NATO needs a more “visible” presence in the Baltic countries to counter the threat posed by Russia from Belarus, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda warned on Friday.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked discussion within the transatlantic military alliance over how best to defend its eastern members, with leaders meeting in Madrid next week to approve new plans.
Speaking ahead of the summit, Nausėda told POLITICO that “very significant fundamental changes” in neighboring Belarus make Lithuania more vulnerable to a swift Russian attack – and necessitate a change in the region’s security arrangements.
The Lithuanian leader said he would describe today’s Belarus as an “additional province” to Moscow, adding that “the Russian military can do whatever it wants to move forces, deploy equipment.”
In the past, Nausėda said, NATO’s strategy relied on reinforcements. Relatively small forces were stationed on the eastern edge of the alliance, with the allies expected to come to the aid of the area in the event of an attack.
But the new reality, according to the Lithuanian leader, “does not leave us time to react”, because Russian troops “could be easily deployed very close to our border” and “there will be no time for reinforcements”. , did he declare.
Now Baltic officials are asking for more troops, weapons and air defense.
Germany, which already leads a NATO battlegroup in Lithuania, recently announced that it would step up its contribution to the country’s defences. The plan includes troops that would be assigned to Lithuanian security but still officially based in Germany.
This model should find an echo in other countries. NATO officials and diplomats are negotiating a compromise whereby some allies will strengthen their presence along the eastern flank – including placing more weapons there and assigning available troops to defend the region – but without committing in long-term, large-scale permanent bases.
“The German side has shown a strong commitment to increasing the forward presence in Lithuania,” Nausėda noted.
“What is most important” for the Baltics, he said, is “to have very clear assurances” from allies of a “more visible forward presence here in the Baltics”. .
And while regional policymakers have pushed for more troops — and a more permanent presence — in the region, the president has acknowledged many logistical hurdles.
The permanent stationing of NATO forces in Lithuania “would be our priority, but it also depends on our capacity, our absorption capacity”, he said, citing the need for infrastructure, housing and training facilities.
And it’s a two-way street, according to the Lithuanian leader.
“On the one hand, we have to do our homework,” he said. “On the other hand,” he said, “our allies must prepare to send more troops to Lithuania because it is a clear priority for us.”
“We would like to achieve the maximum in both directions: first increase our reception capacity. And of course we are very interested in seeing these troops on a permanent basis,” he said.
“As I told Chancellor Olaf Scholz here in Brussels yesterday, my dream is to create even better conditions for training in Lithuania compared to Germany, so that Germans want to come to us to live and s ‘train.’