervention: "It is obvious that a small country like Estonia would need the help of its allies in the event of a serious military crisis. Likewise, it is obvious that no matter how willing someone is to provide this help, they cannot do so without the proper infrastructure. Let's be honest: until today our ability to accept the airborne help of our allies has been extremely limited." 
A "serious military crisis" only makes sense in relation to Russia. The air policing operation that was launched in March 2004 when Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were absorbed into the Alliance - the first former Soviet republics to enter the bloc - with the subsequent rotation of U.S., British, German, French, Turkish, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and Czech warplanes has never identified against whom and what NATO was allegedly protecting the three Baltic states' airspace.
As the stock villains - Iran and North Korea - cannot be invoked as threats to the region, Estonia's and Lithuania's joint neighbor Russia is the inescapable candidate.
Ilves also "underscored the fact that from 2012, when the complex as a whole is due for completion, NATO will have one of the most modern air force bases in the region at its disposal"  for the above-mentioned purpose.
By obtaining the use of the Siauliai and Amari air bases, NATO has secured facilities for air operations in five former Soviet states in total. The invasion of Afghanistan earlier brought the Alliance into air bases in Kyrgyzstan (Manas), Tajikistan (Dushanbe) and Uzbekistan (Termez). Comparable sites between the Baltic Sea and Central Asia - Georgia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus - are NATO's for the asking and are already being used for supplying the war in Afghanistan.
Airfields are not the only locations where increased NATO and U.S. military presence is being felt in the Baltic Sea region.
On September 13 thirteen NATO member states and partners began this year's annual Northern Coasts naval exercise in the Baltic Sea. Over 4,000 military personnel, more than 60 ships, and planes and helicopters from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden are involved in the largest exercise ever staged in Finnish waters, near the Bay of Bothnia where last year's Loyal Arrow 2 NATO war games included "the biggest air force drill ever in the Finnish-Swedish Bothnia Bay." 
A week after Northern Coasts 2010 began, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe launched the Jackal Stone 10 multinational special forces exercise at the 21st Tactical Airbase in Swidwin, Poland, from which it will move to two other locations in Lithuania. 1,300 special forces from the U.S., Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine are participating, the first time that special operations units of the seven countries have engaged in joint maneuvers.
At the opening ceremony for the exercises Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich addressed the participants, stating, "Special operations in the world today are becoming increasingly important in the conduct of combat operations. And exercises like this check the ability of allied and international cooperation, which is essential for the success of the Allies." 
The centerpiece of the exercise is the deployment of USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, which was sent to the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea in a show of strength by Washington shortly after the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. The president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, inspected helicopters used in the exercises, was given a tour of the USS Mount Whitney and said "Lithuania's active policy has helped to [assure] that such defense guarantees will be provided to us." 
The war in Afghanistan is not the only application for the skills so acquired, although all 12 new NATO members in Eastern Europe - Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - supplied troops for NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), for the war in Iraq and for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.