Lithuania. During the year, around 1,000 NATO soldiers were stationed in Lithuania with the intention of increasing Lithuania’s defense in the shadow of the Russian military build-up in the region. NATO troops came from several countries, were under German command and were equipped with over 200 tanks.
According to Countryaah.com, President Dalia Grybauskaite expressed concern that this fall’s large Russian military exercise Zapad in Belarus, near the border with Lithuania, would demonstrate preparations for war with the West. The President urged NATO to increase its military presence in the Baltic States and create a faster decision-making process. Lithuania also planned to increase its own defense budget for 2018 to 2% of GDP, the target NATO had set.
The military tension between NATO and Moscow affected society. The government planned to build fences along parts of the border with the Russian exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea coast. In addition, the government stopped the construction of a data center that would install a fiber optic cable to the Russian Federation. It was feared that the center would open a channel for Russian intelligence operations into Lithuania. According to official sources, several attempts had been made to infect the government’s computer system with Russian spy software.
In February, a Russian citizen and a Lithuanian were sentenced to several years in prison accused of intelligence activities on Russian behalf. Later in the year, a Russian man was sentenced to ten years in prison for having traveled to Lithuania with false identity, practicing espionage and attempting to install interception equipment in the president’s office and residence.
In May, Lithuania granted asylum to two gay Chechens who fled their Russian sub-republic, where homosexuals were subjected to violent persecution.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Lithuania in May. President Grybauskaite said that the United States should station American robots in Lithuania in response to Russian robots in Kaliningrad. This happened temporarily during this summer’s NATO exercise, when about 500 soldiers participated in some 30 different air defense systems. Grybauskaite believed that the robots should stay permanently in the Baltic.
In June, the Government of Lithuania decided to ban all alcohol advertising in TV, radio and newspapers, reduce the opening hours for alcohol sales and raise the legal age for alcohol consumption from 18 to 20 years. For young people under the age of 20, it is illegal to drink alcohol or to deal with it unless you work in a bar. The law, which comes into force in 2018, will be the most stringent of its kind in Europe.
According to WHO, Lithuanians drink more pure alcohol than any other people in the world, averaging over 18 liters per person per year.
Lithuania’s tense relationship with Poland improved during the year, after an agreement was reached between the Lithuanian railways and the Polish owner of the giant refinery Mažeikiai. A fierce conflict over unpaid oil freight charges had led to litigation and several years of poisoning relationships.
At the beginning of the year, it was clear that the population decreased more in Lithuania than in any other EU country last year. Despite Britain’s decision on Brexit, the emigration of labor increased there, and 170,000 Lithuanians were there.