In his words, Moscow has made ungrounded accusations against NATO of changing the situation for the worse, as the presence of Russian forces near the Baltic states remains a few times higher than the Alliance’s capacities in the Baltic nations.
In an interview to BNS on Thursday, the minister said that China was sending warships to the Baltic Sea in response to the actions of the United States in the Pacific.
BNS: The last week was the most intense for the NATO air-policing mission this year, with risky maneuvers of military aircraft reported by US, Swedish and Russian in the past few days. What is the cause behind the increased activity above the Baltic Sea?
Karoblis: Activity is a usual thing in this season, however, we have been observing a clearer increase. This could be due both to our exercises and certain events in (the Russian region of) Kaliningrad, however, the situation is not critical. NATO’s air-policing jets are scrambled due to frequent absence of flight plans or the onboard transponders being switched off. We can state that the air-policing forces both from Šiauliai and Estonia are coping with their work.
BNS: You mentioned the events in Kaliningrad. After arriving to the region yesterday, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu stated that the region’s security situation had changed for the worse by the increased activity of the NATO operations. What is your comment on the statement?
Karoblis: We must compare the capacities. The Baltic states accommodate a battalion each – about 1,000 NATO troops each. Yes, the figures are a bit higher during training but the numbers in Russia are beyond comparison. Over 100,000 troops and an offensive army of tanks, more than 30,000 are present in the Kaliningrad region. Speaking about NATO threats to Russia does not reflect the actual situation at all.
BNS: A report came on Thursday about violation of the Lithuanian airspace by an aircraft that entered from Belarus. Was it an accidental deviation or a more serious incident?
Karoblis: I believe we will get explanations from the Belarusian side. A state border cannot be violated, and the violation was clear. It was a small civilian aircraft An-2, however, this does not help improving the situation, especially amid increased military activity. However, as you remember, there was an entry from the Lithuanian side two months ago. We have made a proposal to the Belarusian side to review the agreement on air control. I believe both sides should be interested in enhanced cooperation to avoid similar incidents.
BNS: What is the essence of the proposal?
Karoblis: We should first agree on ways of improving the implementation, the text may also be changed, if necessary. Territories must be entered via certain air corridors, with a different regime and other administration possible in other stretches of the border. This is one of the fields we are working in.
BNS: China said its warships would soon take part in a joint training with Russia in the Baltic Sea. Does this give us any reasons to be concerned?
Karoblis: This is something new. This may be a some type of response to the United States’ active position in the Pacific. This is about geopolitical matters in the broad sense of the word, not about increased threats in the Baltic Sea.
Karoblis: It will come as an additional one but I cannot give any figures yet. Considerable activity is expected in Lithuania in July, August and September, we will hold exercises. There will be additional troops from the US and other countries. In September, US ships are coming to (the Lithuanian port city of) Klaipėda, the US will start the air-policing mission in Separatist, however, it is still to early to discuss the details, there is still time.