According to the Lithuanian foreign minister, NATO countries should improve their defense plans for the Baltic countries, especially as Russia prepares to send nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, whose country will host the NATO summit next month, told the Financial Times that while the alliance had adequate crisis planning, it needed to do more against Russia’s continued threats against its neighbors on the alliance’s eastern flank.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said over the weekend that nuclear weapons would be transferred to Belarus in early July, and some officials in the Baltic states think they could be paraded there during the NATO summit in Vilnius.
“The Baltic States must be strengthened. Lithuania needs to be strengthened because we have a fragile area,” Landsbergis said.
Improving the defenses of the three Baltic states illegally annexed to the Soviet Union after World War II is one of the main topics of the NATO summit in Vilnius on 11-12 July.
NATO has positioned multinational battalions in each of the Baltic countries and is discussing how to increase troop and equipment numbers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and other frontline countries such as Poland.
The multinational battalion in Lithuania is led by Germany and Vilnius is trying to lure more German troops by building additional barracks and infrastructure. However, Germany has so far tried to keep most of its troops domestically and destined for Lithuania if necessary.
The defense alliance has also developed new defense plans, shared with the Baltic states, which Vilnius says have been satisfactory for the way they handle rising tensions to all-out war.
But Landsbergis said that while the plans were useful in the event of a crisis, they failed to take into account situations like the current one, where Russia continued to threaten the security of the Baltic states.
“The question is what do you do in peacetime? What kind of message are you sending to Putin? Unfortunately we don’t have any news yet.”
Lithuania believes it is becoming increasingly vulnerable in the so-called Suwalki Gorge, the 100 km-wide border between Lithuania and Poland that is wedged between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on one side and Belarus on the other.
“The Suwalki Gap — if that is lost, a lot will change. . . The Baltic countries cannot be left as they are,” said Landsbergis.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, whom local officials have touted as a possible next head of NATO, has said the route of Russian tanks to Lithuania is shorter due to military integration between Russia and Belarus.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said last year that NATO’s previous defense plans would have allowed Russia to invade the Baltic states and liberate them within 180 days. She added that this would have meant the “complete destruction of countries and our culture” as Tallinn and other cities would be “wiped off the map”.
At the time, NATO said it never commented on “operational details”, but that “strengthening deterrence and defense” was a priority for the alliance.
Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said he was “satisfied” with the new plans, but added that they “need to be backed with real capabilities” such as more troops and pre-placed equipment.