Lithuanian defence minister discusses European missile shield, Russian stance
Once again I would like to present you an Interview of Lithuania’s Defense Minister Juozas Olekas, conducted by a journalist of the Russian tabloid Express Nedelia, a weekly tabloid paper of the Russian minority in Lithuania. The article is called “I Am Optimistic About Lithuanian Army”. The article was translated by the BBC Monitoring,
(Plukys) What is your view of Russia’s talk about deploying missiles in Kaliningrad and the possibility that Russia might pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty? By the way, most of the countries that are party to this treaty do not actually observe it, except Russia. Lithuania has not even joined this treaty.
(Olekas) It is a pity that Russia claims that it may withdraw from the treaty and plans to deploy its missiles in Kaliningrad. This makes us and other EU and NATO countries disappointed and somewhat worried. I think that the Russian experts understand it quite clearly, and they have been told on a number of occasions (I personally participated in the NATO Council meeting) that the deployment of the radars and anti-missile shields proposed by the United States is not in any way an offensive plan. This defense system can help stop the missiles during attacks. I think it is wrong to target defensive missiles with offensive missiles…
Perhaps, Russia, in a way, acknowledges that there is a danger to the democratic European states from certain countries. It has offered the United States the use of its radars in Azerbaijan and the radars that will be sited in the east of the Russian Federation. These radars will detect missiles targeted at Europe. It would be quite logical if Russia and the United States could agree on cooperation in Azerbaijan, in the south of the Russian Federation, and in the Czech Republic, and on data exchange. Then there would be an open exchange of information, so that third countries could not direct their missiles against both Western Europe and Russia. Then there would be a possibility of intercepting such missiles. I know that such negotiations between Russia and the United States are under way, and I hope that common sense will prevail.
Speaking about Lithuania joining the CFE Treaty, we can do that as a country by ratifying the treaty. Russia promised to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova so that Lithuania and other countries can ratify this treaty. So far, it has not kept its promise, even though it has partially withdrawn its troops from Georgia. Other countries are not agreeing to ratify the treaty. And I think they have the right to behave this way. As soon as Russia meets the commitment that it undertook in Istanbul, other countries will proceed with ratification. We are also ready for negotiations to join the treaty. But only in this sequence. As long as this treaty is not ratified, we do not have any legal grounds for joining it.
Speaking about Kaliningrad, Lithuania, just like any other country, is interested in its peaceful and successful development. Three years ago, I and my family went cycling across the territory of Kaliningrad. We entered Kaliningrad Oblast from Poland, through Bagrationovsk; from there we reached Kaliningrad and cycled to Kybartai (Lithuania). I could observe the way of life of the local people. Then we cycled the route from Tilžė-Sovietsk…. By the way, I grew up not far away from Kaliningrad, in Vilkaviškės. I think that Russia is interested in the successful economic development of Kaliningrad. In my opinion, the further militarization of this territory is not a very attractive prospect for Kaliningrad’s inhabitants. We welcome another alternative — the withdrawal of some of the weapons that have accumulated there in quite big amounts since the Cold War. We consider Kaliningrad Oblast to be an attractive place for tourism.
(Plukys) But why are there still many politicians who do not want to accept Russia’s logic, who claim that its actions are a response to the United States’ actions, to its plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Europe?
(Olekas) I repeat; I do not see anything against Russia in the deployment of the missile-defense system. Within the framework of bilateral relations, as well as relations involving the European countries and NATO, Russia is perceived as a partner, whereas the tone of Russia’s officials, which has changed lately, does not contribute to cooperation between our countries.
(Plukys) There is another aspect that is interesting to analyze: Poland and the Czech Republic are negotiating the deployment of the anti-missile system on their territories with the United States without the “blessing” of the EU, which the old EU and some other countries do not like. What do you think about that?
(Olekas) I think that Poland can make its own decisions about whom to consult with and what. The Czech Republic and other European countries have the same possibility. I have participated in various international meetings, for example in meetings of NATO countries. All the NATO countries accepted the choice made by Poland and the Czech Republic. This will help to improve security of the European countries and the United States and their defense against possible missile threats. There is no contradiction in that.
(Plukys) What is the situation in terms of the Lithuanian Armed Forces? Are there any problems?
(Olekas) There is only one problem — modernization has to be carried out even faster than is happening now. The Lithuanian Army is in good military shape. We have been upgrading technical equipment and weapons. The army has combat experience; we participate in international military operations. Our troops have received a positive evaluation; they are regarded as professionals who are capable of carrying out the assigned tasks. We have been upgrading the military equipment, transport, fleet, and air force to NATO standards. We have taken delivery of new transport aircraft. The growth of the Lithuanian economy is making it possible to carry out modernization and to increase solders’ pay. You can go and see for yourself how well our troops’ quarters are equipped. All this makes us feel optimistic.
(Plukys) Is the presence of a substantial NATO military potential in Lithuania possible as a response to the so-called “Russian Threat,” as (member of parliament) Emanualis Zingeris called it?
(Olekas) I think there will be no particular redeployment related to the Russia’s statement. I hope this is just rhetoric, because it is not advantageous to Russia. On the other hand, we should not forget that the Lithuanian Army is a NATO Army. All we have here belongs to NATO. But I would like to emphasize that all this potential is not directed against Russia. NATO is ready to cooperate with Russia, and it has been doing so.
We have invited Russia on a number of occasions to be present at NATO exercises in Lithuania. I think that our future lies in cooperation, not confrontation. I talked about that with former Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov.
(Plukys) Not long ago you declared that Lithuania was not a pro-American but a Euro-Atlantic country. What is the difference?
Olekas) I think it is somebody’s propaganda trick to try to demonstrate that Lithuania is just some kind of a subdivision of the Americans. Of course, the United States is our strategic partner, nobody is denying that. We have learned a lot from the country. We are eager to cooperate with the United States. I recently visited Washington, where we had meetings in the State Department and the Pentagon. We talked about the further development of defense and security. But, actually, the Lithuanian Army is a modern and professional army, it does not get involved in politics, it deals with defense and security tasks. Lithuania‘s policy is to maintain good cooperation between Europe and the United States. There is no alternative to that. There should not be contradictions between the United States and Europe. In this global world, we have to move in the direction of the closest possible cooperation. By saying that we are going in the Euro-Atlantic direction, I am emphasizing th! is kind of cooperation between Europe and the United States. I think that Russia also understands the reality of the modern world and that it has to take the path of cooperation, as opposed to aspiring for the role of a superpower and the like.