Former presidential adviser says Lithuania’s NATO membership is 2nd-rate. They agreed behind our backs

Albinas Januška
Albinas Januška, DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Albinas Januška, a signatory of the Act of Independence, diplomat and former advisor to the President, is talking and thinking a lot these days about national defence, diplomacy and how we can do more by doing more. In an interview with, he said that while we welcome the new defence plans for the region, we should remember that we will not have deployed allied forces here, which is nothing less than a Russian victory, Jūratė Važgauskaitė is writing at the news portal.

He also recalled the transit corridor to Kaliningrad, which is a living wound, and how, unexpectedly for us, it could one day turn into a major problem for NATO.

We are hard to defend, our geography and minorities are putting us at risk, and transit exemptions are putting us at risk. And that is why NATO troops should be here, not in Romania or elsewhere, according to Mr Januška. It is true that this must be fought for, but our diplomats, according to the signatory of the Act of Independence, are defending Ukraine and often sideline Lithuania. 

The NATO Summit will take place in Vilnius soon. This is a big and important event where our voice is well heard. What is the significance of this meeting in Vilnius? What political benefits can we derive from it, and are we ready for it? United?

The NATO Summit is important, if only because the name of Vilnius now rings loudly. Everybody is saying here we are in Vilnius. There can never be too much of that kind of publicity, apparently. The President, who initiated it, did a good job.

However, the big question is whether this meeting will be historic, even though we expect it to be. It will be difficult to reach the essentials. For example, Sweden‘s membership in NATO will depend on the second round of elections in Turkey. If it succeeds, that will be good. One other thing, maybe smaller, but important.

Part of the problems related to the deployment of NATO forces on the Eastern flank is linked to the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which is no longer even technically valid because Russia has broken all possible clauses and should therefore be invalid.

But nobody has formally denounced it. That is why the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, thinks it is working or must work. On the NATO website, at least some time ago, it was explained that NATO was abiding by the treaty of that Act. Apparently, there is such a consensus, although there were suggestions before the Madrid Summit that the Act should be denounced.

In my time, the people who drafted the Act appealed to the leaders of the NATO countries to withdraw the Act, but this was not heeded. I think that is because there is not enough interest in taking the formal step of denunciation. And in that treaty, it says that the parties agree that there will be no substantial military deployments in the Eastern Flank countries. 

The brigade is still on the verge and is not considered a major substantial military force. So it may be that the Germans just think that there is no need to make an extra nuisance of themselves, and that is why things like assignment, but not deployment, are starting to happen. 

I do not know whether Lithuanian politicians are trying to form a coalition to denounce this treaty and finally abolish Lithuania’s second-class membership in NATO. It is incomplete in the sense that somebody agreed behind our backs that sufficient forces could not be deployed here, which has been going on ever since. This could be raised at the NATO meeting, and we could decide what to do. That is important. 

Another important issue is Ukraine’s membership in NATO. There are no solutions here. What is the problem here? It would be good to invite it now to become a member of NATO, but that is impossible. I think the logic is that such a move could end the war or lead to a nuclear war. The choice is that there is simply nothing.

Nobody is going to invite Ukraine to join NATO in July because then all NATO members would simply have to go to Ukraine and defend it. That includes the Lithuanian army. Obviously, that will not happen because NATO has never been at war with Russia and will try not to be at war. Especially now.

You can take it however you want, but that is the reality. Maybe there will be some kind of invitation, which might be stronger in theory than what was in Bucharest in 2008. I think that if there is an invitation, it will probably be through the formula of ‘invitation after the war’. And after the war, we do not know when.

I do not think that this will satisfy Ukraine, but that is the reality. Although maybe they will promise 100% after the war. But overall, the issue will be postponed. And there are not many other solutions here.

We, the West, will apparently pretend that we have done something, and Ukraine will perhaps pretend that it is satisfied. But there will be no good solution here. 

The only good thing is that it is finally about NATO membership, not security guarantees. Because if security guarantees, why not NATO membership? So it is good that those promises of ‘security guarantees’ have been dropped. The Ukrainians themselves have renounced it, and NATO is not, and hopefully will not, consider it because nothing can change Article 5 of NATO. 

