The USA ends its troops’ deployment in Lithuania. What does this mean?

The USA has ceased its land forces rotation in Lithuania. Such a constant presence of US troops was held as a guarantee that the USA would react to any provocations immediately. Political scientists Tomas Janeliūnas and Linas Kojala say that the decision was not unexpected and the German-led international battalion has become an important safeguard, LRT.lt writes. “The NATO frontline battalions are a guarantee of security, NATO detachments are definitely here and it would not take even 12 or 24 hours for NATO to react to military provocations,” T. Janeliūnas stated.

In an interview with BNS several weeks ago, US General Ben Hodges revealed that the US constant ground troop rotation in Lithuania was to be cancelled, however they will continue to be sent to participate in training exercises.

“I do not wish to say that there will be a permanent or constant presence here because there will no longer be troops housed in the barracks here. However you see American troops participating in various exercises practically every month,” the head of the US forces in Europe said during a visit of his troops in Pabradė.

Uncomfortable decision, but not fatal

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor T. Janeliūnas does not view this decision as strategically significant or a major change.

“The rotation of American troops was a temporary measure of immediate impact. Especially while the frontline NATO battalions were not filled. I believe that removing the rotation simply reflects the current situation. It is likely based on evaluations that the NATO forces and US intelligence has that the in terms of the military, the situation is not heated enough to warrant the constant presence of American troops.

It is no secret that our troops and politicians greatly value the American presence here. It is linked with emotional and strategic calculations that the US would react to any provocation immediately. On the other hand let me repeat, the Americans are likely withdrawing for a reason because they likely feel that there is little likelihood of any unexpected military actions on part of Russia,” T. Janeliūnas said.

The director of the East Europe Studies Centre (RESC) L. Kojala does not view this US decision as unexpected. This is because, he points out, when in 2016 steps were taken in Warsaw to strengthen the national security of the Baltic States, it turned out that the main country to curate the forces deployed by various countries in Lithuania would be Germany.

“It then became clear that the role of the Americans will likely decrease in Lithuania because the USA is the main country in our neighbouring Poland. At the same time the Americans always accented that there will not be a permanent presence, but this does not mean that there will be no Americans in our country.

In his interview the general also accented that while this will not be a constant presence, US troops are in Lithuania almost every month. We should not be too concerned with this decision and should think that this is part of the broader NATO strategy, where the European states play a greater role, not just the Americans,” L. Kojala mused.

Could hostile forces make use of this?

L. Kojala does not believe that the lack of constant US presence in Lithuania would be an opportunity for Russia to initiate provocations. “Seeing how the most powerful alliance member views NATO as a single unit, how many different countries’ forces are in the Baltic States, prepared to aid the geopolitically sensitive region, he understands that NATO article five is relevant and active.

In 2016 in Warsaw, NATO’s decisions sent a very important message that not only the Americans are resolved to make politically difficult steps to send their troops to the Baltic States. And we should be happy because of this. Of course, at the same time always seeking ways to attract the Americans. Exercises and as optimal as possible logistics conditions are the best way forward,” he said.

T. Janeliūnas also does not think that the US ending its troop deployment in Lithuania could become a pretext for Russia to take action.

“There weren’t that many of them and it made little impact in a material sense, it was more of a psychological, symbolical function. Especially given that there will still be American troops in our region, the intensity of exercises will remain high, one way or another, the deployment and movement of US troops is going to continue,” T. Janeliūnas stated.

Both political scientists stress that frontline NATO battalions, such as the one deployed in Rukla, are a security guarantee.

“The NATO detachments are right here and it would not even take 12 or 24 hours for NATO to respond to military provocations. Their presence, perhaps even reinforcement in the future, is a deterrence measure,” T. Janeliūnas says.

LRT.lt reminds that the US troop squads were rotated in the Baltic States since 2014 as a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The American troops deployed in Lithuania were housed in Rukla, now the town in the Jonava region is home to the German-led international battalion.

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