VILNIUS – Lithuania’s authorities are starting work on a comprehensive national defense plan, which will define not only armed defense but also the role of other institutions and society in civil resistance, Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas has confirmed in an interview with BNS.
According to the minister, preparations have been non-public thus far and the concept of the plan should be worked out in the near time.
“I will not provide any details now since the discussion has not been public so far. I just want to say that we are working in this direction,” the minister said.
The Minister of National Defense also answered questions about the role of the armed forces in managing the pandemic, the outlook of universal conscription and the construction of a new training area in his first extensive interview since taking the office.
– I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN FROM THE ISSUE OF THE PANDEMIC: DO YOU CONSIDER REVIEWING, IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE NATIONAL DEFENSE SYSTEM TO THE MANAGEMENT OF THE PANDEMIC?
– This emergency has allowed testing the actual provision of support to civil institutions by the national defense system, as prescribed in legislation. Support was provided in time and it is being provided now, amid the second wave. It is not limited to those several people seconded to the Ministry of Health as it involves all those people who help trace the origin of coronavirus cases at the National Public Health Center (NPHC). We have 70 volunteers working there on a rotational basis hence there are hundreds of troops actually involved in this task.
Is it possible to expand that support? I think that is possible. If the Ministry of Health asks us to get involved in the process of vaccine transportation, distribution or anything else, that support will be provided, for sure. I have agreed with the chief of defense that support will be provided if requested.
– LET’S MOVE ON TO OTHER ISSUES OF THE NATIONAL DEFENSE SYSTEM. THE 2018 AGREEMENT ON DEFENSE BETWEEN THE POLITICAL PARTIES STATES THAT DECISIONS ON A POSSIBLE INTRODUCTION OF A UNIVERSAL MILITARY SERVICE WILL BE ADOPTED IN 2022. WILL THERE BE A SUBSTANTIVE DECISION MADE ON THIS ISSUE NEXT YEAR?
– We, as a party, have spoken in favor of that, I have also stated that, we support that measure. However, a political will needs to be underpinned by resources. The national defense budget has not been increased substantially amid the current situation. Appropriations have been increased but this money is intended for social needs, which is also important.
The outlook of the military budget will be clear in fall, perhaps somewhat earlier. We need resources not just for taking in an additional number of people. We also need to provide for them, to provide for military units. Military structures cannot recruit for the only purpose of reaching a certain mass of people as they draw detailed plans for several years ahead. Let me put it frankly: if military planning were to be adjusted in the light of such a political decision, the demand in resources would increase by several hundreds of millions [of euros].
The armed forces would like to get the capacities that are currently scheduled. We have not yet received some arms purchases and, as regards those, which have been received, we have not yet fully absorbed those capacities. The armed forces need to actually receive what has been planned so as to be able to be fully operational with those new arms, new supplies, and to function according to their plans. Hence the matters pertaining to a draft for military service need very careful coordination in particular as the number of draftees has now been increased to 4,000 and may change each year. In my view, we even have to take into consideration the drafts in the neighboring countries, when the draftees are mobilized and when they are demobilized … Hence there are many aspects to consider.
– CERTAINLY, THIS WILL HAVE TO BE CONSIDERED BY THE SEIMAS, THE GOVERNMENT. HOWEVER, ARE YOU, AS A MINISTER, DETERMINED TO MAKE SUCH A PROPOSAL, ARE YOU STILL OPEN ON THAT ISSUE?
– I am certainly open, in particular as we should also take into account the military advises from the military officers. I am open to discussion but I find it inseparable from the issue of resources. The principle itself is good and I think that, if the demographic situation in Lithuania remains unchanged, we will actually move to that universal conscription in the near future, whether we want it or not, but the number of draftees will most probably be very similar to what we have now.
– IN YOUR PERSONAL VIEW, SHOULD CONSCRIPTION BE ONLY MANDATORY FOR MEN, OR ALSO FOR WOMEN?
