Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană during the ceremony on the 5th Anniversary of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence multinational Battle Group deployment to Lithuania

  • 09 Feb. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 09 Feb. 2022 13:16

(As delivered)

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]:Thank you so much for having me and I’m so happy to see again the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence Pabriks, dear Artis, good to see you again. I also met the chairperson of your Defence Committee in Brussels, with a delegation of Lithuanian Members of Parliament, and we appreciated our conversation. Thank you for hosting me at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre and, of course, the Ministry of Defence, National Defence of Lithuania.

I’m here representing NATO to be together with our Lithuanian friends and allies. And as you know, tomorrow we’ll be celebrating together the fifth anniversary of the Lithuanian-based NATO battlegroup in this country.

And probably this is more telling than ever. And the value of the Alliance is probably more relevant than ever. And the unity of our Alliance is more relevant than ever. And the need for us to be together in these trying moments is also quite important.

I’m also happy to see Heinrich Brauss, our former colleague, virtually. And also, I think there is a former foreign minister of your country that I’ve seen somewhere in the audience. So hello to everyone.

Lithuania is a highly valued Ally in NATO. You lead by example in defence spending, we just met the President this morning, and he reconfirmed. You are hosting NATO’s Centre of Excellence on Energy Security – such a relevant topic as we speak. You’re contributing to NATO’s operations, including through a military training mission in Iraq. And, of course, hosting the multinational battlegroup of NATO in Rukla that we’ll be visiting tomorrow. So NATO can rely on Lithuania and Lithuania can rely on NATO.

I remember being the foreign minister of my home country, Romania, lobbying to join NATO, the seven countries, in the second round of NATO enlargement in 2004. We have formed a group which was called Vilnius Seven. And probably not that many people believed that NATO will enlarge the second time after the first round in Madrid in 1999. And this is what’s probably the most consequential of many of the sequences of enlargement of NATO. So we’re now looking today with pride at Lithuania, the Baltic countries, at Poland, at my country, Romania. I can also see not only the security dividends of our joining NATO, but also joining NATO was the precursor of joining the European Union. And this also has strategic and economic implications. And this is probably one of the most momentous moments in our history. And in this place, which is so full of history, I can only say that NATO is here for Lithuania, and we know that Lithuania will always be here for NATO.

We also were supportive of your country, and I remember the minister, virtually and physically, telling us about the hybrid activities that Belarus and the regime there conducted against your country with the migrant situation. I also remember – and Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General remembers – fondly the [first] joint visit ever done by a Secretary General of NATO and a President of the European Commission, so Jens Stoltenberg and Ursula von der Leyen, visiting together Lithuania and Latvia in December.

And we are preparing, as we speak, the signing of the third joint declaration between NATO and EU that we want to see it done fast and continue to bring synergies between our two organisations.

And I remember when the Secretary General was with Mrs von der Leyen visiting your country in December, he said that no NATO Ally stands alone. And we are not alone because we are all together. Also, just a few days ago, Denmark, as a sense of solidarity and vigilance, sent additional air policing to your country. And Baltic air policing and naval activities will continue.

Of course, Lithuania shares a 700km land border with Belarus to the East. And a 300km border with Russia’s heavily militarised Kaliningrad enclave to the West. And both are within a few hours’ drive in either direction from here. So Lithuania understands and we understand the concerns of Lithuania and of the Baltic Allies when it comes to this specific geography of the eastern flank of NATO. And the ever-present threat of Russia’s aggressive rhetoric and force posture, as we see now in and around Ukraine and with the exercise which is underway in Belarus.

As we have always done, NATO is bringing Europe and North America together to deal with the current crisis. And we also continue to call on Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue in good faith.

As your President has said, the time for diplomacy has not yet passed. And NATO, in our recent proposals to Russia, believe that diplomacy and political solutions are preferable to conflict. But also, we are prepared, also, for the worst.

As I mentioned, we sent our written proposals to Russia. We still await the answer from the Kremlin. We are ready to engage in successive meetings of the NATO-Russia Council to discuss sensible, rational, reciprocal and useful agreements we could reach, and we should try to reach, with Russia.

