Karoblis about “Zapad”: there are no visible signs that it would be a prelude to a serious conflict

Minister of Defence Karoblis
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis has visited Lithuania for the first time. The visit of a high ranking officer is another confirmation that America pays special attention to the security of the Baltic States. In the TV show “Centre of attention” Minister of Defence Raimundas Karoblis talks about the significance of this visit and the security situation in the Baltic region, LRT.lt reported.

Mr Karoblis, what message does the visit of US Defence Secretary brings to Lithuania?

For me like for many, who works in the field of defence, the importance of this visit can be compared to the one US President George Bush in 2002. Yes, J Mattis isn’t the President but then we had a completely different security situation. Now he repeated what the President said then. It’s especially important considering the current security situation. The main news are very clear. First of all, they fully understand our security threats and that the opinions don’t differ here on any aspect. J. Mattis said that understanding not different one bit. Second, J. Mattis assured that the US will be involved in our security as much as they need to. And third, NATO members themselves will do the same. So, these were the three strong messages. All messages that came from our side, from the President, the three Baltic States, were received and will be taken into consideration in future decisions.

J. Mattis is not a fan of Russia or Vladimir Putin. How are the actions like Russia’s increasing deployment of forces around the Baltic States or larger-scale exercises, etc. evaluated?

Firstly, it’s understandable that Russia is becoming the only conventional threat to NATO. And yes, the Baltic States are becoming the most sensitive region. However, when we look at the bigger picture, Russia participates in other NATO flanks, in the North, East, as well as in the South: Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. J. Mattis said that yes, we need to talk to Russia but do it from the position of strength because that’s the only language that Russia understands. We take appropriate action and deterrence and defence measures in sensitive areas.

This fall, Russia and Belarus are going to organize extremely large military exercises “Zapad 2017“. There were numerous talks about the possible risk, that exercise could end not only in exercise, and the head of SSD (State Security Department) Darius Jauniškis has said that it’s one of the greatest national security challenges. In this case, does the US have plans to take further action?

We share information and opinions. It looks easier form the outside. Firstly, this exercise is held every 4 years. But these are the first ones after the annexation of the Crimea, so we have a different situation. However, when looking at this objectively, we don’t see any signs now that might be a prelude to a more serious conflict. The biggest threat can become the basic errors considering that, for example, Russian troops are stationed in Belarus, in unknown places close to our border. Perhaps, they will intentionally make a mistake by seizing the opportunity. But we are again talking about local things that we should take care of. As for the guarantees from the other side, this exercise happens constantly, especially in summer and autumn. At that time, there will be big number of allied troops regardless. According to our plans it’s normal and seen as deterrence. At the same time the US air policing mission will start and additional steps will be taken, additional monitoring will take place. Besides these mentioned risks which we have to deal with, it is a normal exercise. The forces are large, there’s many troops but we’re talking about a planned, although not very transparent exercises.

Lithuanian military has increased their investments in technical capabilities. However, as I understand, Lithuanian air space is not secured against ballistic missiles. I understand that there are several short-range anti-aircraft systems but that’s all. Is Lithuania planning to invest in the protection of air space by getting anti-missile, anti-aircraft, and medium-range systems?

We’re not ready for air defence with the exception the mentioned short-range anti-aircraft systems. We do invest in these and their purchase is one of our priorities to have. Currently, the main mean is air police but it’s for peaceful conditions, to monitor the airspace. But if we’re talking about serious deterrence, especially for defence, other solutions are necessary. We won’t find all decisions ourselves, they have to be in the context of NATO. Especially when talking about air shelter, the fighter planes and similar things. We’re talking about this. We have to take some of the burden. It’s one of our investment projects that we’re working on this year. It will be implemented in 2019-2020. It’s a medium-range defence system. This doesn’t mean that the whole area is absolutely secured but with these systems no enemy would feel comfortable. It’s not only a deterrent but also a real instrument of defence.

Now the purchasing procedures are happening if I understand correctly? We’re talking about Polish GROM defence system?

We’re talking about short-range missiles, which would be a part of the current capabilities and would be primarily for securing our land (but not only) the capabilities. But we’re also working with mid-range systems. Now there’s a specific project, details are being talked about and we’ll continue to work on it. There will be time and I will tell you what we’re are talking about but that’s all I can say now.

Today 15min.lt announces that long-range missiles “Patriot” could be brought to the Baltic States. Could you tell us more?

I can’t confirm nor deny this information. These systems are important not only for us but for our allies as well. J. Mattis assured that the system will be brought will be for deterrence and defence, and training. Let’s not forget that it’s a unique system. The current security situation is extremely fragile, the demand is high, and that’s where our first priorities lie, where there’s the biggest danger. I don’t want you to think that they bring it because we suddenly want them. We are talking about all tactical decisions that would be the most suited. And talking about this summer and fall, there’s no direct threat, everything will be assessed. And the need for exercises there are talks as well.

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