Well, and, of course, as far as Lithuania is concerned, the question of the deployment or assignment of forces, primarily German forces, will probably be addressed. The Madrid meeting did not decide whether there should be a deployment or an assignment, it is more a question of forward defence and the assignment of forces, and in the bilateral agreement, according to the German interpretation, the deployment of forces is not compulsory, but according to ours, it is.

It is a matter of dispute; we do not yet have to decide where. It would be good for us to get that commitment. It would be good to have the deployment confirmed at the NATO meeting in Vilnius when the new regional defence plans are approved.

This means that there is no deployment in the current plans. When we talk about those plans, we say they may not be bad. But they are really the implementation of NATO’s Madrid Summit, where the deployment of NATO’s essential forces is not envisaged. We could, and maybe in the negotiations, which nobody is talking about, we are demanding it. But we will see how it goes.

If at least some of these things mentioned above were to happen, the NATO summit in Vilnius could be called historic, at least for Lithuania. 

There is a lot of talk about new defence plans for the region. The public does not know much about them, but we hear all sorts of assessments from those who are familiar with the plans. Some say they are good, and others say wait and see. What do you think about it? Has the attitude of NATO, of Western European politicians towards Eastern Europe and its defence changed since February last year?

I think that all the critical and positive assessments about the new defence plans for the region are, to some extent, correct. We need to remember what has happened so far with NATO’s defence plans for our region. 

The first plan came with the arrival of President Dalia Grybauskaitė. Before that, there was nothing at all. Yes, there was NATO membership, but nothing else. She announced, and apparently rightly so, that she had succeeded in agreeing to the first defence plans for the Baltic countries. Sometime later, there were more defence plans, which Turkey tried to veto. Then, too, there were a number of problems.

And now we have seen that these defence plans are worthless. They are, at best, forward battalions that simply inform on a trip-wire basis if something breaches a certain threshold. But there is no element of defence, no element of deterrence. Although there was always rejoicing that there were these plans, it was actually quite fictitious.

There were some plans and notions that Russia would never attack us. Otherwise, there would simply have been no Lithuania left after the withdrawal. There would have been no population left. It would have been either the Bucha option or if there were time, people would have left.

So, knowing that we have already had at least two plans, this time, the new plans should also be looked at critically. Does everything really look that good? One obvious thing, there is no provision for the deployment of forces in Lithuania.

There is a force assigned to arrive in the event of a disaster, which is, of course, good. But the deployment of forces is a key point anyway. Because if you justify that the assignment is the only solution, then you can say that the Lithuanian army can also go somewhere for training and, if something happens, it will come back and defend Lithuania within 10 days.

No, something has to be here so that the Lithuanian army will be here, but the NATO army should also be here in theory. But, of course, there are costs, our unpreparedness and other things. In my estimation, everything will remain the same after the NATO summit in Vilnius. There will be a troop assignment, and we will have to be happy with that.

Yes, it is better than it was, but it is not how it should be to make a real difference to deterrence in the Baltic States. It will probably take some more upheaval to get a full deployment here. It is a pity, but that is the way it is. 

Yes, NATO’s view of the region and the situation has changed, but not quite in the way we would like. 

Why is it, as you say, not quite what we would like? Does the West underestimate the Russian threat? Or is it some kind of political manoeuvre?

I think it is not entirely believed that Russia will come and attack. We do not believe that ourselves. Although we talk, we are internally convinced that this will not happen and that the Ukrainians will defend us. We believe that the Russians will be so beaten that they will not want to go to war with anyone else.

There is a sense of where to spend the money. That is also the case in the West. Of course, nobody will admit it, but I think it is there. Also, some countries, like the United States, are very cautious about any deployment of troops. Their military concept is different.

According to their capabilities, they would hit Russia if something were to attack. But there is always a risk. Will it be done or not? And Germany’s principle is that they alone do nothing. Let’s say without the US. There is also the NATO-Russia Act, which I have already mentioned, which also has some influence. 

Another fundamental problem is that we are not preparing enough for ourselves. For so many years, we have been the ones who have been telling the West that there is Russia attacking. But we have done nothing ourselves, and in that time, we have created only one brigade that can function, another brigade that is half paper, and a third brigade that is completely paper.

