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Amid Ukraine invasion, 20 Pa. National Guardsmen heading to Lithuania this month for ‘routine training’

By: - February 24, 2022 10:11 am

Soldiers from 1st battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, work together to move across a course during combined arms live fire training on July 30, 2020, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. Utilizing radio, hand signals, smoke, and more, the leadership of the Soldiers communicated effectively to cross the course while engaging targets (Pa. National Guard photo.)

*This story was updated at 12:40 p.m. on 2/24/22 with additional comment from the Pennsylvania National Guard 

Minus a single embassy official, no Pennsylvania National Guardsmen are in Lithuania amid growing tensions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, 20 airmen and soldiers are scheduled to travel to Lithuania for “routine training engagements” later this month, National Guard Captain Travis Mueller said in an email Tuesday.

The small Baltic nation of 2.7 million borders a Russian enclave in Kaliningrad as well as Belarus, an eastern European country that served as a staging ground for Russia’s attack. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed in a speech he wanted to disarm the Ukrainian military, amid a long term conflict between Ukraine and Russian separatists in two eastern regions.

He also threatened "consequences that you have never faced in your history" to nations that take military action to intervene.

In response, Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO, has declared a state of emergency, the Associated Press reported.

Other nations and international organizations, including the United Nations, have condemned the attack and threatened sanctions, but no military action has been taken.

U.S. President Joe Biden also condemned the attack Wednesday night, and is scheduled to address the invasion in more detail Thursday morning. 

The American military is already redeploying hundreds of troops to NATO member Latvia, according to Reuters. The nation neighbors Lithuania in the south and Russia to the east.

War in Ukraine: What Pa. politicians have to say about it

Since 1993, the Pennsylvania National Guard has had a partnership with the Lithuanian military. This includes hosting their military personnel in Pennsylvania and participating in joint military exercises, such as those organized by NATO.

The mission of the partnership, according to the Pennsylvania National Guard's website, is "to sustain [an] enduring relationship, build capacity, improve interoperability, and deter potential adversaries" in "the defense of Lithuania’s sovereign borders, Euro-Atlantic security, and the Homeland."

Mueller added Thursday that the National Guard is "monitoring the situation and following [Department of Defense] guidance, but there are currently no changes planned to our future engagements with Lithuania."

In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf said the attack on a "peaceful country is shocking and its impacts will be far reaching."

"I urge democratic leaders across the globe to unite and respond decisively to this unjustified and unlawful attack," Wolf added 

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.