German brigade in Lithuania: we shot ourselves in our feet

The President Nausėda and German Chancellor Scholz visit the General Silvestras Žukauskas Training Area. Photo Robertas Dačkus, the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania

The possible deployment of a German brigade and the disputes, anger and bickering that go along with it in Lithuania have been going on for half a year. Security and forward defence are such sore points for us that any misunderstandings or silences turn into political splashes of anger. When will the brigade be there? It is still not agreed whether it will be there at all and whether it was actually promised. The only hope is that the loud rantings of politicians, which peaked just a month ago, have died down and that matters are probably being dealt with away from the eyes of others, Jūratė Važgauskaitė is writing at the news portal.

The deployment of the German brigade to be stationed in Lithuania has been, and possibly still is, a subject of controversy among politicians. The disagreement is not only about the tactics of talking to the Germans, who are signalling that the entire brigade will not be deployed in Lithuania.

There are misunderstandings both among themselves and with the Germans

There are also misunderstandings among politicians, with talk that the army may be reacting in one way, politicians in another, and the Germans are receiving yet other information or hearsay. The issue of the German brigade has been discussed and argued so much that, according to President Gitanas Nausėda, it looks like shooting oneself in the foot, and there has been a lot of shooting.

The greatest dissatisfaction with how things are going with the deployment of the brigade, the pledges and the deadlines for its arrival has come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by the leader of the conservative party, Gabrielius Landsbergis. There have been rumours that there is also some dissatisfaction within the Conservative Party with the position of the Minister of National Defence, Arvydas Anušauskas, who may be giving in to the demands of the army representatives and agreeing with their position.

The waves about the German brigade first broke out after the 8 October press conference between the Minister of National Defence Anušauskas and the German Minister of Defence Christine Lambrecht in Rukla, where the Lithuanian Minister seemed to have accepted the fact that there would be a forward element of the brigade’s leadership in Lithuania, that there would be a joint military exercise, but that in case of a crisis, the German brigade would be ready to arrive in 10 days.

On 11 November last year, after the awkward conversation between Anušauskas and Ch. Lambrecht’s meeting on 11 November, Foreign Minister Landsbergis visited Germany and met with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on the brigade’s affairs but came back with nothing to show for it either. Brigade matters are not just left to defence ministers and army chiefs; there are apparent reasons for this in Germany and Lithuania.

After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, defence issues in Lithuania have become so acute that we would like to have a brigade from Germany here and now. Even though we have no place to accommodate them, the brigade has not yet been formed in Germany. So far, it exists only on paper.

Mr Landsbergis did not want to accept the fact that Germany claimed that in the event of a crisis, the brigade would arrive in Lithuania in little more than a week, as if: “The agreement is not like that <…> The agreement signed by President Nausėda and Chancellor Scholz speaks of a brigade in Lithuania ready to fight,” the minister told the media.

However, the communiqué signed by President Nausėda and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not mention Germany’s commitment to deploy a brigade in Lithuania. It mentions that the army leadership, a few dozen people, will be deployed, but it does not mention the entire brigade, which will be deployed very quickly if necessary.

The head of the Foreign Ministry even suggested that the President read the communiqué again and see how it is written and how he understands it. The Presidency called this irresponsible behaviour, but the Prime Minister also called on President Nausėda to give a very clear message on how he reads the document he signed with the German Chancellor on the deployment of the German brigade in Lithuania.

The friction between the politicians was also shown by the Conservatives’ willingness to invite Valdemaras Rupšis, the army chief, who has on several occasions expressed a slightly different opinion on the brigade’s deployment in Lithuania than the Conservative leader. He stressed that the first thing to be done was to build the infrastructure to create the conditions to receive the Germans. Politicians have informally hinted that some of the Commander’s remarks could be seen as a political assessment. At one point, Rupšys had even refused to comment on the issue of the German brigade, as he did not want to get involved in a heated debate.

The former Deputy Minister of National Defence, the conservative Vilius Semeska, also added fuel to the brigade’s fire by stating that no agreement had been signed between Vilnius and Berlin formalising the deployment of a German brigade in the country. The absence of a concrete document evidencing the agreement between the parties raises doubts about Berlin’s promises.

