Lithuania is becoming like West Berlin during the Cold War, says Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Chairperson of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence. He said that strengthening the military forces is of paramount importance for Lithuania now, as Russia can present any possible scenario Ugnė Paulauskaitė writes in TV3.lt.
According to Kasčiūnas, the current situation is one of the heightened threats, and the aggressive policies of Belarus and Russia are forcing a rethink of security strategies and policies of the Western community.
“A united stance and response are needed more than ever to defend democracy and the name of NATO as the strongest military alliance. But, how should Lithuania act in the context of these events? Should we adjust our national security policy accordingly?” – L. Kasčiūnas reflects.
The discussion, moderated by Prof. Tomas Janeliūnas, also focused on recent conversations with allies during visits to Brussels (NATO) and the USA.
Ukraine is a tool for the Kremlin
L. Kasčiūnas visited the USA last week to discuss the mood in the European region and also visited NATO headquarters with colleagues from the Committee on Foreign Affairs. According to the MP, these actions have shifted the gears of Lithuanian political diplomacy.
The visits succeeded in bringing together a group of Polish, Latvian and Estonian politicians, and possible scenarios for responding to Russia’s ultimatums were discussed.
According to Kasčiūnas, a message was sent that the best response to Belarusian and Russian actions was to reinforce the military forces in Lithuania, should the situation escalate further.
L. Kasčiūnas believes that deterrence is cheaper than defence, so if a permanent Russian military force is established in Belarus, it would be necessary to replan the deterrence policy and negotiate for a permanent military presence in Lithuania. The MP said that he hoped there would be a move towards reinforcing the military forces.
“We are becoming like West Berlin during the Cold War. We are in a kind of political encirclement, with a militarised Kaliningrad, a Belarus that has completely lost its sovereignty, and huge questions about how many Russian forces remain in Belarus”, Kasčiūnas said.
According to Kasčiūnas, visits are currently being planned, which should help in making a decision.
“It is important for us that there are no breaks between battalions. If one leaves, the next one arrives. It should be a battalion with more power, more integrated into the national defence systems. This is not a radical decision. It is basically a lifting of the current battalion, which is always on duty, to a slightly higher level,” said Kasčiūnas.
It is expected that a decision on the battalion could be taken later this month.
According to Kasčiūnas, neither foreign analysts nor politicians differ much on the situation. The consensus is that any scenario rules nothing out can be put on the table. At the same time, it is clear that Ukraine is only a tool for Russia. Of course, the Kremlin wants to subdue or paralyse Ukraine. Still, through the escalation of this situation, Russia is trying to address certain other political interests for the security of the whole of Europe.
“If there is an invasion, it could be such that it could be stopped, and it could be said: let’s negotiate a new world order. This tradition in Russian strategic culture is not going away. It needs to be seen. The temperature is artificially raised, and then the negotiation phase follows, where a new order is established”, Kasčiūnas reflects.
The most unexpected challenge last year – the migration hybrid attack
Last year, Kasčiūnas outlined five challenges that Lithuania will face in 2021. As T. Janeliūnas recalled, the challenges at that time were: a continuing pandemic, maintaining the US commitment to European security, the development of European strategic autonomy, China’s technological dictatorship and the military integration of Russia and Belarus.
Looking back, Kasčiūnas says he would give himself an eight-point score for correctly identifying the possible challenges. He said that the dynamics between Russia and Belarus were the best predictor.
“The move was towards the political absorption of Belarus. We have seen this through the organisation of migration. The methodology for creating this problem is a Russian invention used against the Norwegians and the Finns in 2015-2016. Lukashenko’s regime now copies it to bring neighbouring countries to the negotiating table and bring them to their knees according to Belarusian rules of the game.
The logic worked, and I have to admit that organising and using migration processes for geopolitical purposes was not on our radar in January 2021. So this approach was quite unexpected”, Kasčiūnas reflects.
In forecasting the threat of a pandemic, it was predicted that various strains would emerge that would interfere with pandemic management. However, according to Kasčiūnas, strains are still a serious challenge, and it is expected that the pandemic will be over by 2022.
Kasčiūnas describes the development of Europe’s strategic autonomy as “big words, grandiose pictures, but no practical solutions”. In the face of the crisis, he says, it is clear which countries are the most important geopolitical players.
The next challenge for 2021 is the dictatorship of China. According to Kasčiūnas, Lithuania did a number of positive things last year, such as decisions on 5G connectivity by eliminating unreliable suppliers, keeping the 17+1 format and the Taiwan representation issue, which provoked unprecedented pressure from China.
Five challenges for 2022
L. Kasčiūnas predicts that in 2022 Lithuania will face no fewer challenges than last year. He also identifies five possible challenges.
