The basis of our republic is the February 16, 1918 Act of Independence. This year it will be a hundred years since a premise for it to appear surfaced. If we compare the conditions we live in now with the uncertainty experienced by Lithuania exactly a century ago, we can say that we have successfully escaped from seemingly hopeless situations, when no-one could rein in the greed of the large states surrounding us. Events of a century ago show that even in a completely chaotic situation we should not give up. Where you cannot simply act under your own will, you can use circumstances to at least take a small step toward achieving your desires.
Russia then had just gone through the Bolshevik revolution, Germany was rocked by labour unrest, and with Austro-Hungary it was considering recreating Poland with an incorporated Lithuania, the World War was still continuing to exhaust everyone.
Under such circumstances on 11 December, 1917 in Vilnius the Council of Lithuania released a proclamation of Lithuanian independence. The second part of the proclamation was dictated by the difficult circumstances of the time, stating that “To manage and defend this state’s interests in peace negotiations the Council requests the protection and assistance of the German Empire.” Events would proceed otherwise and at Versailles after the First World War Lithuania would directly negotiate for its statehood and territory.
After an entire century, during which we were occupied once more and once more managed to become free in our own land, we are members of the most powerful military alliance in the world. Next to us we still have the Russian Empire, consumed by aggressive convulsions, having been disintegrating for a hundred years. If not for the shield that is NATO, it is unlikely we would have avoided the fate of Georgia or Ukraine.
The danger to the state is nevertheless serious and verbal warnings to Russia no longer suffice. Thus in summer 2016 at a Warsaw NATO summit meeting the heads of state made a specific decision to deploy allied detachments in the Baltic States and Poland.
Germany took up responsibility for forming the NATO battle group in Lithuania. This year an international detachment will settle in Rukla, with German soldiers being the foundation for it. Beyond them we will have Norwegian, Belgian, French and Croatian troops. This way, with some deviations, the idea of strengthening Lithuanian security with German help is echoed. Unlike Russia, which continues to be a moribund empire, Germany has fundamentally changed since then and has become a non-threatening leader of Europe.
The potential aggressor will no longer be faced with only the Lithuanian army. A thousand soldiers from NATO states, equipped with tanks, are not just a symbol. As key officials assured me during my visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels this winter, no-one would send their troops for a symbolic death in the case of aggression.
Behind the front line NATO detachments we have the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, while reinforcement methods and logistics from member states are already being calculated for various situations – who, from where, how fast and how will be moved if the need arises. Thus the coming 2017 will become a year of increased Lithuanian security, when the shield of NATO will turn from the words of Article 5 to an armed reality.