The US troops stationed in Lithuania near the border have prepared to get into military engagement with Russian forces, according to Lithuania's top brass.
Lithuanian Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Valdemaras Rupsys said on Friday that the US forces stationed in the eastern European country along the border with Belarus had switched from deterrence mode into combat mode.
“The main factor used to be deterrence, the demonstration that they were here and could increase our forces at any time,” Rupsys said in an interview with radio LRT. “And now the situation has changed: those units are being deployed so that they can fight immediately. It’s a seamless … transition from one mode to another.”
Rupsys noted that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley had given him assurance that American troops would maintain “a persistent presence in Lithuania.” He also pointed out that US troops will be present in the country until 2025, at the least.
US troops in Lithuania have been stationed in the eastern city of Pabrade since 2019.
Since 2014, the US has been intermittently rotating some 4,200 troops in and out of Europe. Separately, some 62,000 US military personnel are assigned permanently on the continent.
NATO forces also maintain a multi-national military unit in Lithuania which is led by Germany.
In June, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the US-led alliance will bolster its capabilities in response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
He said he aimed to strengthen NATO's rapid-response forces from around 40,000 troops to over 300,000.
Meanwhile, the NOTO forces have been deploying troops and equipment close to Russia’s borders since it suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014 after the Crimean Peninsula integrated into the Russian Federation following a referendum.
The United States and its European allies accuse Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine and have imposed a number of sanctions against Russian and pro-Russia figures. Moscow, however, rejects having a hand in the Ukrainian crisis.
In December, the Russian government demanded that the Western military alliance deny Ukraine membership, and roll back its military deployments in Eastern Europe. Moscow also demanded that the US not establish any military bases in the former Soviet states that are not part of NATO, and not form any bilateral military alliance with them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said back then that Moscow would take unspecified “military-technical” measures if the West did not meet its demands.
Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, which commenced in February, heightened tensions between Russia and the West, with the US and its NATO allies imposing tough sanctions on Moscow and supplying Kiev with large caches of arms and ammunition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that NATO's decision to increase its military forces in territories surrounding Russia proved that leaders in the West leaders were once more turning to the “conceptual priorities” adopted during the Cold War era.