Lithuania’s mainstream as well as its pro-Kremlin media—which targets Russian speakers throughout the Baltic region, presented two very different versions of the same 9-10 May visit by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis to Lithuania.
According to the pro-Kremlin narrative, the United States is an aggressor and Mattis was laying the groundwork for an anti-Russia conspiracy. An article in the pro-Kremlin media newsbalt.ru
interpreted his visit to the German-led NATO battalion deployed in Lithuania and his comment that he wanted to see “how things are with the German combat group” as “indirectly [admitting] that he was inspecting, in fact, colonial troops.” The article further criticized Mattis for saying that “we [NATO] try to reduce any possibility of erroneous calculations and to gain time for diplomats, that peace and stability should be restored in the Baltic states.” It argued that Mattis acknowledged “the chaos existing in the Baltic states” and compared “those limitrophes” to the unstable Middle East. It added that “the U.S. military forces, with NATO assistance, besiege the Kaliningrad region in a well-planned way. The territories of Lithuania and Poland are used as a base for the foreign military presence on the alleged need to manage the chaos there.” The story concludes that the visit’s purpose is evident: to deploy long-range Patriot missiles in Lithuania before the major Russian-Belarus “Zapad 2017” military exercises in September. Patriots are capable of hitting Russian-made Iskander missiles deployed in Kaliningrad.
Deploying the Patriots marks a new turning point in the confrontation between NATO and Russia, the article warns. By contrast, Lithuania’s mainstream news website lrt.lt
reported that during his visit, Mattis reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Baltic security in the face of Moscow’s aggressive foreign policy. In Vilnius, Mattis met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and the defense ministers of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. He visited U.S. and NATO troops deployed in Lithuania, and reiterated that “we are here only in a defensive capacity. I have too much respect for the Russian army and could not believe that they believe that there is an offensive capability.” Asked if the Pentagon plans to deploy long-distance Patriot missile systems, Mattis neither confirmed nor denied the rumors, saying only that the United States deploys only those systems in Lithuania that are necessary.
The Kremlin narrative indicates the extent of its concern about the U.S.-made mobile, long-range, surface-to-air Patriot missile defense system, which has anti-ballistic missile capability. Currently the Baltic region’s air defense capability is weak, making the NATO eastern flank vulnerable. This situation favors the Kremlin, giving it major strategic and tactical control over the Baltic region.