First, we will not be able to escape the Russian military buildup near Ukraine
“Any action modelled by the Kremlin will mean political negotiations on the architecture of the European security system. I question whether Russia will succeed in revising the architecture of the European security system this year, whether it will succeed in undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, whether it will assert its veto over NATO enlargement, second membership and a multi-speed alliance,” reflects Kasčiūnas.
Any number of scenarios could be on the table, he said, regarding military intervention and the political negotiations that would follow.
“What all the studies and intelligence data show is that Putin’s decision is already enough. Everybody is fired up for a military operation to be launched. Maybe not on the largest scale, but in mid-February or in the second half of February, maybe even a full-scale operation. The question is whether it will be launched. I don’t want to speculate here”, the MP said.
Another scenario is also possible, he said. The mobilisation of military forces could be abandoned and be seen as a new reality.
“It can rotate troops, it can leave the equipment behind, and it can withdraw the troops so that they can come back sooner. We are already seeing what is happening in terms of deployment in Belarus. He can turn this mobilisation into a new reality and a political solution for both the West and Ukraine”, Kasčiūnas said.
The West, Kasčiūnas said, needs to keep the pressure on the talks. However, he says there is a risk that Europe may avoid strengthening the Eastern flank by building pressure from both sides.
“This leads to the situation where you start signing up to the rules that are imposed on you. <…> If Russia makes a new wave of inroads into Ukraine, NATO and the US will inevitably do their utmost to reinforce the Eastern flank to the maximum. This will be done. This acts as a deterrent to Russia. Two clear dividing lines will emerge – a return to Cold War logic”, Kasčiūnas said.
L. Kasčiūnas cannot say whether Russia’s actions are coordinated with China. However, the fact that China has its own position on the issue suggests that coordination is taking place.
The second challenge for this year is the sovereignty of Belarus and the ongoing migration crisis
According to Kasčiūnas, it is not worth discussing the question of whether Belarus will remain independent. Instead, it is more important to talk about the deployment of forces. As Kasčiūnas reiterates, Lithuania is becoming like West Berlin, so it is important to strengthen the military forces in Lithuania and create a higher level of deterrence.
According to the MP, it would be great to have reinforced American and NATO forces and all Lithuanian national forces.
“There is homework, not only for us in our talks with NATO and the US. We are already capable of hosting allies, but if we want to expand our potential, we need to strengthen the status and capabilities of the host country. Faster implementation of the training ranges and other infrastructure solutions to strengthen our status is one of our most important homework. The NSGC will do its utmost to speed up the processes”, says Kasčiūnas.
If a robust deterrence structure can be implemented, more hybrid attacks could likely be launched against Lithuania.
“Let’s not rule out the possibility that migration could continue. The search for new paths with the help of Russia has much more potential. To block them, we have done flights to Minsk from the countries of origin. Russia has influence. We know that it has applied this methodology elsewhere, so we likely need to prepare for these scenarios”, Kasčiūnas said.
L. Kasčiūnas believes that Europe needs to change the EU’s migration policy and deny the right to asylum. Lithuania’s homework is to build a physical barrier.
The Chairperson of the NSGK claims that Lithuania will have one of the most modern systems for the physical barrier and its monitoring by the end of this year.
“This is something we should have had ten years ago, but we will have it in a year or a year and a half. So we need to prepare for the protection of “West Berlin” and against hybrid threats”, Kasčiūnas said.
Poland has a vital role to play. Kasčiūnas believes it is possible to talk to Poland about bilateral defence relations.
“I see the idea of a defence union. An attack on one would mean an attack on the other. This would fit very nicely into NATO’s plans and architecture”, Kasčiūnas said.
Fourth challenge – Communist China’s punishment of Lithuania
According to Kasčiūnas, two possible scenarios are either China will punish Lithuania or become a success story. Last year, Lithuania made a number of decisions to reduce the influence of authoritarian countries on Lithuania.
Watching China apply an autonomous measure, the challenge for the EU is how to push back against China. China is important in that it participates in the common market, in trade. The question is, therefore, how to counter such a regime.
“It is open to debate that perhaps someone in the EU does not like what Lithuania is doing, but that is not the point. Now we are talking about one country being singled out and bashed within the EU policy framework. Will the EU withstand this pressure and help Lithuania not become a “fungible currency”? This will be a test of unity”, says Kasčiūnas.
The fifth challenge is the polarisation of society
As Kasčiūnas says, security is multi-layered and requires the involvement of the whole society.
“Occupied countries are not occupied when foreign flags are raised, but when the will to resist is broken, when the people do not resist. We have that. The indicators show that we would like them to be higher, but the code is there; we have the gene,” Kasčiūnas said.
He notes that in Lithuania, disparities are deepening and society is divided. This, Kasčiūnas says, can be a serious challenge for developing an inclusive security model.