We have created empty structures, and there has never been any money. If you count the non-payment to the Lithuanian Armed Forces since the day we joined NATO, the state owes the army about EUR 4 billion. It is strange that the army still exists.

Yes, there is some money now, but it is needed quickly, and in large quantities, so there is not enough money for everything. However, there is no political consensus to increase funding for defence. 

We have talked for a long time about the Russian threat, but, as you say, we have done nothing to protect ourselves. There is a lack of weapons, a lack of shelters, a lack of equipment, and a lack of preparedness, even though the threat has always been close by. Why is that, and why do the Finns, for example, perceive the threat very differently from us? What are we doing wrong?

When we joined NATO, there was a kind of complacency. The military says that politicians have never taken national defence seriously. We gave them some money, and they do it themselves. Foreign policy was never taken seriously, either. 

I cannot say that much has changed. Now there is a party agreement on defence, and some really ambitious things are written down. Let’s say that Lithuania needs a division, not a brigade. That, by the way, is the only real thing. They would be a NATO division here, together with our division, which would be a much more serious deterrent because there are not enough brigades. 

The agreement, by the way, states that defence funding will be according to need, not according to ability. That is important. However, it does not seem that this will be respected. So it is not clear what the need is, and it is not clear what the funding will be, and the agreement does not, I think, specifically include a percentage of GDP. 

We have done nothing ourselves, and in the time that we have had, we have only created one brigade that can function, another brigade that is half paper and a third brigade that is completely paper.

So what is happening now with the plans for the Lithuanian division is a typical phenomenon. It is announced that there will be one, but it is not said from whom it will be financed. Is it going to come out of the same money, or is it going to be specially allocated money? I do not know why this is being done. 

If we are to believe the polls, and we have to believe them to some extent, then if only 16% of the Lithuanian population is prepared to defend their homeland with arms, the other 50% are not prepared to do so, presumably on the sofa with a computer. The other half are not prepared to defend at all. This is a big difference from Finland, where about 70% of Finns are ready to defend their homeland with a gun.

Yes, there is a general conscription in Finland, and everybody has been used to being ready for a long time. It is becoming part of the system and part of people’s thinking. People know that this is the case. They know that they have to be prepared. And that raises the percentage of those who are ready to defend. Now we are talking about it in Lithuania, and it is recognised that a lot of money will have to be spent on it.

But the question is how to fit it in because there is total defence, a division, and other needs. So something is being prioritised, and apparently, total defence is ‘going sideways’ because the army is more interested in developing those three brigades.

Politicians are a reflection of society. Apparently, nobody believed that the threats were real. That war could break out. The threat aspect was apparently more relevant only to Conservative voters. People simply did not think that it was necessary to spend a lot of money on defence because they did not see a threat. Some people love Russia, and some people are not afraid. That is Lithuania. And politicians did not want to talk about it.

We are talking differently now that we have seen that the war is real. After all, even Mrs Grybauskaitė, until 2014, said that NATO’s recommendation of 2% of GDP for defence was nothing and that it should not be followed. Then, when Ukraine was attacked, we started to move, but part of it was a showpiece, paper brigades.

They are not armed, and they have no vehicles. They have no troops who could actually defend themselves. But if something happened, we would have to defend ourselves with what we have. It would kill a lot of people, a lot of soldiers. It is not fair to the troops. At the moment, in a sense, it is a desperate situation. I am not a financier and do not know where to get enough money to cover everything.

The Conservatives are right when they say they would like to change the tax system to raise more money to fund the army. It is a good idea, but the opponents say that the new tax proposals will wreck the economy and that the expected money will not be forthcoming anyway.

It would be good for politicians to agree on what needs to be done and what needs to be increased or decreased in order to bring more money into the budget. Maybe we will have to borrow, and maybe we will have to do nothing and continue living the way we are living. 

Recently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, complained in an interview about the decline of open diplomacy in Europe. He believed that diplomacy should be conducted with open cards? What do you think about that? Why are we not talking to the Germans about the Famous Brigade? Whose fault is that, or is it a difference of understanding?

