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Among several former Soviet Republics and satellite states that are now NATO members is the small Baltic nation of Lithuania. Fiercely independent, its security concerns are compounded not just by its former occupier, Russia, but by the adversaries that border it, including the Russian ally Belarus. Nick Schifrin sat down with Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis to discuss.
Another former Soviet republic is also concerned by the war in Ukraine. But, unlike Moldova, the small Baltic nation of Lithuania is both a member of NATO and the European Union.
Regardless of those security and economic guarantees, its fears are compounded, not just by its former occupier, Russia, but by the adversaries that border it, to the south, Russian ally Belarus, to the West, the Russian region of Kaliningrad.
In Brussels today, Nick Schifrin sat down with Lithuania's foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, to discuss a range of issues.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very much. Thanks for joining us.
Lithuania right now is the only European country that has decided to stop importing Russian gas. Why do you think that you were able to make that announcement, where others have not?
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuanian Foreign Minister:
I think that the main reason was that Lithuania was preparing, and not just from the start of the invasion, but much earlier than that.
We made the first steps actually in 2008. Back then, we were paying the highest price in Europe for the gas imports. We were dependent on one gas pipeline from Russia, which was constantly under repair due to, well, what we considered political reasons. So we started building a floating LNG terminal, which was finished in 2014.
And we were able to procure our gas from anywhere.
A senior official told me that a block of Russian oil and gas is the only way to get Russia to recalculate its war. And, certainly, Ukraine's president agrees with that.
What's your message to those countries continuing to resist such a ban?
First point is that we have paid during the last 40 days almost 40 billion euros to Russia.
And these are the salaries to the soldiers who are fighting in Ukraine. So, it's a big, huge moral question that has to be answered one way or another. A second point is that, when we hear the leaders of an institution saying that it will be done…
… statement by Germany.
Yes, one way or another, one day or sooner or later, it will be done, we will cancel the contract.
So the questions remain, how many cities need to be bombarded, destroyed in order for us to say, OK, this is the day?
You use the word a moral question. Does that mean you think these countries are failing morally?
Well, look, I can only answer about myself.
But I think that this question should be posed by every decision-maker who is a responsible decision-maker. And the way he answers the question, this is the way that his electorate and other people will judge him.
Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, today said — he was very specific today on his requests for weapons to NATO members, and said those weapons have to be delivered in days, not weeks.
Will Ukraine get enough weapons quickly enough?
I can say that there are some positive signs in that direction. I hope that they will bear fruit.
Could it be because of Bucha and the horrors that we have seen inside of Ukraine?
It could be as well. It could be as well.
And what I'm saying, it's — it might be just the beginning. And we have to be prepared for much worse.
Some of the weapons that are being transferred right now, tanks, anti-ship weapons, were once determined as — quote — "offensive weapons."
In fact, Emmanuel Macron said just few weeks ago that tanks were a red line. Why is Europe willing to cross that line today?
Well, I think that the war is changing.
First of all, as I mentioned, the victories in Kyiv and the withdrawal of Russians, be it the tactical relocation or the actual defeat, that they are no longer sustained — able to sustain that long front lines, it changes the perception that Ukraine really has a chance to win.
And if they win, then it's a victory for everyone.
Lithuania, of course, has called for a permanent presence of NATO troops inside its country.
Right now, NATO troops in Lithuania are deployed on rotation. That permanent presence would go against NATO promises in the past not to deploy a permanent presence to the eastern flank. Why do you think NATO should break its previous promises?
Basically, Russia brought the troops. Russia broke the peace in the region.
So, I think that there are no more legal constraints for NATO to deploy on a permanent basis in the eastern flank.
Does all of NATO agree with that assessment?
I think that, basically, there is a consensus.
The only questions that are remaining, whether we still need any sort of agreement with a future Russia.
There's a debate, both here in Brussels and in Washington, about what it looks like in order to deter Russia in the future.
And the debate is over whether there is a kind of trip wire of troops, which is what it is now, a small number of troops, or more forward defense. Why do you think forward defense is necessary?
Two months back, Russian troops were supposedly, even though they were brought into Belarus and elsewhere, they were far away from NATO, from NATO's border.
Now there is a ton of equipment placed directly on NATO border, within the reach of NATO borders. And it tactically changes the situation.
So, that goes beyond even the war in Ukraine and the Russian troops in Ukraine
You're talking about 30,000 troops that were deployed in Belarus.
And we knew that there are troops and equipment in Kaliningrad. That was before — even before the war in Ukraine. But now the country that owns those weapons actually showed intent to attack. So, the time needed to react to this current deployment is that much different.
And when we're talking about the standing forward defense, many, many people, many countries would remember that the ages of a Cold War. And we're saying, look, the times have changed, the equipment has changed, and we might need different equipment than was needed to defend Western Berlin than currently in 2022.
But the concept, the concept has to be — I'm sorry to say that — but the same, where Russian started building a wall, and we need to defend it, because it's a NATO border.
How important is it that either Russian soldiers, commanders or even Russian leadership are held accountable for what appears to be Russian war crimes?
To be honest, we thought, with the statements like never again, that we won't need these type of investigations.
Unfortunately, it is happening again. Therefore, we need to blow off dust from the old textbooks and look into it and prepare again for the future.
Do you have faith, though, that accountability can be had?
I am convinced it you can. Combined effort of the — of what is called — what I call the global alliance. I think that it's powerful enough to bring even individuals to justice.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very much.
Thank you so much.
Watch the Full Episode
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Morgan Till is the Senior Producer for Foreign Affairs and Defense (Foreign Editor) at the PBS NewsHour, a position he has held since late 2015. He was for many years the lead foreign affairs producer for the program, traveling frequently to report on war, revolution, natural disasters and overseas politics. During his seven years in that position he reported from – among other places - Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Haiti, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and widely throughout Europe.
Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
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