Warning: after the ceasefire in Ukraine, we’d set the clock to Russia’s next war

Lithuanian soldiers in training
J.Butkutės nuotr.

If Ukraine and Russia were to agree on some pro-Russian ceasefire, the clock could start ticking on a new war launched by the Kremlin. The only question would be whether it would take place in Ukraine again or elsewhere, according to a senior member of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence (NSGK) Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Indrė Naureckaitė writes in lrytas.lt

Although the news portal lrytas interviewed the members of the NSGK, Lt is encouraged by the determination of Lithuanians to defend Lithuania with weapons in case of war, and they acknowledge that they still need to be provided with adequate conditions to engage in defence plans. Moreover, politicians have yet to reach a consensus on the nature of the potential threat.

The main problem is not the need for more determination

A survey conducted by the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University for the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) has shown that 69% of the respondents see the need to defend Lithuania, 59% are determined to defend Lithuania in an unarmed manner, and 30% of the respondents would defend Lithuania with arms.

Conservative L. Kasčiūnas, Chairman of the NSGK, said that he considered these figures an excellent result. However, Kasčiūnas agreed that the main problem is not the number of people determined to defend Lithuania but whether the conditions would be created for them.

According to the politician, once there is a public will to resist, we must discuss its skills and place in the country’s defence plans.

“I am pleased that our society is largely ready to defend its freedom, family, nation and state. Now our goal is to give them the skills, knowledge and how to provide for their place in the defence plans, or at least for the most active part of them”, Kasčiūnas told the news portal lrytas. Lt.

 According to him, this is still one of the most critical conversations in defence – how the country’s population will be involved.

“Will the ‘iron fist’ and collective defence guarantees be enough for us? Do we need a pillar of global defence alongside the ‘iron fist’ of our armed forces? I am sure we do, but we need to move from parade speeches and slogans to something that works,” said the MEP.

Kasčiūnas said that the ruling party has already done some work towards global defence: the members of the Riflemen’s Union have been integrated into defence plans, and Civil Resistance courses have been launched.

However, the best possible option, according to Kasčiūnas, would be commanderies, which would arm a part of the society, give it a place in the rearguard system, free up the army’s resources, and allow a part of the society to defend their homelands.

“In addition, we need to start a national, mass production programme for drones so that the production capacity is in Lithuania. Secondly, a training programme for drone operators so that as many people as possible in Lithuania (the Riflemen’s Union could also do this if there is additional funding for trainers) can operate drones for surveillance and more. This would be a huge deterrent for the enemy,” the politician said.

A negative attitude towards government created unnecessary challenges

Another member of the NSGK, social democrat Dovilė Šakalienė, also said that the determination of Lithuanians to defend the country is positive – it shows that Lithuanians assess the situation realistically and differentiate who can support the country with weapons.

“The cut on ethnic minorities is worrying. It shows that we have not solved certain problems. We have failed to ensure a sufficient information field for our ethnic minorities so that Russian propaganda channels do not influence them because, in this case, the impact of disinformation and propaganda coming from the Kremlin is visible,” said Šakalienė.

According to her, less than half of the respondents from the Russian ethnic minority are ready to defend Lithuania. In comparison, more than half of the respondents from the Polish ethnic minority are prepared to defend Lithuania, which shows that Lithuania is facing severe challenges.

“That’s hundreds of thousands of people. The question is how those determined not to defend Lithuania are willing to behave. This is more than half of the respondents from the Russian ethnic minority and a third of the Poles. Would they be prepared to collaborate or evacuate? That would be a better option than helping the enemy”, the Social Democrat said.

The survey also showed that a person’s willingness to defend Lithuania depends to a large extent on whether or not political forces supported by that person currently govern the country.

According to Šakalienė, this result indicates that the political polarisation in Lithuania has become more pronounced. However, the politician stressed that this is a global process, which is also visible, for example, in the US government between Democrats and Republicans.

“Recently, in Lithuania, when the election cycle starts, I see quite a lot of dramatisation, abdication of responsibility, and a tendency to scare people. I think that this is getting tiresome for the people”, said a member of the NSGK.

One such bad example, according to the MEP, was when conservative Gabrielius Landsbergis a couple of weeks ago discovered that Lithuania is in a difficult situation and has serious threats.

“He has been the leader of the largest party in the ruling coalition for three years. He has been in charge of all the decisions related to budget formation and strengthening our defence. When he suddenly discovers these threats, I think it is a source of frustration for many people; then people make a big mistake which is very dangerous for us as a country – they identify the state with the government. The government is different – it may be left-wing or right-wing, but the state is one.

