US extends battalion in Lithuania as Russia fears persist
WASHINGTON: The United States will extend its rotation of a heavy tank battalion in Lithuania, which sees no reduction in the threat from Russia since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Lithuanian officials said Friday (Oct 14).
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said that the battalion, in the town of Pabrade since 2019, will stay at least until the start of 2026.
In a statement after meeting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Brussels, Anusauskas said the decision implements “one of the most essential objectives put forward by the sitting government: we have a persistent military US presence in Lithuania.”
Lithuania, along with neighboring Poland and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia, has been at the forefront of support to Ukraine since Russia attacked on Feb 24.
The invasion renewed fears in nations formerly under Moscow’s control. They have cheered on recent Ukrainian successes in taking back land.
But a senior Lithuanian official said that Russian forces still had the capacity to attack the Baltic states – all members of the NATO alliance, which he said had insufficient forces in the area before the Ukraine war.
“In our assessment, they are not as weakened as much as would change our assessment of the threat level to the alliance,” said Kestutis Budrys, national security advisor to Lithuania’s president, said of Russian forces.
Speaking to reporters in Washington after talks with President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, Budrys said the probability remained low that Russia would attack NATO nations.
“But the actions that we see that were done in Ukraine and also the attempts to bring even more Belarus into the active military offensive against Ukraine shouldn’t make us more calm,” he said.
Belarus, whose authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko is one of the closest allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has let Moscow use its territory for the invasion.
Lukashenko said earlier this week that Belarusian forces would deploy together with Russian ones but did not specify where, and insisted the move was defensive.