Lithuanian president on NATO: Much done, still more to do

Dalia Grybauskaitė
DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

The meeting is an opportunity for them to synchronize positions before next year’s NATO summit in Warsaw. President Grybauskaitė says a united position is very important: “It really helps, this is what we did before the Wales Summit, and our achievements were significant.”

Madam President, you are leaving for Bucharest, where you’ll meet Central and Eastern European leaders of NATO member states. In Bucharest, you’ll be coordinating your positions before the summit in Warsaw where you’ll ask for more NATO presence in the region. What form could it take: additional troops, equipment?

It is perhaps premature to be engaging in guesswork. We must first prepare for the NATO summit this summer. It is very important, because the accords from the Wales summit, which happened a year and a half ago, significantly boosted security of our region – and not just our region, that of Romania and Bulgaria as well, thus of all the NATO borderline members. We ourselves set up a rapid response force, NATO headquarters, we host more exercises, boosted the air policing mission. It seems, however, that we need to do more.

We can see what is happening with our unpredictable neighbour [Russia], we see the emergence of one more hotspot, Syria, a site of an intense stand-off between the East and the West, of great destabilization that affects our region as well, particularly through intensifying migration flows.

This point of instability requires that we take up new security measures, therefore all the nine countries whose leaders are meeting on Wednesday, as well as NATO’s deputy secretary general, will be discussing preparations and what else we should do: are exercises enough or should we deploy more equipment, manpower, anti-missile defence systems? These issues will be further discussed and decisions made.

We will also sign a joint nine-nation declaration – this will also be a step forward – and coordinate our positions. It really helps, this is what we did before the Wales Summit, and our achievements were significant.

The crucial point is that there exists a consensus among NATO states – all of them, not just in our borderline region, but also with countries like Germany, France and others. There emerges an understanding that we were right when we insisted the threats were real. We are currently witnessing an increase in military exercise in close proximity, Kaliningrad, and aggressive activities in the Baltic Sea, under water, we see different aggressive actions in the airspace where planes are flying unidentified, posing threat to civil aviation.

All that is happening in our region; additionally, there are violations of the Minsk agreements in east Ukraine. There is also Syria and aggressive actions destabilizing that country. Challenges are numerous, threats are not going away, therefore the Alliance must continue to earnestly prepare to invest in its defence, to redistribute its forces, especially in borderline regions.

You said you would discuss with your counterparts what needs to be done. But you probably already know what we need?

Even if I do, I cannot yet tell you everything. Knowing what you want is one thing, achieving it is another. So it is perhaps better to coordinate our actions and try to make things happen – and if we achieve results, then we’ll be able to celebrate in Warsaw.

Major Western countries like Germany are cautious about Baltic and Polish calls to deploy more NATO forces in the region. They say that the Alliance is thus provoking Russia. Is it indeed?

What I dislike most is someone shuddering with desperation to please, not to irritate. We should not be even thinking in such terms. We must ensure the security of the Alliance’s member states and stop shuddering about a neighbour wanting something or being annoyed.

NATO continues to expand. The most likely next candidate for membership is Montenegro. What is Lithuania’s position on that? Will not expansion weaken collective defence commitments?

This is why there are criteria that each aspiring member must meet. First, it must ensure democracy, the rule of law, it must not pose threat to its neighbours and must have support from its public.

So far, we see that only about 40 percent of people in Montenegro support membership. We see that there are a lot of reforms than need to be implemented. Yes, Montenegro is on its way to NATO, but there’s still a long way ahead. We are ready to welcome those ready to be NATO members. We [Lithuania] also worked to do our homework, strengthen our democracy, law enforcement, our society and economy. We did all we had to and were accepted as members. So all countries that meet NATO criteria will, sooner or later, be able to join.

If there is any danger to Lithuania’s security, we would need to coordinate actions with our eastern partners. Do you have confidence in their collective defence readiness and forces? It is no secret that countries like Hungary are often friendly with Russia.

We have trust in all our partners. A good proof of that – I am going to Šiauliai in December where I will meet with Hungary’s president who is coming to visit his troops conducting air policing [of the Baltic states]. Hungary is protecting the Baltic states. We can therefore fully trust that NATO is working equally for all, irrespectively of political sympathies or antipathies towards any third country.

The Alliance members know their commitments and our job is to make sure that Lithuania is ready to defend itself, that it continues to boost its capacities, its army, train its public to defend their country. If we do that, everyone else will help us, too.

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