Anužis. G. Landsbergis’ epiphany and grasshopper musicians

Vladimir Putin and Russian navy soldiers
Vladimir Putin and Russian navy soldiers AP/Scanpix

We all probably remember Ezopa’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper. Instead of preparing food for the winter like an ant, the grasshopper made music all summer, Artūras Anužis says in

The ant looked at the grasshopper and nodded:

 -You need to work, not play. I’m preparing food for the winter.

– What else! – the grasshopper laughed. – Follow my example. I play, sing and spend my time like that.

 – Well, well! – muttered the ant, picking up his litter and going on his way. And so, the grasshopper played and sang along with the butterflies and beetles all summer until winter came…

A similar thing can happen in our political arena regarding national defence preparedness.

 A few days ago, we were pounding plates in the government on the issue of property tax but not on the national defence. We have talked a lot this year about the new tax reform, which, ultimately, turned into cosmetic changes without ever getting the tax livestock in order. We have allowed ourselves to talk about a wide range of issues, but there has yet to be an argument about increased funding for defence, and no plates have been broken.

Only a few years to go before war with Russia?

 Already after the budget has been drawn up and the taxes have been decided, the Chairman of the ruling party and the largest coalition partner, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), Gabrielius Landsbergis, as we all know, has declared that Lithuania is facing an existential threat and that there is only a short time left before a real threat from Russia or even a war with Lithuania, will be made against our country.

 “Some say that we have a couple of years left. We rely on assumptions. Russia started the war with 200,000 people concentrated near Ukraine. Russia now has at least twice that number. Their announced plans to reform the army seem to align with reality. It is not, as we are used to, propaganda. Their military reform is anti-NATO, anti-us,” Landsbergis argued.

However, the Minister of National Defence sees the situation differently. “The difficult geopolitical situation did not happen yesterday or last year. It was already complicated at the end of 2021. It is neither better nor worse. It isn’t straightforward. I think our reaction should not be as politicians sometimes react. We can create whatever scenarios we want, but it depends on our preparedness,” Arvydas Anušauskas reasoned.

And the Prime Minister acknowledges that there could always be more funding, but it is what it is. “As much as we do, we should always do more, and perhaps we should have done it much earlier, but there have been periods in Lithuania’s history, there have been periods when some of our colleagues, usually on the other side of the political spectrum, have taken the view that Lithuania is quite satisfied with NATO membership, and when we have not given enough attention to funding our forces or to making sure that our partners are there and as visible as possible,” said Ingrida Šimonytė.

However, both the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence acknowledge that the threat of war with Russia is real.

 But listening to our rulers, a simple question arises: why did we not talk about the existential threat to the country – that is, its possible disappearance from the map – when we drew up the budget for next year? Why, if we did not see the threats a few months ago, are we not trying to change that now?

Words for yourself, deeds for yourself

What do these words of the most prominent party Chairman mean to ordinary Lithuanians, a large part of whom are already tired of the war in Ukraine?

 For some, it is yet another war scare that does not arouse much emotion; for others, it is slight anxiety about whether there is a need to look for a way to flee Lithuania again since Landsbergis’ family has bought real estate abroad. Others are left wondering how it is possible to get away with it – after all, and we complained so much about the fact that we are winning against Russia and that NATO will defend us, so why panic when Russia will not recover from the war with Ukraine for many years?

How can an ordinary citizen understand that the Russian threat to the NATO state of Lithuania is massive and accurate? How do we react when there was a lot of fear at the start of the war, but politicians make very different decisions? One thing is done, and another is said. If the threat is so significant, why is our funding for national defence barely increasing?

 Why is the leader of our largest party talking about an existential threat to the state (there can be no more significant threat to the state than the loss of all or part of its territory in a war)? But we are increasing spending on social protection by almost a billion. We are spending more than half a billion on education? Even recreation and culture will get more money next year, and defence funding needs to catch up.

 How can we understand the words of the leader of the party about the threat when they are not backed up by the Minister for National Defence, who does not see a more significant threat than there was a couple of months ago or last year? The Prime Minister may reallocate the budget, and there will be more money for the army and preparing for a possible war. But regarding the budget, we have heard more about plate-pounding than real solutions on where to get more money for strengthening defence.

