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Britain, France deploy fighter jets for NATO Baltic patrols

In this photo released by Britain's RAF, one of Britain's Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft lifts off from an RAF base near Lincoln, England, Monday April 28, 2014, deployed to take part in the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (AP Photo / RAF, Cpl Phil Major (RAF))

LONDON: Britain and France deployed eight fighter jets on Monday to reinforce NATO air patrols over the Baltic as tensions rise with Russia over Ukraine, officials said.

Four British Typhoon jets arrived in Lithuania to start their mission while four French Rafale jets touched down in Malbork, northeast Poland, their defence ministries said.

British defence minister Philip Hammond said the move would "provide reassurance to our NATO allies in eastern Europe and the Baltic states."

"In the wake of recent events in Ukraine, it is right that NATO takes steps to reaffirm very publicly its commitment to the collective security of its members," Hammond said.

Around 70 French military personnel have been deployed to Malbork in support of the new planes, French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.

Britain and France have each also deployed AWACS early-warning aircraft to patrol Polish and Romanian airspace in recent weeks.

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, joined NATO in 2004 but lack sufficient aircraft to police their own skies, so larger NATO members take turns patrolling their airspace.

NATO announced in April that it would step up its defences in eastern Europe due to the growing crisis in Ukraine and Russia's absorption of Crimea.

It has increased fighter jet patrols and also deployed ships in the Baltic Sea and eastern Mediterranean.

The United States announced last week it was deploying 600 airborne troops for exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in a show of solidarity with NATO members bordering Russia.

 

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