Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, colleagues, and members of Parliament. I have been a member of the National Security and Defence Committee in my parliament since 1996, so for me, your discussions are very familiar.
First of all, I would like to say thank you very much to Canada for your support of my country before independence, before 1990. For us, it was so important, your not recognizing our occupation. I was born and grew up in occupied Lithuania, so it's very important for me to underline this particular issue and this particular part of our history.
As already mentioned, I've been in parliament since 1990. It's my first term in government as the Minister of National Defence. It's the first time for a woman to be in this position in Lithuania, but I think not the last.
Turning to the main issue I have to discuss with you today, I would like to start by saying that in Lithuania—and I have to speak on behalf of other Baltic nations—we have never felt more secure than today, despite the problems and despite the regional specificity. Of course, last year was the 20th year of our independence. For a small nation that for most of the 20th century was under occupation, it already looks like a long-time success.
Today, Lithuania and other Baltic states are members of the Euro-Atlantic community, which shares common values and concerns. Of course, I think that for the rest of NATO, the rest of our partners, it's very important to have our states independent, to keep going, and to have this particular part of the region—the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea—with the developments that we have now.
The Chicago decisions will be based on the decisions taken in Lisbon, where NATO approved a new strategic concept. We were very happy to participate. It was the first time in our history as a NATO member to have the opportunity to be reactive, to have this NATO new strategic concept.
The new concept includes many elements that are critical to our security and defence policies. As I understand this strategic concept, it was very interesting that all 28 members approved it, having in mind that it's their own national strategic concept of NATO. It's very important for everybody to feel that it's their own—not NATO's, not somebody's, but their own. We have the same feeling.
First of all, why? For us, NATO means a strong transatlantic link. A strong NATO is in our interests. It is in the very deep interests of Lithuania to have a strong, capable NATO. It's the foundation of our Lithuanian defence policy.
Second, the new strategic concept draws a balance between collective defence and crisis management, and between security at home and in distant places. NATO remains a collective defence alliance. This is what is most important for us—to keep the alliance as a defence alliance and our own territory's defence alliance.
Finally, in Lisbon there was a breakthrough on NATO's role in energy security.
Why are these three key principles so important for my country? We are concerned about recent developments in our regional security environment. There is no doubt that we have concerns.
I would like not to speak about Russia at all, but my job and my reality is that I have to. I have no other choice.
Of course, our main concern is Russia's intention to dominate the region and the Baltic states. Some 22 years ago, I thought it would be a totally different situation with our neighbours. Unfortunately, since 2000, when the Yeltsin era ended and the new regime came to the Kremlin, we've been facing very similar threats, or maybe it is better to say challenges. We unfortunately have them now.
Russia still regards the Baltic states as an area of its privileged interests, and it is not hiding this. They are increasing Russia's military presence and activities close to the Baltic borders. It has become a little bit of a different situation since 2007, when the Russian Federation started its military reform, and mainly its military reform westward.
The military exercises are offensive, anti-NATO scenarios, with bomber flights, etc. Everyone's country has military exercises, but the NATO military exercises held in our region are defensive. The Russian Federation is having military exercises with offensive scenarios. That is the main difference and is the main concern we have.
Nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapon installations still exist around our countries. It's a reality.
Belarus, next to us, has quite good-quality military armed forces. Our main concern is that they're very much integrated with the Russian Federation, and they are becoming more and more integrated with the Russian Federation every year.
Russia has intensively modernized its military forces in the Kaliningrad enclave. Instead of being a pilot region for Russia's cooperation with NATO and the EU, as we expected some 10 years ago, today Russia's behaviour is the opposite. We expected a benefit from this cooperation with the Kaliningrad region, but unfortunately, it didn't happen, and it's not in our interest. We have to keep in mind that this very much militarized area is in the very centre of Europe.
NATO summits, in general, offer a good opportunity to reaffirm the transatlantic link and to reassert our commitment to each other's security. The Chicago summit will not be different.
I would like to say something about Afghanistan. You know that we faced a very heavy period when our economy was in crisis. The recession was at about minus 15 of GDP a few years ago. We had to do a lot to overcome this crisis. My government, of course, did this. I am proud of that. We cut salaries, wages, and pensions even, but we didn't cut anything from our participation in the mission in Afghanistan. It was not an easy job, but we did it, understanding how important this solidarity with NATO is and how important this mission is for NATO and for our security also. Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda for my ministry, and Afghanistan will be on the top of the agenda in Chicago.
Together with Canada, Lithuania remains firmly committed to security in Afghanistan. We are planning to provide trainers and advisers in support of NATO's training and mentoring role post-2014. Also, Lithuania will financially support the development and sustainment of Afghan national security forces. We must, together with you, stay committed to Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. This is a clear message from my government; we already made this decision about our commitment a few weeks ago.
However, we also have to focus on military activities at home. Here are the main areas.
On NATO visibility, we very much await the NATO Response Force's exercise Steadfast Jazz, to be held next year in the Baltic states and Poland, together. It will be the first partial live exercise of the NATO Response Force in the last five years.
Regarding smart defence, Lithuania is a strong supporter of the smart defence concept, which requires more cooperation in developing capabilities. My country applies the same idea in regional cooperation, Baltic defence integration, and Nordic-Baltic defence cooperation. We think it will be good for NATO and that NATO will be stronger, if regions are strong enough and cooperate among themselves.
In NATO, one of the most prominent examples of smart defence is the NATO air policing mission. For my country, this is the very symbol of our NATO membership. It is also a practical example of NATO's presence in the Baltic region, especially because last year, and not only last year but during the last years, we have seen the increasing activity of the Russian Federation in the Baltic Sea Region, with their heavy bombers and with their military fighters. It is very practical to have this mission in this region.
NATO missile defence also falls under the umbrella of smart defence. Unfortunately, Russia responded with a proposal to divide NATO into sectors. That is totally unacceptable for the alliance, and us especially. We don't want to be separated from NATO, according to a Russian Federation proposal on a sectoral approach.
On energy security, having it start in Lisbon is among our priorities in Chicago. A Lithuanian-established national energy security centre, we expect, will become a NATO centre of excellence this year. Meeting with your minister of defence, I invited Canada to be a very active partner in this centre of excellence. I think it will be a very good example of a win-win situation for member countries.
Finally, regarding partnerships, Lithuania supports NATO attention to North Africa and the Middle East. At the same time, there is a need to send a strong signal of reassurance to aspirant countries, especially to Georgia, as this is an important incentive to continue the reform process.
The recent developments in Ukraine are disappointing. We have to do our best to persuade the Ukraine to follow the westernization path. The isolation of the Ukraine would not offer a credible way ahead.
I had a meeting with my Polish colleague, Tomasz Siemoniak, on Monday. We spoke a lot about Ukraine, because we have a common project, the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade. Today they have a meeting of the Ukrainian and Polish ministers of defence in Warsaw. I will be waiting for information about that. We would like to go forward with this particular project, keeping in mind that Canada has the Maple Arch military exercises, and it could be very useful to have this brigade project and those exercises develop together.
In summary, the Chicago summit offers my country a good opportunity to address our security concerns as well as to share the concerns of our allies. We are strong supporters of smart defence. It requires closer cooperation between allies as a response to austerity and the challenges ahead.
Thank you for your attention.