In our electoral cycle, such tensions and conflicts will inevitably exist. These are the rules of politics; I understand that this is normal. There is nothing you can do about it. But it would be perfect to cut defence issues out of this whole package of electoral battles. Yet, all the parties would be able to keep an obvious line that we see a common goal of defending our country, no matter who wins the elections,” said Šakalienė. “

This poll, I hope, could be a bit of a wake-up call at election time, as the political battleground is only going to get sharper, the situation will become more and more tense. Perhaps this poll could help to keep this one area out of the political fray,” she hoped.

Traditional war or provocation?

L. Kasčiūnas admitted that there is currently a divide among defence policymakers on the nature of the threat. While some politicians talk about 5-7 years when Russia will rebuild its capabilities and be able to strike again, others warn that the time left is not long enough. The NSGC chairman stressed that there is a difference of perception as to what kind of threat is most likely – whether Russia would wage a full-scale war against NATO countries or whether it would still resort to provocations.

“If we are talking about a conventional, large-scale divisional war, then yes – the Russians will need 5-7 years for such a war. But diversions, interventions without the aim of occupation, will require a completely different capability. In some places, it will not even come close to NATO’s Article 5; it will have to be handled nationally, ” Kasčiūnas said.

That is why, the politician continued, he emphasises the interaction of the armed forces with the structures of the Ministry of the Interior with society itself.

However, L. Kasčiūnas could not agree that this area, the global defence issue, is neglected in Lithuania, with the priority given to the conventional threat.

“Step by step, we are moving forward. More effort and energy are needed in this area, but you cannot say that it is not working – then I have to jump out the window because that is all I can think about.

 It is easy to take money, buy systems, put them in place and say that we are getting stronger. Creation is a complex process; the principle of universal defence is where we can put a lot more energy. But not from my side – I already go to bed with that idea, and I wake up with it”, he assured.

However, Kasčiūnas is convinced that there is no need to be under any illusions that Russia is not thinking about a conventional divisional war.

“They are working on it, simulating it, practising it in exercises. Do they have the capacity to do that now? Probably not; they will need time to recover, but their economy is already a war economy. He predicted they would recover quickly, despite the sanctions”.

And while the Kremlin may mobilise several hundred thousand more troops as early as next year, Kasčiūnas reassures that this alone would not be enough for a conventional attack.

“Mobilisation will not be enough – they will need equipment, units, organisation. That’s still longer than a year or two. But it all depends on the dynamics in Ukraine.

If some pro-Russian ceasefire emerges, then they will start the stopwatch and then count down to a new war. The question is where it will be, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere.

This shows how important Ukraine is, how it has tied up Russian power, concentrates all Russian attention, and debilitates them”, Kasčiūnas stressed.

The planned budget betrays the plans

Šakalienė also noted that all Russian actions suggest that the Kremlin is preparing to continue and expand the war.

“One would like to console oneself and think that Russia is significantly weakened, that its resources have been depleted, that it is dealing with demographic crises – yes, it is dealing with demographic crises, but the blow to its economy from the sanctions has been tiny. We are revitalising and expanding our defence industry very slowly, while Russia is expanding its military industry very rapidly, increasing 3-4 times the production of various weapons.

Russia is currently capable of producing 300,000 drones a year, which is growing. Russia has had no problem finding partners, from China to North Korea to Iran.

We can see that Russia is indeed preparing for a long war. We said this last year – that Russia is not afraid to provoke, to overstep the boundaries. We have to consider that Russia has always been very successful in exploiting windows of opportunity, constantly creating strategic dilemmas for the Western world, and we need to be more capable of creating dilemmas for Russia. We react ad hoc; we react behind the scenes.

This means that Russia may try to cross those boundaries. And our security will depend not on declarations or documents, but on what we can do on the ground, how much we are prepared now – our infrastructure, personnel and armaments,” Šakalienė said.

At the same time, Šakaliene noted that Russia intends to spend 37% of its federal budget on military spending next year.

“No normal country could plan its budget in such a way – people would take to the streets. And they are doing it, and they are going to continue doing it. This means that they are preparing for the continuation of this war and its expansion. And it does not mean that they are necessarily preparing for a conventional war – they are also successfully using the tools of hybrid warfare.

 Does this mean that we now need to panic? No, because we need to realise that Russia, even when it takes unexpected actions and uses windows of opportunity, always assesses the situation and what it can and cannot do.

Therefore, we need to ensure that our advantage is that it chooses not to pursue its imperial expansion in our direction. I doubt it will stop and not do it,” said Ms Šakalienė.

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