VILNIUS – In response to Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, Germany has pledged to bolster the existing international NATO battalion stationed in Lithuania to a brigade-size unit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Vilnius on Tuesday, stressing that allies are committed to defending the Alliance's every centimeter.
"We envisaged that we will scale up our contribution to the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank, we will create a strong brigade, have discussed that with each other and will have to work on this,” Scholz told reporters at the Presidential Palace.
And Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda confirmed it during his visit to Pabrade.
"Germany is going to take the lead and (...) bolster its military presence here. They intend to beef it up it to the brigade level. This is one of the goals, one of the dreams that we are thinking about as we look forward to the NATO summit. In practice, it is becoming a reality today", the Lithuanian president said, adding that Berlin and Vilnius will take these steps gradually.
"As a host country, we will take care of all the necessary infrastructure. In particular, I pointed out to the chancellor that it would make sense for us to have an additional battalion here for permanent exercises, for permanent training," Nauseda said, refraining to say exactly when the brigade will be in Lithuania.
He stressed, however, that it would "not take years", adding that the military unit would include not only German troops, as it does now.
"Over the next year or 18 months, we can expect to have the necessary combat unit here. We have to do some work, first of all, on the construction of barracks, on deployment sites, on infrastructure. I think this is a realistic timeframe", the president said.
FOCUS ON THE BALTIC REGION
Earlier in the day, Nauseda met with the German chancellor and the Latvian and Estonian prime ministers at the Presidential Palace, and the Lithuanian president stressed the need to strengthen defense capabilities by increasing the number of troops in all three Baltic states.
"Maximum readiness and beefed up forces in our region are the security guarantee of the whole Alliance. We agreed that it is necessary to enhance defense capabilities in the Baltic countries by increasing the number of troops deployed and by strengthening air and sea defense," Nauseda told a joint press conference after the meeting.
He also pointed out that the new strategic reality, Russia's attack on Ukraine, was pushing NATO to increase its military presence in the region.
"We need to realize that Russia's military threat is not going anywhere and it will remain a long-term threat to the entire Euro-Atlantic area. (...) Looking into the Russian threat, we must shape a strong response and strengthen our defense," the Lithuanian president said, adding that Lithuania is ready to host allied troops.
"Joint allied action, unity and solidarity are vital and indispensable in the current security environment," Nauseda stressed.
OFFICIAL DECISIONS EXPECTED IN MADRID
Scholz welcomed Germany's decision to up defense funding and hoped it would be maintained in the future.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also said Baltic defense should be upgraded.
"Allied presence must be increased in the air, on land and at sea, and decisions have to be taken in Madrid," she said. "We need to make it clear to the aggressor that NATO has the will and the clear ability to defend every centimeter of its territory."
Both the Estonian prime minister and her Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins believe the German leadership will help to take make determined decisions at the NATO Madrid summit, needed to ensure the Alliance is ready for future challenges.
"We welcome Germany's decision to boost its presence in Lithuania as it's a very welcome and right decision. It will strengthen Lithuania, it will strengthen Latvia and it will strengthen Estonia", the Latvian prime minister said.
Vilnius expects the leaders of NATO countries to decide in Madrid in late June that the multinational allied battalions stationed in the Baltic countries and Poland should be converted into brigades. The aim is also to strengthen air defense.
Germany is now leading the forward presence battalion in Lithuania, and the other two in Latvia and Estonia are being led by Canada and the UK respectively.
The battalions are expected to be expanded to brigades on the basis of the armies of these countries.
A battalion consists of about 1,000 soldiers, and a brigade has about 5,000 troops.