Staunton, February 24 – Lithuania and its president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, have taken the lead in denouncing what Vladimir Putin has been doing in Ukraine and in highlighting the threat he poses to the West. Now a Lithuanian defense analyst says that Moscow’s efforts to transform Kaliningrad into “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” pose a direct threat to Europe.
In an interview with Kseniya Kirillova, a US-based Russian journalist, for the Krymr.com portal, Luidas Zdanovicius says that conscious of the threat Lithuania and her two Baltic neighbors are stepping up their military efforts in order to ensure that they are not simply consumers of NATO security but contributors to it as well (ru.krymr.com/a/28327287.html).
Lithuania, after slipping back after the 2008-2010 economic crisis to defense spending equal to 0.78 percent is now online to achieve the two percent level the alliance and the US suggest, he says. Estonia has long been at or above the two percent figure, and Latvia is moving toward it as well.
Zdanovicius says he and the Lithuanian government are especially worried by what Moscow is doing in Kaliningrad, the non-contiguous Russian enclave to the west of Lithuania. “Now Russia is making of it a certain kind of ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier.’” There has been “a growing militarization” of the region, with more troops and more exercises every year.
(The importance of having such an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” can hardly be overstressed. As readers of Tom Clancy’s novel, Red Storm Rising, will recall, without Iceland, which played and plays that role for NATO, the Soviet Union almost certainly could have won a military contest with the West in Europe.)
According to the Lithuanian analyst, “the US and NATO are informed about Moscow’s actions there and are devoting serious attention to them.” Indeed, that is why the Western alliance has sent NATO battalions to Poland and the Baltic countries. But that build up at least so far has not prompted Moscow to back down either on hard power or soft.
Moscow continues its efforts to put pressure on Lithuania economically and politically, Zdanovicius says, pointing to Russian efforts to disrupt the delivery of gas and its continuing propaganda effort directed not only at the Russian-speaking minority but at the Polish minority and the 80 percent of the population which is ethnically Lithuanian.
But these “hybrid” campaigns, he says, have been remarkably ineffective: Lithuania is now importing its energy needs by sea from the West, and few in Lithuania pay much attention to Russian television or to its propaganda line. And Vilnius appears to be successful in countering Russian espionage efforts as well.
“If Russia tries to occupy [Lithuania],” he concludes, “it will find it far more difficult to do so than only a couple of years ago.” In large part that is because Lithuania’s NATO partners “understand perfectly well our situation” – including the threat posed by the militarization of Kaliningrad – “and are prepared to support us.”