Fact Check: NATO Did NOT Change Its Air Force Status To 'Combat' From 'Air Police' Over The Baltics

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: NATO Did NOT Change Its Air Force Status To 'Combat' From 'Air Police' Over The Baltics New Model

Did NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announce on June 26, 2023, that the international military alliance would change the status of the air force mission protecting the skies of the Baltic states to a "combat" role?" No, that's not true: Stoltenberg said during a press conference that NATO has reached an agreement on a "new rotational model for air and missile defense," which would allow for a "swift transition from air policing to air defense." There was no mention of changing the alliance's status to "combat."

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by the Hal Turner Radio Show on June 26, 2023, titled "NATO CHANGES STATUS TO 'COMBAT.'" The article opens:

Jens Stoltenberg announced this morning that NATO will change the status of the air force mission for the protection of the skies of the Baltic states to 'combat.' Previously, he said, there the status was air police.

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

NATO Hal Turner.png

(Source: Hal Turner Radio Show screenshot taken on Tue Jun 27 16:04:22 2023 UTC)

A post on Twitter (archived here) by the @Sprinter99880 account, also from June 26, 2023, made a similar claim. It said:

NATO will change the status of the air force mission for the protection of the skies of the Baltic states to combat, Stoltenberg said. Previously, there was the status of the air police.

The so-called air police control the space above the Baltic states and are not considered a military mission. And with a combat mandate, NATO fighters will be able to participate in hostilities and be integrated into Lithuania's defense plans.

In addition, the German Defense Minister said that his country intends to deploy an additional 4,000 troops in Lithuania on a long-term basis.

Press conference

Stoltenberg did talk about Baltic air policing on June 26, 2023, during a joint news conference with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda but the NATO leader didn't say what the Hal Turner Radio Show article and the tweet claim he said. Over the course of the 25-minute session, there was no discussion of changing the mission's status to "combat." Here's what Stoltenberg said:

We are now putting in place new regional plans, with specific forces and capabilities assigned to the defence of specific Allies. These forces will exercise together regularly.

We also agreed a new rotational model for air and missile defence. To allow for swift transition from air policing to air defence.

The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will further strengthen Baltic security.

Finland joined NATO in April 2023, in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Since July 2022, Sweden has been an official NATO invitee, actively participating in meetings and coordinating activities with the Allies. It will become a NATO ally once all allies have ratified its accession protocol.

Lead Stories contacted RAND Corp. senior international/defense researcher Colin Smith to analyze the Hal Smith Radio Show article and the social media post. He provided these conclusions in a June 27, 2023, email:

Upon review of the provided links, reading the transcript of the NATO Secretary General's remarks yesterday [June 26, 2023] in Lithuania, and listening to the actual press conference, there is no change in NATO status to anything resembling 'Combat.'

The Twitter feed link posted by 'Sprinter' @Sprinter99880 included a short clip of Secretary Stoltenberg with a Russian translation over the English statements. The news clip was created by Zvezda News, a Russian news agency. The translation is inaccurate, and states in Russian a transition from policing to 'combat.' ...

I cannot state if the translation was done deliberately to enflame its Russian audience, or was a genuinely poor translation, but the Twitter poster clearly picked up the inaccurate translation and went with it.

Baltic Air Policing

Baltic Air Policing by NATO began in 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the military alliance. The NATO website explains how the mission works:

NATO takes its responsibility to ensure integrity, safety and security of its airspace very seriously. For member nations that do not have the necessary air capabilities, agreements exist to ensure a single standard of security across European NATO airspace. As its three Baltic members Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia don't have the required aircraft assets to contribute to NATO Air Policing over their own territories, Alliance members provide the necessary capabilities for them.

Allies take turns deploying to air bases at Šiauliai, Lithuania and Ämari, Estonia, on a four-month rotational basis, ready to be launched by NATO's Combined Air Operations Centre Uedem, Germany if required. The Air Forces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia contribute to the mission with host nation support in the form of air command and control infrastructure and personnel. ...

Fighter aircraft assigned to NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission are often launched to visually identify Russian Federation Air Force aircraft.

The Baltic states are either bordered by Russia or Belarus. Belarus is a close military ally of Russia. Here's a map of the region as provided by Encyclopedia Britannica:

Baltic states.png

(Source: Britannica.com screenshot taken on Tue Jun 27 20:53:14 2023 UTC)

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to NATO and Russia are compiled here.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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