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2019.10.11 09:30

Vilnius calls for NATO to deploy air defences in Lithuania

Saulius Jakučionis, BNS2019.10.11 09:30

NATO should deploy air defence measures to Lithuania in order to protect the international battalion stationed in the country, Lithuanian defence minister says.

“It was already agreed during the [2016] Warsaw Summit, and it is not implemented. This issue was also raised by several commanders of the battle group,” Karoblis told journalists during a joint press conference with visiting German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Thursday.

Germany leads the international NATO battalion deployed in Lithuania since 2017, with around 600 German troops stationed in Lithuania as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP).

Karoblis says air defence measures are primarily necessary to protect the troops serving in the battalion, since Lithuania does not have necessary systems for that.

“It's about the security of the soldiers who are deployed here,” the minister said.

Asked about any possible changes to the forces stationed in Lithuania, the German minister said she received a request during a meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Kaunas to expand the Baltic air policing mission.

For some time now, the Baltic states have been asking to change NATO's air policing mandate to an air defence mission. That would mean that allied fighter jets stationed in the Baltic states would be able to carry out combat tasks, while air defence ground systems would also likely be deployed in the country.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the Lithuanian president linked the possibility to expand the mission with the failed US-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, the Lithuanian president linked the failed US-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with the possibility to expand Baltic air defences.

She said the security of Europe and the Baltic region following the collapse of INF “will be taken very seriously,” but “a decision needs to be taken at the NATO level”.

International NATO battalions in the Baltic states and Poland were deployed in 2016 to deter Russia after Crimea's annexation and the war in Donbass.

Engagement ‘does not have a time limit’

During her first visit to Lithuania in July, Kramp-Karrenbauer said Germany's commitments to its ally had no time limits.

She once again reiterated Berlin's plans to invest 90 million euros into military infrastructure in Lithuania over the coming years.

“Our engagement here does not have a time limit. It is instead a core pillar of the German engagement within NATO,” she said.

Germany is one of Lithuania's key security partners. In addition to troop deployment and Berlin's investments, Lithuania also buys Infrantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), howitzers, military vehicles, naval artillery, automatic guns and grenade-launchers from Germany.

Germany is an active participant in the Baltic air policing mission. Last year, the Lithuanian army's mechanised infantry brigade Iron Wolf was affiliated with a German division.

Karoblis says Germany will maintain leadership in ensuring Lithuania's security. “Germany's leadership is really the foundation of our NATO security measures here and, with no doubt, that will continue,” says Karoblis.

Kramp-Karrenbauer is widely considered the successor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to retire from politics. She took over the leadership of Germany's CDU in December.