TALLINN, March 21 (Reuters) - France could send four planes to Lithuania on protection duty if NATO decides to boost air defences over the Baltic states, a source close to French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday, amid tension over Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
Le Drian began a rapid visit to Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia on Friday, with the aim of offering them reassurances on security, as European Union leaders sought to broaden sanctions against Moscow officials.
The French offer would come on top of a NATO mission that has offered air policing for the past decade and follows a U.S. offer to provide extra aircraft.
Since 2004, NATO has operated the "police the skies" mission over the Baltic states, with each NATO member country taking a turn every four months to supply planes that are based in Lithuania. The United States does the job at the moment and Poland will take over in May.
"France is ready to contribute four planes if NATO decides to beef things up," said the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Alison Williams)
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