By Julian E. Barnes
VILNIUS, Lithuania—Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said she wants a continued presence of U.S. troops in her country as Russia builds up its forces in the region and prepares for military exercises in September.
In an interview Thursday, a day after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Ms. Grybauskaitė said she was in talks with the U.S. and other countries on securing Lithuania’s airspace.
“We need the serious involvement of the U.S. to not only deter but to defend,” she said. “It is important to have adequate response capabilities against possible threats.”
Tensions are high in the region months before Russia is planning to stage military exercises in Belarus, which borders Lithuania. U.S. officials say the drills could be used by Russia to move upgraded weaponry into the region, as well as demonstrating new military capabilities.
The U.S. is considering moving a Patriot missile-defense system to Lithuania as part of air-defense exercises of its own this summer, and officials have said the system could remain there longer—through the duration of the Russian exercises.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been building its troop presence in Lithuania, a former Soviet state, with more than 1,000 troops from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway stationed there.
Since 2014, the U.S. had kept a constant presence of 150 soldiers in Lithuania. But now it intends to rotate soldiers from its heavy tank brigade in and out of the country.
They are due to move to Germany for training drills next week, ahead of traveling to the Black Sea region in June for a large multinational exercise, U.S. military officials said.
Ms. Grybauskaitė said her country needs U.S. troops to maintain a constant presence. NATO decision-making moves slowly, and in the event of a crisis with Russia it would likely be the U.S. that could first move to shore up Lithuania’s defense.
“Our goal is that not only NATO troops need to be involved in deterrence in the Baltic region, but also, bilaterally, U.S. troops,” she said. “Having in mind the challenges we are facing and the increase in tensions in our region it would be preferable to have the U.S. on a permanent basis.”
Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said a permanent U.S. presence will strengthen the Lithuanian military’s effectiveness and give Russia pause.
“The presence of Americans is a multiplying factor for deterrence,” he said. “With Americans here it is a game changer.”
Lithuania is on pace to increase its military spending to 2% of gross domestic product by next year, meeting a key demand of the Trump administration. Ms. Grybauskaitė said her goal was to exceed the 2% recommendation.
She said she supported the Trump administration’s goals to overhaul NATO, but said her priority was to speed the alliance’s decision-making and improve the alliance’s defense plans.
“Security of the eastern border of NATO is the security of all of NATO,” she said. “If we fail in any of the 28 members, it will be a failure of all of NATO.”
Last updated 2017.05.12 10:10Back