Lithuanian SOF in Afghanistan, Kandahar Province. October 2019. / Photo by the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
“The Lithuanian Armed Forces can ensure the security and sovereignty of our country. Also, I must mark that we are capable of resisting the potential aggression way longer and fiercely than anyone predicts,” says Arvydas Anušauskas, the Minister of National Defence of Lithuania, in his first interview for magazine KARYS (2021 year No. 3) The Minister Anušauskas was interviewed by Darius Varanavičius. This publication for InformNapalm was prepared by Res Publica – Civic Resistance Center, the official partner of InformNapalm in Lithuania.
Dear Minister, what are your expectations after taking the leadership of the national defence of Lithuania? Can we claim that the consensus regarding the stable and expanding funding for the national defence will remain strong and unquestionable?
As the Minister of National Defence, I visited military bases during the first months of my work. I personally familiarized with the activities of all units and institutions related to national defence in Lithuania. I can say that these two months when I visited around 90% of all military units and saw their performance live, were very beneficial. These visits revealed not only the advantages of the quickly-developing Lithuanian Armed Forces but also some delayed work.
Boxer IFV “Vilkas” / I. Budzeikaite/Lithuanian Armed Forces photo.
We have to understand that having reliable allies who are ready to defend Lithuania anytime is only a single detail. However, we have our obligations which must be realised flawlessly and on time. Of course, there are simple yet quite complicated nuances. For example, when we are acquiring new military equipment, fully complying with the highest standards of NATO, we should not only speak about it in particular but also estimate the costs of infrastructure and exploitation along with many more elements, ensuring the efficient use of one or another type of equipment. Today, I can already tell that there are some cases where such processes did not occur synchronically. As a result, the development of armed forces does not occur appropriately, and neither does the expansion of any necessary infrastructure. It is obvious that new, high-quality, and expensive guns have to be kept safely, undergone technical supervision, etc. So there are definitely many challenges in this field.
Medium-range air defense system NASAMS / Photo by the Ministry of National Defence Republic of Lithuania.
Together with my team, we scrutinised all the plans regarding the infrastructure expansion and acquisition plans. Let’s take such a simple thing as warehouse building: if there are any delays in the schedule, where should the equipment be kept? It seems that such tasks are so basic, but they must have been completed on time.
While speaking about the funding of national defence, the opposition for its sustainability and consistent growth has always existed. It’s nothing new: despite the mentioned agreement on the national defence, some politicians used to express negative opinions, even the ones from the political parties that signed the agreement.
Anti-Armor and Anti-Tank Infantrymen team in Exercises / Photo by the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
I guess that simple yet illustrative comparisons are useful sometimes. A while ago, debating in one social media channel, I wrote: “There are many people who are upset regarding the investment of 220M euros in the infrastructure of the Lithuanian Armed Forces during the next 4 years. On one hand, it’s a very large amount of money. However, the comparative perspective allows to understand that it’s not that much, because, for example, Ignitis, one of the largest brands in energy in Lithuania, will invest 10 times more in all necessary infrastructure during the same period. Similarly, the same amount will be invested in the roads of Lithuania.” And it’s only the area of the whole infrastructure. I received another comment, claiming that 220M euros in 4 years are equal to 104 euros per one minute! I estimated and replied that in this case, every citizen of Lithuania invests 5 euro cents a day to the welfare and capacity of their national armed forces. As a result, it’s a cup of takeaway coffee in the best case. So let’s be proud while drinking coffee every day: every cup of coffee brings a monthly contribution to the development of national defence. The overall budget of our national defence is equal to one daily coffee cup, consumed by the Lithuanian taxpayer.
Lithuanian citizens actively join the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union and thus contribute to the national defense. Basic Riflemen’s skill course final exercises. / Karolina Savickytė / Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union photo.
Nowadays, the variety of unconventional threats is proving that we are really living in the field of information wars, or maybe even in its frontline. What are the main strengths and weaknesses of Lithuania there?
Will there be a war? This frivolous question is quite common in public domains these days, yet we can’t answer it frivolously. Instead, we should consider what could be done in order to avoid that war in our backyard. We conduct a comprehensive deterrence policy, monitoring and taking into account the capabilities of potential opponents, analyzing their quantity and power, and putting our puzzle of our capabilities together accordingly.
Speaking in general, if there are many tanks in the neighborhood, we acquire even more anti-tank weapons, and so on. However, imagine what could happen if we stopped developing our capabilities? After all, the potential adversary is also watching us and stating: if they don’t have adequate firewalls, then we’re driving and driving away, occupying them in those 24 or 72 hours, as we’re often claiming today.
Medium-range anti-tank missile system Javelin / Lithuanian Army Land Forces photo.
However, the deterrence policy doesn’t allow any myths about 24 or 72 hours to exist because the potential opponent sees and realizes that no 24 hours are enough. And 24 days will not be enough either. It would be a long, fierce and bloody clash without winners. But we devote all our resources to avoid it.
And let’s not forget that we have politicians whose actions cannot be fully predicted right in our neighborhood . We may be able to assume them, but it is not really easy to predict accurately.
Regarding the information war, I can confirm that it’s clearly ongoing very intensively. This includes various counterfeits, information and cyber attacks along with various hybrid combinations, such as posting pre-arranged fake news while hacking information portals, etc.
Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union Information Operations Company rifleman analyzes hostile propaganda / Photo by Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union.
All these things can be repelled quite easily before the very latest technology would appear on this battlefield. There, I mean artificial intelligence, against which even the latest smart devices seem to be obsolete.
