US adds six fighters for NATO Baltics patrols: Lithuania

VILNIUS - The United States will send six additional F-15 fighter jets to step up NATO's air patrols over the Baltic states, mission host Lithuania said Thursday as West-Russia tensions simmered over Ukraine.

"I have had confirmation that the air police missions will be reinforced by six additional F-15 fighters," Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told AFP.

The move is a response to "Russian aggression in Ukraine and additional military activity in the Kaliningrad region," Russia's exclave bordering Lithuania and Poland.

"We have witnessed increased military activity in Kaliningrad, but today it is lesser than three or four days before," he said.

Since January, four US F-15 fighter jets have been assigned for air patrols over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the three ex-Soviet Baltic states who are members of NATO and who lack sufficient aircraft to patrol their skies.

The countries broke away from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 after five decades of Communist rule and joined NATO in 2004.

They have repeatedly said they were concerned by a Russian military build-up near their border, and escalating crisis in Crimea has added to the sense of unease.

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite on Wednesday urged to increase "NATO visibility in the Baltic states."

A defence ministry spokeswoman told AFP that Lithuania has witnessed "increased flights of Russian aircraft by the Baltic states borders in recent years," which led NATO to scramble its jets "over 40 times" last year.

"In January and February this year the number of NATO fighters' flights to identify Russian aircraft has increased compared to last year," Viktorija Cieminyte told AFP, declining to provide specific numbers.