– That’s a good question... Of course, the rights are equal. Women comprise 12 percent of army officers corps. As regards volunteers who join as conscripts, that share is growing steadily. Hence there are women in the army. Whether they could be part of universal conscription, for instance, as in Israel, is also an issue for consideration, but we cannot impose that from on high. I think it is also something for the public to decide on. We are aware of very controversial opinions on this issue but if the society finally resolves that the rights are equal and that’s it, then the answer would be ‘yes’. However, I do not see that resolution so far.
We need to talk about both duties and possibilities. For instance, certain weapons, such as grenade launchers or machine-guns, have to be carried on the shoulder, which requires physical capacity. We can make the rights equal but we would still have to divide certain tasks between men and women in the armed forces. Women in military structures often work as specialists as there are many administrative posts in the army, loads of administrative work that also has to be done.
– LET’S TALK ABOUT THE PRESENCE OF ALLIES IN LITHUANIA. I’D LIKE TO BEGIN FROM THE AMERICANS. WE NOW HAVE ALREADY THE THIRD AMERICAN BATTALION STATIONED IN LITHUANIA. THERE ARE ALSO FUTURE SCHEDULES HENCE THEY ARE IN FACT ALMOST CONSTANTLY STATIONED HERE. AM I RIGHT TO GUESS FROM THE GOVERNMENT’S PROGRAM THAT YOU WANT TO SET ONE MORE MILESTONE – TO REACH A BILATERAL AGREEMENT DEFINING PERMANENT DEPLOYMENT OF A BATTALION?
– Of course, there is such a wish. Now we have rotations and the current battalion plans to continue the rotation until the end of summer. We talk about permanent presence in Lithuania. It is very important to express our wishes as the Americans cannot send additional forces at their own initiative and without our consent and wish. Our wish, an indication that we pursue that goal, are very important.
On the other hand, they also indicate certain things. For instance, if you want, you should develop support. The battalion needs capabilities, certain infrastructure since it does not come here to relax. It comes here to train, to conduct military training. They also contribute to the development of that infrastructure. A railway branch line was put in operation at the Pabrade training area in spring and the Americans were the first to try it out. We hope to achieve that in the future, in one way or another, with due regard to the plans of military deterrence. Certainly, much will also depend on the new American administration.
– I’D LIKE TO ASK AGAIN ABOUT BOTH ASPECTS – INFRASTRUCTURE AND POLICY. FIRST OF ALL, INFRASTRUCTURE. WE NOW HAVE TWO BATTALIONS OF OUR ALLIES STATIONED IN LITHUANIA – A GERMAN-LED NATO MULTINATIONAL BATTALION, IN ADDITION TO AMERICANS. THIS ENTAILS ACTUAL LOGISTICAL ISSUES, HOW TO DEPLOY THOSE TROOPS SO AS TO MAKE MILITARY TRAINING EFFECTIVE? WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AND PURPOSES AS REGARDS A NEW TRAINING AREA, WHEN SHOULD A DECISION BE MADE ON THIS ISSUE AND WHEN SHOULD THIS TRAINING AREA BE READY?
– The existing training areas, either near Rukla, in Pabrade, or Kazlu Ruda, are being used and developed. Those areas are used very intensely – the schedules show that units use them successively since it is not just the Americans or the Germans who need training. Our units need that as well.
[As regards the new training area], studies for the remaining part of Lithuania will be carried out this year – such studies have already been conducted in Western Lithuania and now we will have the studies for the remaining part of the country done. The decision will probably be made in 2022. What will be the size and the precise location? I think we cannot tell without a study. There are various opinions, even precise locations specified. However, I cannot yet tell how this will actually look like.
– AND WHEN WOULD THE TRAINING AREA BE ACTUALLY BUILT?
– Everybody wants as soon as possible. However, the creation of a training area is a large investment project, involving land purchase, etc. I can guess from a potential schedule that it might be available in 2024–2025.
