This year’s annual NATO summit is being held in extraordinary geopolitical circumstances — a war in Europe, unseen since 1945 — and in a very special geographical location — Vilnius, just a few dozen miles from Belarus and less than 125 miles from Russia. Accordingly, the security measures to protect the meeting are also extraordinary, as around 40 heads of state and government (the 31 Allies, plus other guests such as Sweden, Ukraine and several Asian democracies) converge on the capital of Lithuania for the two-day summit.
Upon landing this Monday at Vilnius airport, the deployment was very evident. Batteries of German Armed Forces Patriot air defense systems could be seen alongside the runway, some pointed towards the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, others in the direction of Belarus/Russia. A flag made clear who owned this long-range military equipment.
But this is not the Allies’ only special contribution to the security of the summit. Spain has provided medium-range Nasams air defense units; France, Caesar artillery pieces; various Allies have provided fighter jets; London and Paris contributed defense systems against drones; Berlin and Warsaw sent helicopter-borne special task forces. Meanwhile, NATO’s task force against chemical, biological and nuclear risks is operational. And 16 members have sent 1,000 troops who will join the 3,000 local soldiers that Lithuania has mobilized for the occasion, according to local authorities.
Lithuania is pulling out all the stops to the best of its ability. Among other things, it has tripled border control activities. In 2021, thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, arrived at the border with Belarus in an episode that the West considers a deliberate destabilization attempt perpetrated by Minsk. Belarus denies the allegations.
As in other big summits, the city center is full of security and there are frequent traffic cuts. Lithuanian authorities report that some 1,500 police officers are on duty for the two-day event. The military dimension of the protection effort is exceptional, in keeping with the challenge that is so close: Belarus is willing to welcome Russian nuclear weapons and Wagner mercenaries, and a spiral of conflict could have multiple derivatives, not only in a conventional sense, but also in a hybrid one.
Lithuanian authorities — and those of the other Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia — are hoping that this one-off reinforcement will represent a new step toward large permanent Allied deployments that will reinforce their own fragile defenses. In June, Germany declared its willingness to permanently transfer 4,000 soldiers to Lithuania, for which the necessary facilities are now being set up.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO has heavily reinforced its so-called forward defenses on the eastern flank, although these are largely rotating deployments involving many Allies.
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