VILNIUS, Lithuania — The three Baltic countries are asking NATO to permanently deploy an army brigade to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as a deterrent against an increasingly assertive Russia.

The chiefs of defense of the three countries are presenting the request in a joint letter this week to NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said Capt. Mindaugas Neimontas, spokesman for Lithuania's chief of defense.

"It is necessary because of the security situation," Neimontas told The Associated Press on Thursday. "It's not getting better in our region, so it will be a deterrent."

The Baltic countries — former Soviet republics that regained independence amid the collapse of the Iron Curtain two decades ago — have been alarmed by Moscow's intervention in Ukraine and the increasing activity of Russian forces exercising in the Baltic Sea region.

NATO forces, including from the U.S., have also stepped up their exercises in the Baltics and other Eastern European nations in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

But Neimontas said the Baltic countries are asking for a permanent presence of brigade-sized unit, with one battalion of 700-800 troops in each country.

The troops would be stationed in the region on a rotational basis, similar to NATO's air policing mission, in which the air forces of NATO countries take turns patrolling Baltic airspace.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the European Union, said the request of the Baltic states was motivated by "local politics rather than a genuine security situation."

"Because nobody is threatening the Baltics — at least, nobody that I know of," he said.

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