Therefore, we must realize and start preparing to be resilient to the potential flow of disinformation that will be brought to our daily lives today. After all, we can already see that a part of our society has hard times resisting false information. These people are accepting it, as they say, for cash, so critical thinking and its development is one of the cornerstones of resistance. Both media sources and users of social networks along with the strategic communication capacity of the national defence system have an important role while developing this skill.
The Strategic Communication Department of the Lithuanian Armed Forces monitors hostile activities in the Lithuanian information space / Photo by the Financial Times.
We cannot stop for a moment, thinking that we have already done enough, because the information struggle is far more dynamic than any conventional clash. We need the support of our past experiences. What would be the nation without its own characters? Lithuanians really know this as well as have something to rely on, so these details must be used to the maximum.
Nevertheless, the global world also produces another ‘product’, a person who pretends to be independent from the state. Individual posts (such as “You must defend me – you are being paid for it!”) on social media reveal that perfectly.
When it comes to historical memory, a significant part of it is the history of Lithuanian warfare . And it’s probably the main target of hostile propaganda today. How can we resist it and be proactive at the same time?
Lithuanian Armed Forces Engineers Exercises “Engineers’ Thunder” / Lithuanian Armed Forces photo.
I get the impression that we’re playing in a sandbox: someone throws sand into our eyes from time to time, then rubs our eyes, screams and tries to seek justice.
However, in order to be proactive, the own communication narrative is needed. For example, many of us may imagine that in Russia, which creates most of the information attacks directed at us, everyone reads, watches information programs and understands Lithuanian or English. Forget it! Very few people know our native language there, as well as few understand English. Therefore, we need to carry out serious information campaigns in Russian: to publish publications, to translate Lithuanian books into Russian, to distribute them electronically, and so on. After all, this is how we will reach not only the Russian audience but also the Russian communities in Latvia and Estonia.
On the other hand, the national defence system can’t stand alone in this fight. The Ministries of Education, Science, Sports and Culture must make a significant contribution, since our concern is, above all, the conventional defense of the country. After all, it is understood that a kind of halo or the image of a country or a city is primarily created by the world of culture.
As you have already mentioned, at the beginning of your office term, you got acquainted with various units of the national defense system initially. What is your impression of these visits?
Lithuanian Armed Forces Special Operations Forces snipers / Lithuanian Armed Forces Special Operations Forces photo.
The overall impression is really mixed, because I realized that I had not known many things for 12 years, while working as a member and chairman of the Seimas National Security and Defence Committee. The duties of the minister allow us to look at things more realistically. And it’s not just about the weapons here. Think about constructions, living conditions of soldiers, acquisitions, etc. By communicating with the soldiers directly, it’s easier to understand their daily worries, i. e. those which aren’t related to their military service and duty to the Homeland.
In fact, I was very surprised that for a long time, the Ministry of National Defence didn’t award any soldiers with a nominal weapon. I am well-aware of how this tradition is nurtured in the interior affairs system, and we seem to be setting the precedent that a soldier doesn’t need a weapon. This trend should be abolished.
Speaking of the visits to our military units, I can say that the impressions there are really different, as are the different units of our armed forces. We have really different units regarding their preparation, supply, equipment.
It must be understood that the national defence system isn’t a completely closed world. It is part of our society, and as each of us has our own problems, all of them can be solved. However, a soldier differs from an ordinary citizen in his obligations to the state, which are enshrined in his oath. Therefore, these people need to be respected accordingly, because they not only serve their country but also accept the restrictions imposed on them: not to participate in politics, not to be a member of any political party, not to have the right to join trade unions, and many more.
Lithuanian Armed Forces National Defence Volunteer Forces scouts unit / Lithuanian Armed Forces photo.
Of course, much attention must be paid towards the social problems of soldiers, especially related to their families. In the past, although there were all conditions and opportunities, these decisions weren’t made for some reason.
Today, we aren’t at the war in conventional warfare and we cannot act in the same way as in Russia, where any ruins further away from Moscow are justified by the saying: “So there was war.” Therefore, Lithuanian soldiers must serve under appropriate conditions. For example, containers with modern equipment can become a great home and office in missions, but the conditions while serving in Lithuania should be different. There are many projects related to this infrastructure, and I believe that the situation will have changed dramatically in around three years’ time.
The range of geopolitical challenges for our country is not quite changing since 2014. But maybe you can see any new trends? Would you say that Russia’s aggression in Georgia back in 2008 wasn’t an obvious warning of the Kremlin intentions, to which the Western world responded completely inadequately then?
Self-propelled howitzers PZH 2000 / Lithuanian Armed Forces photo.
The new trends you mentioned exist: Russia is further strengthening its capacity. They’re already learning from the lessons of the war in Ukraine. They’re reconsidering the mistakes made in Georgia. Therefore, despite various economic sanctions or crises, the process of modernization of the Russian army hasn’t stopped at all.
On the other hand, as I have already mentioned, we are also strengthening our arsenal of deterrents given the trends there. Compared with my impressions 10 years ago, when I was the Chairman of the National Security and Defense Committee of the Seimas, my recent visit as the Minister of National Defense showed that the quality of armament, fire power, anti-aircraft defense, level is in a way higher league already.
It reminds me of the plan on the development of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, expressed by the Major General Jonas Kronkaitis years ago. Today, our Armed Forces have become the strong national defence force. Together with the Allies, we can ensure Lithuania’s security and sovereignty and resist any possible aggression much, much longer and more fiercely than anyone else tries to predict.
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