Ukraine crisis

France to send fighter jets to patrol Baltics

France to send fighter jets to patrol Baltics
France is to send four fighter jets to patrol over the Baltics, in a show of solidarity as tension mounts of Russia's agression i nthe Ukraine. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP
France is sending four of its fighter jets to patrol over the Baltic states in a symbolic show of solidarity amid growing anxiety in the region over Russia's intervention in Ukraine. President François Hollande is also set to pay a visit to Georgia in the coming weeks.

Four French fighter jets will join NATO air patrols over the Baltics starting on Sunday, France's chief of defense staff said on Wednesday during a visit to Washington.

General Pierre de Villiers said the four fighter aircraft, either Mirage 2000 or Rafale jets, would fly from a base in Poland, amid growing anxiety in Baltic countries over Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"They will participate in the air policing mission over the Baltic states, from Poland," he told reporters.

In another measure of "reassurance," France also is deploying an AWACS early-warning radar aircraft to patrol the skies over Romania, the general said.

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

But the French officer said his political leaders had not ordered further steps to support alliance members.

"For the moment, the guidance is very clear, we do not go beyond that," he said.

The French military, which is overseeing the land element of NATO's response force through 2014, would be ready to expand its presence in Eastern Europe as required, he added.

The Baltic states, 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.

Hollande to visit Georgia

French President Francois Hollande will soon visit Georgia as Paris seeks to boost ties with the pro-Western ex-Soviet country, his foreign minister said on Thursday.

The French leader's visit – due in May – will come at a time of high tensions in the region, as the crisis in Ukraine triggers an increasingly strident war of words between the West and Russia.

"The French president will be here in a few days, the visit is being prepared," Laurent Fabius said on a joint visit to Georgia with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The two foreign ministers were in Tbilisi a day after having visited Moldova in an attempt to boost both countries' bid to formally sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union.

The agreement is the same one that was rejected by then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in November under Russian pressure, triggering mass protests against his rule.

The rallies led to his ouster in February and Moscow's takeover of Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea in March.

The crisis in Ukraine is of particular concern to Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

Moscow has several thousand troops stationed in the country's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which it recognized as independent states.

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