If the EU wants to become an important geopolitical actor, it needs to play a role not only in Africa but in its Eastern neighbourhood, Lithuania’s deputy defence minister, Margiris Abukevičius, told EurActiv at the sidelines of the NATO ministerial in Riga, Latvia.
His comments came against the backdrop of tensions with Russia, the situation at the Polish-Belarussian border, and Russia’s renewed troop build-up in and around Ukraine.
Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for more EU strategic autonomy in defence, Abukevičius said Lithuania would “not be the biggest enthusiast of this type of language and narrative”.
“We are no fans of the ideological discussion – everything we do in the EU should be open to our transatlantic partners and should be done in close cooperation with them,” he said.
“But what we agree upon within the EU is that there is a shared understanding that it should become more active in terms of defence, has to increase defence spending and develop defence capabilities,” he added.
Last month, EU foreign and defence ministers jointly received their first run-down of what the EU’s future military strategy, the Strategic Compass, could look like. However, some member states already signalled amendments are to come in the next steps of the process.
“If the EU is serious about security and defence, we should really build on a realistic assessment of threats [...], and we should not fool ourselves that Russia is a main military threat to the EU,” he said.
“If you really want the EU to become an important geopolitical actor, it should also be playing a role not only in Africa but especially in its Eastern neighbourhood – also through security and defence,” Abukevičius said.
Abukevičius referenced the European Peace Facility (EPF), a recently adopted EU instrument which opened the door for the bloc to deliver military aid to partner countries and finance the deployment of its own military missions abroad, which will start providing security aid to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova from next year.
At the same time, the EU is considering a military training mission for Ukrainian officers as relations between Kyiv and Moscow remain tense.
Abukevičius confirmed there is no final decision yet, as talks about size and scope would be ongoing, but added that this is another part where “the EU really has a chance to play a bigger role in its Eastern neighbourhood and prove its will through very concrete decisions”.
Belarus border shift?
Speaking about hybrid threats and the current situation at EU’s Eastern border with Belarus, Abukevičius said last weekend’s joint visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Lithuania and Latvia had sent “a very strong signal” that both organisations “have a role to play in addressing sub-threshold scenarios and will cooperate on this”.
He described the current situation at the Lithuanian-Belarus border as "tense", adding that at least currently, the numbers of migrants remain relatively low.
Lithuania’s government said on Wednesday it would ask parliament to declare a state of emergency on its border with Poland from December 10 as part of efforts to prevent the smuggling of migrants across the joint border with Belarus.
On Friday, the government is also to ask parliament to extend an existing state of emergency on Lithuania’s border with Belarus and at camps hosting migrants who arrived from there.
Asked whether he expects that a similar situation Poland is currently facing could soon occur at his countries’ border, Abukevičius said Belarus could “easily shift direction” and “no scenario should not be ruled out, since Lukashenko has proven that he can quickly mobilise actions”.
According to Abukevičius, it is in the interest of Lukashenko to keep tensions and migration flows since he had achieved what he wanted, namely European leaders calling him to negotiate.
“It is definitely also in Russia’s interest in trying to create as many pressure points to the West as possible”, Abukevičius said.
This story originally appeared at EurActiv, partners of LRT English.