I think that diplomacy should indeed be more open, but that is not always the case. For example, one of the founders of the Munich Security Conference, the diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, recently gave an interview and said that we need to move away from open diplomacy to negotiate with China. Diplomacy, he said, needs to go back to a secret format.

I have the feeling that they want to bring back the days of the secret protocols of Ribbentrop and Molotov. I do not think that this is good. Russian intelligence is certainly doing something, so if we have defence plans, it is better that they are public because that is a deterrent. So that it is clear what is going to happen, so that both the people and the enemy know, except, of course, for the secret details.

I am not saying that the Germans are engaged in secret diplomacy, but there is a lack of clarity. It has been announced that there will be a brigade assignment. We are not clear about the deployment, although it is as clear to the Germans that there will not be one.

Let us assume that there is one scenario of how the Russians might behave. That is a typical scenario. The Russians blow up a few lorries here or train on the transit corridor, which is an exception to the EU rules. They blow it up in Lithuania, accuse us and give us three days to allow the Russian army to escort their cargo and to travel along that corridor. We say no. Then the Russians activate all their gangs of vaticniks (a Vatnik, a pro-Kremlin person) in Europe, who start explaining that, lo and behold, Europe is going to go to war with Russia over some corridor?

It is the same as with the sanctions on Kaliningrad. A debate would start. We would, you know, go to NATO and ask for Article 4 and then Article 5 to be activated. Then, hopefully, the deployment of the German brigade would begin. But that would not be enough, and the NATO Council would meet and decide what to do. Turkey or Hungary would start to have doubts, asking why we have to go to war if the Russians do not attack.

And the Russians are pulling troops into Kaliningrad and Belarus at the moment. The threat is clear, but nobody is attacking. It is suggested that we should not provoke and that if NATO does nothing, the Russians will stop. And then what? We are sitting with the brigade. What then? The brigade is here, but nobody else is coming, but at the same time, there is a debate. Will the US be responsible for defending us on its own without NATO?

People would leave Lithuania at the same time as investment and business. This is one simple scenario that does not even need a war to create many fundamental problems.

Precisely because there are no major NATO forces stationed here. If there were a division, all the Russian intimidation would be ridiculous. And in the event of such a crisis, there would also be a long debate. It would be said that the Lithuanians are stubborn and do not allow the Russians to do this or that.

So that is one scenario, and there are many more. Lithuania and the other Baltic countries are very vulnerable through these places, the Suwałki corridor, and transit. We have a special status. We have always had it. The Baltic countries have never been protected to the same extent as other countries. Because of the smallness of the territory, because of the geographical position.

I cannot imagine, for example, that Poland could be attacked, but Poland, like Finland, is preparing to defend itself and is spending a lot of money. And we, as the US retired general said, will be able to nail a plaque to the wall with the percentage of our defence spending. I understand that we do not have the money. The only option is to persuade the West to have more of it here.

To talk seriously to the Americans. We lost a lot of things when we made a move on Taiwan, but we did not use it. We could have asked the Americans for more troops on our side. There was talk about it. But nothing happened. Maybe it will happen again. Why? I do not know why. Maybe the US is not ready?

Politicians need to talk about it. Our people go to the US, but they talk more about Ukraine. But what to speak for them? You cannot persuade the US to invite them to NATO. They need to speak for themselves. They may talk, but we do not know about it. Plus, not the US and Germany have forced us to have that corridor with Kaliningrad.

In return, we could have demanded more NATO troops because that is the problem. The trouble is that we did not recognise a problem here, so we did not ask for it.

We should have recognised that we are making the kind of ginseng they are asking for, but we want more defence for ourselves. I don’t know if there were mistakes made here. Maybe it was more the situation. The situation with the Kaliningrad sanctions and the transit situation was not particularly dangerous, and I certainly do not think that the Russians would have done anything.

But the US wanted a free hand on Ukraine, so they asked for it to be over sooner, to accept it, to put up with it. I do not think that was the best thing to do, and if you had to do it, you had to ask for something. Or ask for that corridor to be closed. Not the transit, but the corridor. That special status has to be abolished. I hope this matter will be taken up when the war in Ukraine is over.

