NATO Opens Military Center in Lithuania Amid Ukraine Crisis

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) -

Fighter jets roaring overhead, NATO on Thursday inaugurated a military center in the Lithuanian capital amid growing concerns in the Baltic countries over Russia’s military presence.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who joined Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite for the opening ceremony, described the new unit as a “big step forward toward greater solidarity, greater strength and greater readiness.”

The NATO force integration unit in Vilnius is one of six small headquarters — manned by some 40 staff each — that opened this month in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania, as part of the alliance’s biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War.

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, were occupied for nearly five decades by the Soviet Union. After regaining independence in 1991 they joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, but continue to be suspicious of Moscow’s intentions.