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Last week, President Dalia Grybauskaitė met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Vilnius and said that “the number of military forces and armaments is increasing near the borders of Lithuania and the Baltic States, intense military training is taking place thus NATO’s presence and attention is very important.” Minister of National Defence Rasa Juknevičienė agreed to share her thoughts on why Russia has been militarizing the Karaliaučius region, Ridas Jasiulionis wrote in on 20 December.

“Dear minister, is the President talking about the long-lasting activity of Russian and Belarusian military forces in our region or does she mean new activity?”

“This activity didn’t begin today but it has increased considerably recently. Russia has been implementing the reform of its armed forces very actively for a couple of years now, and the results are best seen at the western borders of the country – from Finland to Belarus, including the Karaliaučius region. The point of the reform – to join the two (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) military districts’ armed forces into one western district, into one huge fist. The most important thing is that the weaponry is being modernized and the number of troops – increased. For example, according to open sources, there are approximately 30,000 troops deployed in the Karaliaučius region. In comparison let me remind you that Lithuania’s regular army is only 8000 soldiers.”

“The region of Karaliaučius is special because Russia sees its strategic military importance, i.e., the region being similar to an aircraft carrier that cannot be sunk, or, to be more precise, – a huge military base. The reform, which aims at making the region of Karaliaučius less dependent from the energy transit via Lithuania as much as possible, is being implemented intensively. Thermal and other power plants that are being built there are very important to the army – so that it have as many independent energy sources as possible. And the most important and interesting thing to Lithuania is the deployment of an anti-missile, or, as the Russians call it, the ‘air-space’ system in the region.”

“I would summarize that this region is also being militarized in order to make the Baltic States less defendable. The anti-aircraft system, missiles that are capable of taking down airborne targets are some of the things that make our lives more difficult. The Baltic States have only 100 km of land border via Poland to the remaining part of NATO. It doesn’t take a good specialist to understand that the only way land-based help can reach us is via those 100 km. Let’s remember that a few years ago the joint military training in the Karaliaučius region and Belarus was called, blatantly, Proryv (Breakthrough). Its purpose was for the joint Belarusian and Karaliaučius’s armed forces to cut-off the narrow neck of land, joining the Baltic States with the remaining Europe. The port of Kaliningrad is also very militarized, the Baltic navy, which is being modernized swiftly, is stationed there. Such is reality.”

“And the Belarusian armed forces are very integrated into Russia’s. Separate units operate jointly there. For example, joint air defence, all training programmes, weaponry. In the northwest of Russia, near the border with Estonia, as it has been announced publicly, the Iskander missiles have been deployed, which can travel hundreds of kilometres and cover large territories.”

“Such is the reality we live in. I just don’t want to make an impression that we are afraid. The situation I just talked about is nothing new to the Lithuanians. The most important thing in this situation is not the amount of effort Russia is putting into militarizing the areas surrounding us, but how strong we, together with NATO, are. The President, when speaking about the presence of NATO and the USA in the region is absolutely right. Our main task during the last three years has been the encouragement of NATO to be active. And I’m satisfied with the results. We’ve had several very important military drills based on Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which hadn’t taken place before. I don’t think that NATO will stop and reject the anti-missile defence policy, which is very important to our safety. One important thing is that we are planning our defence together with NATO.”

“After seven years of membership in NATO we finally have the defence plans for the Baltic States prepared by the organization. Is the intense militarization of the Karaliaučius region a response to them?”

“No, it began much earlier. The changes can be traced back to 2007.”

“Are NATO plans enough to repel the neighbours of the Baltic States from having any aggressive schemes towards us?”


“Then the militarization of the Karaliaučius region is a waste of money?”

“I wouldn’t call it a waste but, frankly speaking, I don’t understand such a policy. The recently announced portion of Russia’s military doctrine by Chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces Nikolay Makarov, the list with threats to Russia, is surprising, to say the least. What’s very strange is the fact that Russia sees the main threat to its military safety in the aim of the West to ensure energy independence. They are wrong. Neither NATO, nor Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia pose a threat to Russia. To invest so much, to amass such an extensive military force around our borders is most probably in the interest of Russia itself. I understand that such is the ideology, the way of thinking, the wish to save what’s left of the former USSR around Russia – these are the driving forces behind Russia’s actions. But I find it difficult to understand Russian’s long-term plan or its insights into what will become of this country. And that worries me even more. That fact that Russia isn’t being modernized and is still living off its raw materials that can simply run out one day or become obsolete if the world’s demands change. And an economically weak Russia is dangerous because it may resort to actions that are impossible to predict.”

“During recent months, you have been worried about the flights of Russian jets and bombers over the Baltic Sea from Russia’s mainland to the region of Karaliaučius. The NATO planes, protecting our airspace, responded to these incidents. Are the reasons known? Does Russia inform the neighbouring NATO countries about such flights?”

“Yes, it does. The flights are taking place over neutral waters. But what’s new is that there haven’t been such flights of Russian heavy bombers over the Baltic Sea since the end of the Cold War. Lithuania strives to make the Baltic Sea the sea of peace, with as little of weaponry as possible and less temptations to use force. The flights of such heavy bombers are surprising and worrying. And the bombers are accompanied by several jets. Why is it so? For one thing, it’s the demonstration of military power – look what we are capable of. It is very important for Lithuania to act rationally and understand Russia’s actions.”

“Russia motivates the increase in the militarization of the Karaliaučius region with the fact that NATO is creating an anti-missile shield and supposedly refuses to confirm legally in writing that the shield isn’t directed against Russia. Thus Russia doesn’t trust NATO and sees a threat. How reasonable are such explanations?”

“Russia understands perfectly that the threats are joint. Both NATO and Russia have joint threats. NATO isn’t a threat to Russia and NATO doesn’t think that Russia would be a threat if it stopped provoking. There’s Iran and then there’s North Korea – the world has enough problems already. Both sides are threatened. Speaking of some legal signing is bluffing in a way, in my opinion. And Russia itself offers such things regarding the anti-missile defence system which, obviously, will be unacceptable to NATO. The point of the offer is that Russia wants to protect the Baltic States from missiles on its own and does not want NATO involved. NATO and Russia are to divide Europe in sectors. Lithuania as well as a large part of Poland would fall under Russia’s protection. I don’t know if we could find a single Lithuanian to vote for such an offer. It is clearly unacceptable. Looks like Russia wants to talk about unacceptable things. No rational talks about things that can be agreed upon, no, just things we and NATO will never agree with. And at the same time Russia, as I have mentioned earlier, is deploying its ‘air-space’ forces and trying to win some time in order to develop its anti-missile defence system as much as possible and obstruct NATO’s actions.”

“How are the negotiations going with Poland, our only land link with NATO territory?”

“Lithuania and Poland are collaborating successfully in the military field and we are expanding the cooperation – we invited our Polish colleagues to the meeting of the Baltic States’ ministers of defence to discuss the issues of the region’s safety. I think we will continue such discussions. I would like to stress very responsibly that both sides understand that the cooperation in the field of defence should not be plagued by the letter W or other problems. These matters are vital. We are strategic partners. Poland’s defence is hardly possible without the Baltic States and vice versa.”