– LET’S MOVE ON TO GEOPOLITICS. IN DECEMBER, MORE THAN 100 RUSSIAN AND WESTERN EXPERTS PUBLISHED A JOINT STUDY WHERE THEY PROPOSED TO TAKE A DIFFERENT PATH – TO DISCUSS WAYS TO RESTRICT THE DEPLOYMENT OF BOTH NATO FORCES AND RUSSIA’S CONVENTIONAL ARMED FORCES IN EUROPE, FIRST OF ALL, IN THE BALTIC REGION AND POLAND AND, ON THE OTHER SIDE, IN RUSSIA’S WESTERN DISTRICT AND THE KALININGRAD REGION. IS IT POSSIBLE TO TAKE A DIFFERENT PATH – TO NEGOTIATE THE BILATERAL REDUCTION OF MILITARY CAPABILITIES INSTEAD OF THEIR ENHANCEMENT?
– I think this has only been about the reduction of deployments by NATO countries so far, not about Russia, which in fact has been pulling out of all treaties consistently for several years now even though those agreements would boost military transparency. It has been announced in recent days that Russia is to withdraw from Open Skies defense treaty.
It looks similar to the use of ‘soft power’ – to confuse Western societies with such statements that certain mutual things can be done. So far, we have seen very unilateral elements of Russia’s military capability build-up in our direction, in the region of Kaliningrad, in the direction of the West. This is apparent not just from military exercises but also from the establishment of new military formations, the presence of new military potential in this region. And those formations are much bigger than the American battalion. Those are divisions, which are armed. Those battalions would most probably not even play a big role if those divisions were to take military action. In this case, I think that Lithuania should be consecutive in strengthening its national security. We are definitely against one-sided concessions. Such initiatives, in my opinion, have thus far looked like purely one-sided concessions completely disregarding the growth and strengthening of Russia’s military potential.
– WHAT IS THE ROLE OF BELARUS, DO YOU THINK THAT, IN MILITARY TERMS, BELARUS CONSTITUTES A CERTAIN BUFFER ZONE OR IT IS A _DE FACTO_ PROVINCE OF RUSSIA?
– We all understand that Belarus does not have an independent role here. The armed forces of Belarus are an additional element of support for Russia’s armed forces. All military exercises taking place within the territory of Belarus – and, as we all know, large-scale strategic military exercises, Zapad, will be organized once again this year, – show the auxiliary role of Belarus. In political terms, Russia is obviously strengthening its positions in Belarus, strengthening its military presence and tries to speed up the project of the Union State. Of course, we seek to bring Russia’s activity in Belarus, military interaction, to attention.
– THE NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT ASSESSMENT, WHICH IS CARRIED OUT BY THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE IN TANDEM WITH THE STATE SECURITY DEPARTMENT, HAS STARTED TO INCLUDE CHINA IN RECENT YEARS, IN ADDITION TO RUSSIA AND BELARUS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE CHINA IN MILITARY TERMS, IS IT A THREAT, A RIVAL, OR A COMPETITOR?
– NATO countries do not have a uniform approach. The United States sees clearly that China is also starting to pose military threats. It has been strengthening its capabilities in the Pacific region and allocating big resources for this purpose. Meanwhile, Europe’s approach towards China is not as unanimous. In this context, Lithuania perhaps seeks to further promote a stance that is closer to the view of the Americans. For instance, when we talk about 5G, we should avoid using Chinese technologies, bar [Chinese investors] from investment projects relating to strategic facilities, in order to ensure cyber-security. We saw what happened in certain European countries that acted rashly and handed certain infrastructure projects over. There is space for a big debate both within the European Union and within NATO.
– AS REGARDS NATIONAL SECURITY AND COOPERATION WITH THE UNITED STATES, DOES THE CHINESE INVESTMENT IN THE PORT OF KLAIPEDA CONSTITUTE THAT RED LINE THAT CANNOT BE CROSSED, OR THE INVESTMENT OF CERTAIN LEVEL COULD BE POSSIBLE?
– We have quite robust pieces of legislation, which some countries are missing, on compliance with national security interests. We have stated and indicated that very clearly at the Commission, which evaluates that compliance of specific investment either by China or other third countries, and I think other countries see that and take into account that we are not too willing to see such investment in strategic sectors.