VILNIUS – NATO's summit in Madrid is probably the last chance to reinforce the region and thus stop Russia, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Wednesday.
"I believe that Russia has to understand that Europe and the democratic world are not weak and that we can take the necessary decisions that are adequate to the current situation," Nauseda told journalists ahead of the meeting.
"I do hope that we will use this opportunity. This is probably the last chance to adopt decisions that will be strong enough to stop Russia, to prevent Russia from further actions and to bring this venture in Ukraine, if you can call it that, to an end," the president said.
"If this continues, the next target could be the Baltic states or any other country in Europe, because the appetite for restoring the empire is just limitless," he added.
NATO's leaders are expected to give the green light for expanding allied battalions on the Alliance's eastern flank to brigade-sized units and other measures to protect the region from possible Russian aggression.
The multinational battalions were deployed to the three Baltic countries and Poland in 2017, in response to the increased threat from Russia in the wake of its annexation of Crimea.
According to Nauseda, the region needs "boots on the ground" as it can no longer rely on the Alliance's commitments to send additional troops after a conflict has already started.
This is necessary because of the threat of Russian and Belarusian forces blocking the arrival of allied reinforcements through the Suwalki Gap, a land strip on the Lithuanian-Polish border that is wedged between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the west and Belarus on the east, the president noted.
"This is a corridor that Russia can use geopolitically and strategically. We need to close it, first and foremost, with a strong forward presence," he said.
Nauseda also urged Western countries to speed up decision-making on support for Ukraine.
"Time is of the essence. Every day people are being killed, cities and infrastructure are being destroyed (...), which is the cost of waiting too long," he said.
Lithuania and other Baltic and Central European countries are also pushing for Russia to be named as a threat in NATO's new Strategic Concept. The document has not been updated since 2010.
In his address to NATO leaders later on Wednesday, Nauseda described this as the first of "five steps necessary to push back against Russia's expansionist policy", the president's office said in a press release.
"First of all, we must clearly name the problem. The new Strategic Concept defines Russia as a direct military threat to the Alliance, which calls for increased attention to our collective defense," he said.
According to the president, the necessary steps also include transiting to modern forward defense, boosting defense budgets, admitting Finland and Sweden to the organization, and continuing assistance to Ukraine.
"Ukraine is fighting for each and every one of us," Nauseda said. "Every day, with the blood of Ukrainians, it proves that it is the staunchest defender of Western values."
"We must help Ukraine by all means, including military ones. Ensuring a rapid and sustained supply of arms and ammunition to Ukraine is of the utmost importance."
The Lithuanian president "invited NATO leaders to continue strategic discussions on collective defense at the next NATO Summit in Vilnius in 2023", according to the press release.