Nato’s ‘achilles heel’: alliance conducts war online games in anxious Lithuania | Lithuania

About 30km west of the Belarusian border, the enemy’s tanks had been rolling by way of the pine forests of Lithuania at velocity right until a makeshift obstacle manufactured of barbed wire blocked their path. Soldiers carrying bolt cutters jumped out of the armoured automobile at the front to distinct the road.

Then, a deafening bang. In its hurry to victory, the advancing party had neglected to check out the sandy terrain beneath the roadblock for mines. Luckily for us, for them, this was just a costume rehearsal for a showdown in between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance.

No live explosives ended up used in Nato’s “Rising Griffin” manoeuvre at the Pabradė army foundation in japanese Lithuania. Alternatively, referees politely knowledgeable the tank commanders that their autos would have been ripped to shreds. The Russian enemy was staying impersonated by American and Norwegian troops.

The western defenders may possibly have notched up a tactical victory in opposition to an japanese aggressor on this sunny April early morning, but Nato’s protection architecture has in no way seemed much more fragile than in the spring of 2022, specifically when seen from Lithuania, a nation very long deemed the alliance’s achilles heel.

An independent republic given that 1990, the southernmost of the 3 Baltic states borders both Russia-allied Belarus on its japanese aspect and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on its western flank. On Russian television, pundits have brazenly urged the Kremlin to escalate the war in Ukraine by enforcing a navy corridor along the “Suwalki gap” – Lithuania’s limited border with Poland – so reducing off the Baltics from other Nato-allied lands.

“Until last November, we had the Russian army fairly much away from Nato’s borders,” stated Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister. “Now the armed forces action is extremely shut. To incorporate to that, Lithuania lies amongst the territory of Belarus and the territory of Kaliningrad. Which places us in a strategic scenario that is, let’s say, attention-grabbing.”

Due to the fact 2016, right after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “enhanced forward presence” battlegroups have been stationed in four member states on Nato’s japanese flank: Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


The war in Ukraine has led the alliance to further bolster its existence in the location, with multinational battalions to be dispatched to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia. The army existence in Lithuania has been elevated from around 1,200 to approximately 1,600 troopers and geared up with new hardware, these kinds of as the German army’s light-weight and cell Ozelot anti-plane procedure, which can be utilized to guard airports from aerial assaults.

But the purpose of these armed forces models continues to be that of a “tripwire”: a reminder to hardliners in the Kremlin that invading what they may well see as renegade breakaway nations of a former Russian empire would mechanically result in a military services conflict with other western European states. But in their recent condition, there is little doubt the increased ahead existence units would sooner or later on be overrun.

The circumstance remaining rehearsed in the Soaring Griffin exercise was a David v Goliath 1, with the attacking pressure taking the part of the giant. The precedence of Nato’s troops in the manoeuvre, reported one officer, was to “delay the enemy”, not to hold the line.

As Nato associates get ready to meet up with in Madrid in June, Lithuania, together with its Baltic neighbour Estonia, is calling on Nato to urgently adjust its posture in the area from deterrence to what it phone calls “forward defence”.

“What we’re seeing in Russia and Belarus is now a risky country with the intention to assault other sovereign states,” Landsbergis told the Guardian. “It’s a double-edged sword: on the a single hand Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine that it is a declining regional electrical power. On the other hand, it can however do a whole lot of problems on its way down, as it looks to have no regard for its possess losses. We have to protect the Baltic states, specifically all those that are geographically intriguing to Russia.”

In trying to keep with the “founding act”, a political settlement signed by Nato and Russia in 1997, there are restrictions on how many western allied troops are authorized to be deployed to the Baltics, and how shut they can be stationed to the border.

The improved forward existence in Lithuania, which is made up of 7 European nations and led by Germany’s Bundeswehr, has to be rotated every six months at considerable value and work, with hundreds of vehicles owning to be transported by street, rail or air prior to each changeover.

When nations these as Germany and the Uk continue to be committed to the founding act, Lithuania and other states in the location say the doc is no for a longer period practical as a treaty.

“We contemplate it null and void immediately after what Russia has completed,” Landsbergis claimed. “The new truth we have to acknowledge is that the treaties that developed the old safety setting with Russia are no much more. We have to seem at this with new eyes. There has to be a long lasting navy existence with every little thing essential to defend the skies, defend the seas and protect the land of the Baltic states.”

Estonia’s primary minister last week named for the a few Baltic states to be handed “war-battling capabilities”, with divisions of up to 25,000 troopers for each country.

“The problem we have to question ourselves is: what will be the new global protection architecture of the planet immediately after this war?” claimed Landsbergis. “At the instant, we are simply reacting to what is taking place in Ukraine. But that has to modify. We have to commence imagining in strategic conditions.”