Baltic leaders are pushing for higher defense spending

Riga During the visit of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Tallinn, Estonia, the prime ministers of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are urging the other NATO member states to spend more on defense. Measured in terms of economic power, the three countries are among Ukraine’s strongest supporters and are particularly exposed in the geopolitical confrontation with Russia due to their location on NATO’s eastern flank.

Scholz traveled to Tallinn on Friday to speak bilaterally with Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. He later also met Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte. At the subsequent press conference, the Chancellor renewed his commitment to defending the NATO states in the Baltic States in the event of an attack. “We are ready to defend every square centimeter of NATO territory against attacks,” said Scholz. “The security situation on NATO’s eastern flank remains precarious,” said the Chancellor.

In the Baltic States, however, one hopes for concrete plans. Referring to the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius in July, his counterpart Kallas said that defense spending “must be borne jointly by all allies” and that “the money must be raised to strengthen the European defense industry.”

Estonia takes its obligations as an ally very seriously and is increasing defense spending to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Kallas also explained that Estonia and Latvia had jointly started negotiations with a German manufacturer to procure medium-range air defense systems.

Latvia’s Prime Minister Karins also emphasized that his country wants to spend three percent of GDP on defense “in the next few years”. “But standing stronger alone is not enough,” says Karins, all NATO allies must at least reach the two percent target “and if possible go beyond it, as we do.”

>> Read here: Armaments: Many NATO countries fall short of the two percent mark in their defense budgets

Lithuania’s Prime Minister Simonyte said it was “absolutely necessary” to strengthen the alliance’s security, expand defense capabilities and allocate sufficient funds to do so. The entire eastern flank must be equipped with ground-based anti-aircraft defenses. In addition, decisions must be made “quickly” and “bravely”, which is particularly important for the Baltic countries due to their geographical location.

It would be “very disappointing if the outcome of the Vilnius summit could be read as a Russian victory by barring Ukraine’s path to NATO.” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte

For years, Germany has clearly missed the NATO target of spending at least two percent of economic output on defense. In 2022, the corresponding expenditure was only 1.49 percent of GDP, compared to 1.46 percent the year before. However, Scholz did not comment specifically on this. The Chancellor said that “our support has been expanded in many ways”. He also referred to the German arms deliveries to Ukraine worth 2.7 billion euros announced in mid-May.

Scholz also left open how many Bundeswehr soldiers should be stationed in Lithuania in the future. Last year, Germany pledged to deploy a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers to protect the country.

>> Read here: Germany puts together a new weapons package with a volume of 2.7 billion euros

Lithuania would like the brigade to be permanently stationed in the country, Germany had proposed a rotation consideration. This would still be in line with the 1997 NATO-Russia Act, according to which no substantial combat troops may be stationed permanently on NATO’s eastern flank.

Baltic states want Ukraine to join NATO soon

Scholz explained in Tallinn that the support also includes “that the infrastructures are now being developed there.” In addition, they had promised to create structures so that “troops can always be moved there very quickly”. Parts of the seconded German combat brigade would again be transferred to Lithuania for an exercise in the coming weeks.

Scholz also announced that he would further intensify the sanctions pressure against Russia and take further precautions so that the sanctions cannot be circumvented. Scholz did not comment on the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO quickly, as explicitly demanded by Simonyte, for example. The Lithuanian Prime Minister stressed that it would be “very disappointing if the result of the Vilnius summit could be read as a victory for Russia by barring Ukraine’s path to NATO”.

The annual NATO summit will take place in the Lithuanian capital on July 11 and 12. The meeting took place in Madrid last summer.

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