The Russians never give up what they have; they will not want to give up the corridor and will also want military transit. There will be more automation in the defence plans, but politicians will never give up control of the army.

There cannot be total automation, and there will be red lines. Of course, if there is a disruption here and they shoot at it, they will shoot back, and it will be serious. But a brigade is a brigade is a brigade. It is a smaller entity, although, if they are fired upon, they will fire back. However, if there was a serious war here, like in Ukraine, both the brigade and the division could be wiped out in a week.

If large forces from Kaliningrad and Belarus move in, this is unlikely. It is true that there is always a “black swan” scenario, some unexpected provocation or unforeseen event like Covid, which nobody foresaw. So, the likelihood of war is low, but it can never be ruled out. And we don’t know when, whether in a year or in seven.

We say that in seven, we can prepare a brigade, but not necessarily that Putin will stick to that scenario. We do not know how the war will end.

The intimidation could start in a year or two. These things are important. The authorities, I think, realise that there is no time. We need to be ready now, but we do not have anyone. We have to ask NATO for help. They need to understand that it is not Romania but the Baltic countries that are the problem area.

Is NATO not looking at the scenarios you are talking about? Do they not understand the threat? Or are there political obstacles to seeing the threat picture clearly?

Of course, they look at all scenarios and see the threats. But there are also many obstacles, including the NATO-Russia Founding Act itself. It is in the heads of politicians. And they give tasks to the military. It is imagined that there are dangers, but one does not want to provoke the Russians and send a division to the Baltic States. The fear is that the Russians will sow.

That is the crucial point because Russia is not tired either, and they want to avoid the deployment of NATO forces here. So far, the Russians are winning, and NATO troops are not going to be deployed here.

Some political commentators and historians talk about the importance of talking to our neighbours even in times of strife. Is it important to have a diplomatic channel with Russia? Is it necessary to talk to them? And if not, why not?

In the case of Lithuania, there is certainly no need to talk to the Russians, who would use it for their own purposes and benefit. We are part of a larger entity like the EU or NATO. If we need to, we can ask them to speak for us. But our diplomacy, our attempt to talk, would certainly be used against us. The Russians would portray it badly, and it would be a great danger.

And it is impossible to talk when Putin is waiting in the Hague. This is not something that the leaders of the great powers should do either. If we do that, we will be breaking everything we have done so far to criminalise him. Talking will not solve anything in this case.

Of course, the US is talking to Russia, but we need to leave that to them. Neither the French leader nor the German Chancellor will do anything here. I do not think the US is talking directly to Putin either, but there is some contact between the military, which is enough.

What are the Russians like in the diplomatic field? You have had a lot of contact and negotiations with them in the past. Is it difficult to talk to them? How did they react when we joined NATO?

They have never fully accepted it. If they believed that NATO and the EU were committed to non-expansion. They have never been friendly to us. Their diplomacy has always been straightforward and rude. They were rude, no matter what you were negotiating, about borders, about the same military transit. It has always been a big problem.

Well, they did have a certain willingness to negotiate, as well as their logic. Maybe they thought they would win us over, which is why they dealt with those issues. They used to be a bit different and didn’t have that open imperial policy. There was always a covert one, although they did not show it openly.

Russia has always understood that the enlargement of NATO is not directed against it. Maybe there was a reconciliation at some point. It is not as if they are out anyway, wherever they want to be. But then came the realisation, especially with Ukraine, that it was necessary to exploit this, to start shouting, because the West was reacting.

Russia does not need to be provoked. It pretends to be provoked, it imposes that narrative, and the West reacts. That is the point.

How do you think it will end in Ukraine?

I believe that the Russian army does not have the morale to fight the will to fight. It is possible that in just one moment, there will be a collapse that everything will collapse. Just like in 1917, when the Russian army suddenly stopped fighting, and that was it. It may sound like a miracle, but is it possible?

If it is not, it will be difficult. If the West gives more good weapons, the Russians will have to rethink what to do next if the Crimean Bridge bursts and the land route to the peninsula closes. If that does not happen, we can only hope that the West will stand by Ukraine to the end, as it promised.

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