In the Seimas in mid-December, during the annual conference of the Lithuanian-German Forum, the German ambassador took offence at the debate on the deployment of the brigade in Lithuania, saying that talk of Germany retreating from its commitment to the brigade was insulting and that publicly expressing discontent would not bring a single additional soldier to Lithuania.

The harsh rhetoric on the German brigade has now died down, with politicians and other political agenda-setters explaining that “we can assure you that Lithuania will provide all the necessary resources for the establishment of such a brigade”.

It is also said that it is important not only to do one’s homework but also to understand the context when considering a German brigade in Lithuania. This is not a bilateral issue, it is an issue on the NATO agenda, and it is also important for the other countries operating in the region, in the Baltic States.

We want to know what the Canadians, the British, and the Danes, who have forces in Latvia and Estonia, think about this. For their part, the armed forces are coordinating with the Germans on several issues and intend to report more widely in May.

A brigade is necessary, and it is a question of our security

Former Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, retired General Vytautas Jonas Žukas, says that despite all the disputes and disagreements, it is necessary to have a German-led brigade in Lithuania. However, he agrees with the idea expressed by more than one high-ranking official and military man that, first of all, we need to build a “town” where the Germans can live because, today, we cannot host them. There is simply nowhere else to put them.

According to the retired general, the Allies here are very important because deterrence is entirely different when there are Germans or Americans in Lithuania.

“If countries like the US or Germany and other NATO countries are involved, the security of our region is strengthened immensely. Defence and aviation come in because nobody leaves their troops without air defence. So their presence is significant. The more they are, the greater our security, so it is in our interest to have more of them here.

Back in my term of office, there was a discussion about having a forward battalion, and we succeeded in achieving that. Now it would be another big step if we had a brigade instead of a battalion. An American battalion here is of great importance for our security and deterrence. The enemy knows that if something happens, he will have to deal not only with the Lithuanian or other Baltic armies but also with the major powers,” Žukas said, stressing that in the event of a serious disturbance, neither a battalion nor a brigade would be enough, but with the involvement of the armies of the major powers, which do not leave their troops to their own fate, the situation would be quite different.

“When those countries participate in Lithuania’s territory, the entire defence system of those countries becomes involved. This is important, and it will happen from the first hour. If something happens, they will definitely defend together. It is important that they are there. It is of the utmost importance that they are there,” the retired general said.

According to him, all the misunderstandings, the talk, and the anxiety are not because the Germans do not want to be here but because there are no conditions for full deployment to Lithuania at the moment.

The 10-day deadline is not a violation of the agreements

“We need infrastructure, warehouses to store equipment, logistical supplies. All this will have to be moved to Lithuania immediately, and it is very important that the brigade is identified, that the brigade that will be dedicated to the defence of Lithuanian territory is identified.

More than that, it is up to us. We need to create the conditions, the infrastructure, for that brigade to be redeployed as soon as possible. The ten days that everyone is talking about is not a failure to implement the agreements. It is just that we have a situation where we do not have anywhere to put them.

Intelligence is all counting, and it is all monitoring. It knows how and under what conditions they could be moved here quickly if necessary. There is simply nowhere to put them now. Therefore, I do not really see any breach of the agreements here. As far as I know, there are talks. There is cooperation, and there are working groups. The armies are working together,” the retired general said.

He assured that barracks, repair and logistics warehouses would have to be built for the several thousand Germans who would have to be deployed somewhere.

“We cannot just take them all out into the open. That is what will happen if we see troops massing on Lithuania’s borders and intelligence reports of danger. If it is necessary to deploy forces immediately, it will be done, but right now, there is no such danger, and until then, they have to live somewhere.

We just need to fulfil our commitments more quickly to create the conditions that are needed. There is no infrastructure at the moment, there is no place to live, and we do not need to be foolishly insisting that here we have agreed and they are not coming. Currently, everything is overcrowded, and there are Americans in Pabrade. There are no barracks available. Our battalion was moved to Marijampolė in order to make room for the Germans. It is already being built in Rukla, and the same Germans are ready to invest.

Normal conditions need to be created. But, of course, if there is a clear danger, conclusions will be drawn quickly, and the brigade will be deployed wherever possible, in tents, in mobile homes. This is not the case now. The situation is being assessed every day, both by the Americans and by NATO. Everything is being analysed. Every step in Russia and Belarus is being watched,” said the former Lithuanian army commander.

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