VILNIUS - Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was paying an official visit to Lithuania, reports ELTA. The minister voiced his support to NATO candidate countries which aim to be invited to become member states of NATO.
“Last year we marked the 10th anniversary of the invitation to join NATO, so we understand very well that NATO membership can guarantee security and stability. Therefore, we must promote closer cooperation with candidate countries and help them to implement all necessary reforms,” Linkevicius said.
The Lithuanian foreign minister and NATO secretary general discussed NATO’s capacity-building efforts, possibilities for reverse transit from Afghanistan, current issues related to NATO’s partnerships policy, as well as the Ukraine and Georgia situations.
Rasmussen thanked Lithuania for its participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Mission in Afghanistan, initiatives in the field of energy security and welcomed the opening of the NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence in Lithuania.
This was Rasmussen’s third visit to Lithuania since 2009, when he took office as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Secretary General.
Worrying military buildup
While in Vilnius, Secretary General Rasmussen also said that Russia should share more information with NATO about military exercises it conducts in the Baltic region, reports Bloomberg.
“We don’t have detailed information about upcoming Russian military exercises,” Rasmussen told reporters on Feb. 1 in Vilnius, when asked about the West 2013 exercise that Russia and Belarus plan in September. “It’s of utmost importance to demonstrate openness and full transparency when it comes to military exercises.”
Rasmussen reminded the audience, however, that “military training is an important part of the activities of all armed forces; NATO countries also carry out military training.”
The head of NATO pointed out that, in addition to the importance of openness and transparency in military exercises, NATO’s military training program Steadfast Jazz is not directed against any specific opponents.
NATO’s three Baltic members, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, have expressed concern about the increasing numbers of Russian troops and weapons stationed near their borders. The 28-nation alliance is committed to Lithuania “24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” Rasmussen said, adding that its aircraft are policing the airspace of the three countries.
The defense organization NATO will practice its own plans for the collective defense of the Baltics and Poland in a military exercise this year, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite also told reporters at the same press conference.
The military alliance renewed its Baltic strategy at a summit last year in Chicago, deciding, among other things, to make an air policing mission in the region permanent, she said.
“We do not consider Russia a threat to NATO, and NATO definitely does not constitute a threat to Russia,” Rasmussen said. “But we have all plans in place to protect and defend NATO allies.”
Obligations to fulfill
Rasmussen highlighted that Lithuania, as a member of NATO, has to increase the share of gross domestic product (GDP) it allocates for the country’s defense. “Lithuania has admitted that it needs to increase spending on defense. I encourage you to fulfill this important obligation,” said Rasmussen after the meeting with President Grybauskaite on Friday.
He added that he was aware of the economic issues NATO members are faced with, but the chief of NATO highlighted the goal to make NATO strong. He pointed out the importance of multilateral cooperation as a way to deal with defense issues. If each country would act individually, the financial burden would be too big, he said.
Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius told Rasmussen that the new government of Lithuania does not intend to make changes in the foreign policy direction. “I have informed him that this new government of Lithuania will not be altering the political direction in terms of foreign affairs. We support the Euro-Atlantic partnership,” the PM said after the meeting with the secretary general.
“Our priority for this year is to transfer the security control to the Afghan national security forces,” he said.
Butkevicius and Rasmussen also agreed to continue the mission in Afghanistan until 2014, but focus on training and consulting.