Lithuanian defence minister: We are doing all to protect our citizens against prosecution in Russia

The State Security Department has advised people who might be liable for such prosecution against traveling to Russia or other countries outside the EU and NATO. Lithuania’s Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas said on Monday night that the action might be a yet another provocation by Russia targeted at the Baltic states.

According to the Ministry of National Defence, there might be some fifteen hundred Lithuanian nationals who might have such charges pressed against them in Russia.

‘Are these accurate data?’ Minister Olekas was asked on the national television LRT programme “Focus of Attention” on Monday night.

A little over fifteen hundred.

Is there a list of these people?

Yes. The list is on my table as we speak.

These people should probably be warned. Who is responsible for that?

Firstly, we thank the media for informing about this affair. The Ministry staff are currently making calls and trying to contact everyone on the list to warn them. So far, we know of only one person who has had charges brought against him. We must be careful not to cause panic, only to warn that one can expect anything from Russia.

This kind of “awakening” twenty-four years after the fact sounds quite absurd. How would you explain it?

It would be hard for me to make guesses about what Russia is thinking, but there are some theories. We discussed that this might be their attempt to justify their own refusals to follow through with mutual assistance treaties [Lithuania has repeatedly asked Russia, unsuccessfully, to help detain Russian nationals suspected in the 13 January 1991 massacre in Lithuania]. They might be looking for excuses to say: look, we are not handing over suspects in the 13 January case, because you don’t hand over the deserters. I think it’s also a provocation. So without wasting time on explanations, we have to think of how to assist our citizens and protect them.

There was the abduction of an Estonian officer a few days ago, and now this case. Clearly, Russia is becoming more aggressive?

Sure, we can see that. We are therefore consulting our partners and talked about measures during the NATO summit. Some measures have to do with warning and protecting people, others have to do with defence, with military deterrence, so that Russia would not want to engage in aggression against Lithuania.

You’ve mentioned defence. It will be five more years before Lithuania reaches the target of spending two percent of the GDP on defence. The current target is 2020. Do we have that much time? Shouldn’t we switch to a higher gear?

We are switching to a higher gear. If we maintain the current speed, I think it would be adequate. We cannot give all our budget to defence overnight. Our partners see the steps we’re taking and welcome them. Next year, the defence budget will be LTL 400 million (EUR 116m) above what it is now.

As the minister of national defence, do you have any ambition to reach the 2-percent target during your term in office? The next national elections are in 2016.

I’d like that very much. Who knows, my term might not end after the 2016 elections. I feel responsible for this area and my job is of great importance. What to spend the money on – the military people know that better. What I know is that Lithuania must feel secure, that we must be assured of military assistance if need be. We often speculate: ‘won’t it be too late when the assistance comes?’ But the assistance is coming even before [a potential attack]. Decisions have been made and now soldiers are coming here.

Speaking of military assistance, the NATO summit decided to set up rapid response force. Can you explain how it will work?

NATO currently has rapid response force made up of military units from different countries and deployed for set periods of time. Current terms are about six months. What we’re talking about is a force ready for very rapid response. The troops could be deployed to a place they are needed within three to five days. Such force is now the size of a brigade – 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers.

So Lithuania would permanently host several thousand NATO troops?

I’m not saying several thousand, but there would be a presence. The exact numbers are being discussed right now.

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