So instead of puzzling people, our rulers could tell us coherently and clearly why we need more money for defence, why we all need to get our act together, why we will need to raise taxes or cut current spending on compensation, and why we will need to tighten our belts.

However, without a coherent strategy and the will to start saving the country, we hear scaremongering and political posturing from politicians but no real action or plans.

 It is as if the TS-LKD is stuck in the opposition period or has already resigned itself to a future defeat in the Seimas elections and thinks it is no longer their business and should be taken care of by the current opposition left or centre parties.

Gabrielius Landsbergis unheard or ignored?

The most important thing is that Gabrielius Landsbergis is right. With the US still unable to find money for Ukraine and Western Europe still almost incapable of making serious decisions on defence, Ukraine is left with less and less ammunition, weapons and money.

 So, will the front be frozen for years if the Ukrainians are forced to the negotiating table? Putin’s Russia, using the economics of war and seeing the impotence of the West, will be in a position to seriously threaten the Baltic States and the other countries on the home front in a few years, as Putin has already done shortly before the war in Ukraine, by demanding that the major NATO countries withdraw their troops from the Baltic States and from our other neighbouring members of NATO who joined the alliance.

But if those in power know they are right and the threat is real, why are we still not taking real action to ensure the security of our country?

 If Mr Landsbergis says that the existential threat could still be there in two years, will we spend the next two years in vain, will nobody take care of the state, and will we wait for the next one?

 If Mr Landsbergis is correct, why are we not reformulating the budget, which the Seimas still need to adopt, and there is still time to change it? After all, we are talking about an existential threat to the state, not the ECB’s promise to raise interest rates and their possible impact on inflation.

Has no one in the governing coalition heard the words of the leader of the most prominent party, about the existential threat? Are they pretending not to hear, or are they ignoring it?

 It is difficult to understand and comprehend how it is possible, in one case, to say that the Lithuanian State is in grave danger, and in another case, not even to try to change the situation, being content with the little things that have already been done.

Will we be grasshopper musicians?

This is about words, their perception and their action. But there is another side of the coin, which has long called for real action, but there has never been any because it has been said that Russia is not a real threat to us now because it will not be able to recover quickly from the war.

 But, after all, those more interested in war and geopolitics have long been looking at what Mr Landsbergis identified. This is certainly not news to our defence experts – mainly retired officers, many of whom have also held senior positions in the Lithuanian army.

 With retired Colonel Vaidotas Malinionis at the forefront, what have they been telling our government and society for over a year? It is necessary to support Ukraine as much as possible, but it is also imperative to be prepared to repel a Russian attack, at least for a short time, until more help from NATO allies arrives.

This is necessary because if Russia freezes or controls the frontline of the war in Ukraine, it will begin to threaten us.

 So, our officers have been hammering our government for more than a year now with the same message – let us urgently put together concrete plans to counter Russia, educate our reservists, and instruct civilians on how to behave in wartime. Let us do everything we can to ensure that the Lithuanian army is not a one-battle army.

However, instead of addressing the serious issues of how to retrain reservists who have already done their military service as soon as possible, how to invite as many young people as possible to military service, and how to make it compulsory for our young people, we keep saying that it is expensive, complicated, that instructors do not grow on trees, and so on. We hear a lot of excuses but no solutions.

 And there are a bunch of other critical issues and areas where we are naked and unprepared – we have few shelters in case of Russian missiles, we have never trained our people how to evacuate from a war zone, and Vilnius would be one. Our healthcare system would not be able to withstand a war, and we would not train our people on how to survive and defend the homeland; our municipalities would not know how to provide people with gas and electricity in the event of war if there were no energy sources.

 So, Mr Landsbergis has raised a critical issue. Still, the trouble is that we are late, having failed to wake up almost two years ago when the Russians attacked Ukraine on a broad front because, once again, we believed that NATO would defend us or we thought that we would slip away once again without significant investment and solutions to more severe problems.

And we are not exceptional; our neighbours are the same, but the Poles seem to have taken the Russian war seriously. So, we will be like grasshopper musicians when the winter comes, and we will be looking for a help at the Germans and the Americans, because we do not want to get serious about the defence of our own country.

 Let us hope that winter will not come soon.

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