Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite used the last debate before for the May 11 election to focus on Russia’s expansionism, which is fueling concern in the Baltic countries. Grybauskaite said she used “fierce” rhetoric to persuade NATO partners to boost the alliance’s military presence in the region that regained independence as the Soviet Union collapsed more than two decades ago. Conversations with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden helped add warplanes for air patrols and surveillance and about 150 U.S. paratroopers for exercises in Lithuania, she said. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is upgrading contingency plans, holding military drills in eastern Europe and stepping up air and naval policing on its flanks as President Vladimir Putin masses troops on Ukraine’s border. The newest members that joined in the past decade are pushing for permanent NATO bases in the region.
“Russia is trying to impose its dominance by force and it’s a direct and open threat to the Baltic region,” Grybauskaite, 58, said in a televised debate late yesterday. “It’s only over the past five years we have established real contingency plans” in case of a Russian attack.
Russia is testing its army’s combat readiness, Putin said yesterday, ramping up tension in the region a day after pledging a troop pullback.
Lithuania says Russia in the past two months has conducted unannounced drills, disturbed civilian shipping in the Baltic Sea and suspended a 2001 treaty, under which it provided information to Lithuania about armed forces in neighboring Kaliningrad enclave and the two countries carried out mutual inspections.