Speech by Ms Ingrida Šimonytė, Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, at the High Level Meeting of Speakers of Parliaments of NATO Member Countries
2 June 2023, Vilnius
Photo by Viktorija Chorna, Office of the Seimas
Your Excellencies Speakers,
General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the organizers for convening the leaders of parliaments to discuss the most pressing security issues ahead of NATO Summit in Vilnius.
In the democratic world the Parliaments have always been and will always be the heart and the voice of a political and policy debate on the most strategic and pressing issues. None is more pressing or more strategic today for our region, for Europe, for transatlantic community, and let me be frank, - globally, than the Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Russia’s war stands in contrast to everything what democratically elected parliaments represent - the ideals of liberty, fundamentals freedoms, the rule of law, the value of human life and dignity.
Parliamentarians across the democratic world rallied to defend these values. You played a critical role in explaining to the societies why it is important to stand up firmly against an aggressor and to help Ukraine until its full victory.
Russia cannot break Ukraine, but it hopes to break the unity of our societies, our democratic community. It hopes to exploit our election cycles. It hopes that our societies sooner or later would get tired of supporting Ukraine.
This is the second front of this war that Russia is fighting in. Parliaments are standing at the forefront of this second front.
But we - democratic countries - will not get tired. We will pass this test of perseverance.
We do not have other choice. Because Putin’s raw hate for democracy combined with Russia’s imperial ambitions pose a long-term threat far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Today the heroism of the Ukrainian people is preventing Russia’s war from spreading further into Europe.
But in the long term, it is the unity of democratic states and the military preparedness of NATO that can deter Russia from its further aggression.
Considering the dramatically changed geopolitical environment and Russia’s military plans, NATO does not have the luxury of taking incremental steps. Our decisions must be bold. NATO’s forward defence and deterrence must be strengthened substantially.
This is particularly important for the Baltic countries because of our exceptional geographical position - heavily militarised Kaliningrad and Belarus, which became de facto part of Russia and enhance Russia’s ability to deploy forces on very short notice on our borders. Not to mention recent decision to place Russia’s nuclear capabilities on the soil of Belarus. And we should not forget what connects Baltics to the rest of NATO by land - so called Suwalki Gap.
In Madrid we took important decision to scale up enhanced forward presence battalions at least to brigades where needed. If the region of Suwalki Gap doesn’t need it, I do not know what does. In Lithuania we need at least a brigade size allied forces in place to deter and defend every inch of the Alliance’s territory and not to allow even a possibility of thinking to test the Alliance. The most credible deterrence is adequate NATO forces, the boots on the ground.
The entire NATO eastern border must be reinforced with air defence and with ground-based air defence capabilities.
The Alliance’s new defence plans address these challenges. To be executable, new defence plans must be backed by necessary forces and adequate investments.
Allies agreed on 2% benchmark even before Russia unleashed its full-scale war on Ukraine. Taking into account new geopolitical realities and the lessons from Russia’s intense use of weaponry in Ukraine, 2% can be only the floor, not the ceiling.
All three Baltic States are already spending over 2.5% and will further increase defence spending in the future. As a host nation, Lithuania is building all necessary infrastructure and investing heavily into military mobility. If to include these investments, our defence expenditure would be close to 3% of GDP.
I understand that some of allies cannot commit today or tomorrow 2% or more. But it is important that in Vilnius NATO Summit we would reach a decision in principle that would prove our long-term commitment to increase defence spending and would send a necessary signal to our defence industries.
Investment into our security today will bring much larger peace dividends in the future.
We, the governments of NATO, have a responsibility to protect our people from all security threats and build such a security architecture that safeguards peace in Europe not for a month or a year but for years to come.
New security architecture is possible only WITHOUT Russia, but it must include Ukraine. Ukraine’s NATO membership will strengthen the Alliance and will increase security and stability in Europe and beyond.
NATO has already stated on numerous occasions that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. But promises without accompanying steps might lead to creation of grey or semi-grey zones. We cannot allow the vicious circle of grey zones’ instability to haunt the Europe forever.
I hope that in Vilnius we will be able to provide a real pathway for Ukraine to advance toward NATO. A dangerous precedent would be created if the outcome of Vilnius Summit could be red as a victory of Russia in precluding Ukraine from joining NATO.
Regarding security guarantees for Ukraine. They are welcome as a temporary step. But should not be viewed as a substitute for NATO membership. There can be no substitution for Ukraine’s NATO membership in the future.
The outcome of Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion will shape not only Euro-Atlantic, but global security order. Therefore, there is no alternative to Ukraine’s victory, for it is a victory for the whole democratic world.
To end this war sooner, we urgently need to give Ukraine all the weapons it needs. There should be no taboos. Every delayed day in delivering weapons costs human lives, including the lives of the innocent civilians.
As we are striving to build a sustainable security architecture, we need to be very clear that future peace in Ukraine will be defined by Ukraine, not an aggressor.
Any peace formula must include justice. Only full accountability that reaches the top leaders can serve justice to the victims and help to break this horrible cycle of Russia’s wars in the future.
Here, again, the role of parliamentarians is crucial. We - politicians - should be tireless in explaining our societies that, unfortunately, the road to peace could be long. It will not end with Ukraine’s forthcoming counter-offensive. We should not and will not be looking for easy short-cuts to peace. Peace should be a sustainable one.
Therefore, we must be ready for a long-haul in Ukraine. We must not succumb to fatigue.
We must also be prepared for the fact that Russia is preparing for a long-term confrontation with NATO and with democratic countries.
NATO is about our shared values. We will always be on the side of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. It is our - governments and politicians’ - responsibility to take all necessary decisions to safeguard these values. Vilnius NATO Summit will be one of the tests of our readiness to take the necessary decisions. In this sense I hope that Vilnius NATO Summit would be transformative and historic in its nature.