Forces: Lithuania Motivates NATO


August 3, 2023: Germany has agreed to permanently station a mechanized infantry brigade in Lithuania. This requires Lithuanians to build a base for the brigade and contribute to its support. The Lithuanians agreed. Germany said the decision to station a brigade in Lithuania enhanced NATO security along the eastern flank.

The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were alarmed but not surprised by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lithuania borders Russia, but is small and has a Russian minority. Lithuania has also revived conscription and in 2016 issued a 75 page “how to survive another Russian occupation” manual for its citizens called; "Prepare to survive emergencies and war." The Lithuanian preparations include an unprecedented degree of rearmament, Russia may still be able to overrun the country quickly, but the rearmament might make that costly and painful for the Russians.

The Baltic States Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, plus senior NATO military commanders all agree that Russia could overrun them in two days. Russia considers such talk more evidence of NATO aggression against Russia. Lithuanians have heard this kind of talk from Russia before and want to avoid the usual outcome.

Lithuania, as a NATO member, is supposed to spend two percent of GDP on defense. In 2014 Lithuania spent only 0.9 percent of its GDP on defense. The Russian seizure of Crimea and portions of eastern Ukraine in 2014 motivated Lithuania to increase defense spending. It reached 1.1 percent in 2015, and 1.48 percent in 2016. Lithuania pledged to increase defense spending annually until it reached two percent of GDP and that happened by 2019. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Lithuania increased defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP. Significant increases in military spending by Baltic countries is not a big deal in real terms. Their economies are small, and as such, the biggest military budget of those three, Lithuania's, was about half a billion dollars a year in 2014. By 2023 that spending was over two billion dollars.

Even before 2014, many East European nations feared Russia had gone from former occupier to current threat, and all decided to speed upgrades to their armed forces as quickly as their limited budgets allowed. All this is eerily like what happened after World War I when France and Britain tried to help equip newly created nations like Poland and the Baltic States with cheap World War I surplus weapons and promises of aid if Russia should seek to rebuild its fractured empire they would come to their aid. The Russians seized and occupied the Baltic States in 1940 and incorporated them into Russia. That lasted until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and created many new nations, including the Baltic States and Ukraine. The Russians are seeking to regain control of Ukraine and the Baltic States were supposed to be next. That worked in 1940 but this time the Western nations supporting continued independence for the Baltic States and Ukraine include the United States and have come through with the promised aid. The Baltic States have responded by increasing their armed forces and buying a lot more weapons.

Baltic States like Lithuania have been purchasing more weapons from European nations, especially Germany, which is the major producer of armored vehicles in Europe. Lithuania has ordered 54 Leopard 2 tanks from the same German firm, Rheinmetall, that developed and produces the 30-ton Boxer 8x8 wheeled IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles). Rheinmetall also customizes exported armored vehicles to suit customer preferences. Lithuania purchased 120 Boxers. The Lithuanian variant uses an Israeli unmanned turret with a 30mm gun, coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and Spike LR ATGM with a range up to 4,000 meters. There is a crew of three (commander, driver, gunner) and space in the back for an additional six troops or cargo.

Boxer has a top road speed of 103 kilometers an hour and max range on internal fuel of 1,050 kilometers. Electronics include encrypted radio and several handheld surveillance devices. When serving as a combat reconnaissance vehicle, Boxer is often used to lead an advance by mechanized forces and survive first contact with the enemy. In these situations, Boxer can be equipped with the Israeli Iron Fist APS (Active Protection System) that will defeat ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and anti-tank rockets. Iron Fist weighs about 250 kg (551 pounds and has a long track record of successful use in combat.

Russia encountered more resistance than expected in Ukraine and failed to achieve a quick win. That enabled NATO nations to ship in nearly $100 billion in military and economic aid. Baltic states like Lithuania are showing the Russians that they can expect a similar violent reception from the Baltic States. While the three Baltic states have a total population of six million, compared to 40 million in Ukraine and 145 million in Russia, the Baltic states also belong to NATO, which has a mutual defense agreement. If you attack one NATO state, they will all fight back. The combined population of the 31 NATO states is nearly a billion people and combined armed forces of 3.5 million troops. NATO annual military spending is about half the worldwide total defense spending. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. The invasion failed and the Ukrainians are now pushing the Russians out. Russia insists it will not abandon its war in Ukraine. One reason for that is the rules for joining NATO, which stipulate that prospective new members cannot not be at war with any other nation. If the Ukrainians push the Russians out and declare peace, NATO will accept that and let Ukraine join. Russia insists it will not allow that to happen and will continue attacking Ukraine even if there are no more Russian troops in Ukraine. Russia is hoping that NATO will not recognize peace in Ukraine if Russia is still sending missiles, artillery shells and random gunfire across the border. In many similar situations, firing across the border did not qualify as a state-of-war for the victim of the violence. Russians have been suffering from Western economic sanctions since Ukraine was invaded and those sanctions won’t be lifted until Russia calms down. Lithuania and most other nations sharing a border with Russia consider irrational behavior by Russia as quite possible. Old habits and all that. Welcome to life in the East European “bloodlands”, so named because of Russian interference and violence.




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