But not compromising on the fundamental principles of who we are and also principles of European security architecture. We’ll never, we’ll never accept the idea that a sovereign European nation can be vetoed by a third player in its own sovereign right to choose whatever direction they want to choose.

Russia speaks of NATO encirclement of Russia. Look a bit at the map and see the geography of Russia and see the very limited territory of direct connection between NATO and Russia. Ask Romanians and Lithuanians if anybody was trying to get us into NATO or we desperately tried to get into NATO. This is a totally different set of principles that we’ll never compromise.

Another proposition from the Russian draft treaties that was sent to us a few weeks now, a few months now, was another proposition that we’ll never, we’ll never compromise upon. The idea to go back in history to before 1997, when the first round of enlargement took place, thus accepting that we have two classes of NATO Allies: the ones protected by NATO and the military force posture and the ones who are not. This is not negotiable. We are not telling Russia what to do on their territory – it’s their business. How and in which model is: we defend, we deter, we have force structure and posture in NATO, it’s our business it’s not anybody else’s.

But as I mentioned, there are many things we can and we should discuss with Russia, because there are lots of things to discuss. And I think a predictable security environment in Europe is good for us, it’s good for them, I think it’s good for Europe and it’s good for the world.

So we are waiting for the answer from the Kremlin to our recent proposals. And of course, we are coordinating closely with our American Allies on the bilateral track between the US and Russia, because what we have sent and what the US have sent to Russia, as you know, are fully synchronised and coordinated amongst Allies.

We have done lots of things to enhance our readiness, our vigilance. I applaud the fact that, of course, NATO, NATO Allies, have been sending reinforcements. We’ve seen an announcement from the German government. We’ve seen decisions by US government for sending additional American troops on a temporary basis to Poland and Romania. We salute the fact that France has offered to be the framework nation for a future eventual battlegroup in Southeast Europe, in Romania.

So I want to tell our Lithuanian friends and our Baltic friends that we are taking diplomacy as the normal way forward, but also we are doing our part in terms of vigilance, planning and force posture.

And our defence ministers next week, in a very important defence ministerial – the minister will speak more about this – it’s probably one of the most consequential defence ministerial meetings we had in some time, because of the situation at hand. And they’ll be discussing lots of things in terms of posture, in terms of resilience, in terms of cyber, many things to come.

There is also a bigger picture. There is a bigger picture. We are seeing, also, fears of great power competition. We are also seeing the cyber domain being challenged. We see terrorism continuing to grow in the south. We see disruptive technologies, climate change, nuclear proliferation and, not least, the consequences of a more coercive China. And this is something that our friends and allies in Lithuania have been witnessing first hand in the recent period.

And my last point is about the Strategic Concept of NATO that we will be adopting at the Madrid Summit later this year. We know that our Lithuanian friends have offered to host the next summit in 2023. But this will be one of those summits that will be a moment when the Alliance will prove again our formidable capacity to adapt, to adjust and reinvigorate ourselves in moments of profound change in geopolitics of the world.

A Strategic Concept, new force posture, decisions on NATO 2030, spending and investing more in common for our common ambitions, deterrence and defence for Euro-Atlantic area. This will be a Summit of massive strategic positive consequences for this Alliance.

And one final word about Russia’s actions and intentions. If you look to almost everything they have proposed for themselves in using this very aggressive menace towards its neighbours, they are getting the opposite of what they want. They have more NATO on the eastern flank – and they said they don’t want NATO on the eastern flank. They want Ukraine to be part of their sphere of influence – you see the Ukrainian public willing more and more to go towards the West. They want to see a divided West – we are more united than ever.

So unity is our strength. Resilience is our first line of defence. And diplomacy, deterrence and defence is the way forward for our Alliance. And I’m here on behalf of our Secretary General just to be with our Lithuanian friends and allies and to tell you that you can count on NATO and you know, we can count on you. Thank you.