Lithuania’s president on tensions with Russia and the war in Ukraine

Baltic nations arrived at the NATO summit with a real warning: that they could be Russia' next target. And in the last week tensions have increased between Russia and Lithuania. Lithuania's President Gitanas Nausėda joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, you had a very full day today. You also spoke with the president of Lithuania. What was the message that he and the other Baltic leaders had today?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, they arrived here with a real warning, a concern that their countries could be the next Russian target. That's a product of some of their interactions with Russia recently, but also a product of their history.

    Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, then briefly by Nazi Germany, and then the Soviet Union again for five decades, until it became independent in 1991. It joined NATO in 2004. And just in the last week, tensions have increased, because the country is implementing a ban of goods traveling by rail between mainland Russia and the Russian enclave Kaliningrad.

    And so I spoke to President Gitanas Nauseda inside the summit this afternoon.

    President Nauseda, thank you very much for joining us.

    When you arrived here, you said this was the last chance to adopt decisions that will be strong enough to stop Russia. Do you believe the decisions NATO has taken today are adequate?

    Gitanas Nausėda, President of Lithuania: The decisions the NATO summit took, I think, fully meets our expectations.

    We have to understand that the situation is dangerous, the situation is very serious, and we have to take bold, decisive decisions. And I have to say there's a certain satisfaction that it was really historic.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    NATO will increase the number of troops in your country, in the Baltics from battalion level, about 1,000, to brigade level, over 3,000. But you have been calling for many more than that.

    Is the brigade level sufficient?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    We have to admit that, currently, we are not ready. We do not have sufficient infrastructure to accommodate brigade size battle group or unit.

    And this is the reason why we have to speed up this process. So far, brigade size is OK for us.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You have said that no part of NATO should have any weakness.

    But perhaps NATO's most vulnerable part, of course, is the Suwalki Gap, the distance between mainland Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

    How vulnerable is it?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    We understand that this is the weak point of our — as part of our collective defense.

    This NATO summit is a green light for preparation in order to be aware of these risks and to deal with this threat adequately.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last week, Lithuania stopped goods traveling on train between Russia and Belarus and Kaliningrad.

    Russia has made threats in response to that. How serious do you believe the Russian possibility of responding militarily is?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    I don't believe in such scenario, because, since 2004, we are NATO member. And we have very clear assurances, which were repeated many times also by President Joe Biden, that Article 5 is sacred, rock-solid.

    And it's not so easy to make harm on Lithuania, because we are quite well-prepared. We did our homework, because, since the very beginning, since the regaining of our independence, we realized that Russia is long-term threat. And, probably, we have to prepare.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How do you believe the war in Ukraine should end?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    There is no other than Ukraine should win this war.

    If it will be not the case, the situation in Europe, situation internationally will be very complicated and very dangerous. We have to avoid this scenario.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the Europeans and the U.S. should avoid humiliating Russia.

    Is there a Eastern European/Western European divide over how this war should end?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    You know, I don't understand this kind of rhetorics, because Russia humiliated itself so much by starting this war.

    We have to do our best in order to support Ukraine in this war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you fear that some Western European countries could end up pressuring Ukraine to concede some territory in order to find peace?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    It would be morally just unacceptable to push Ukraine to make any concessions on the territory.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you believe there is pressure on Ukraine to concede territory?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    I don't think so.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    NATO's united?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    I believe in unity which has certain ambitions. And this kind of unity, I trust in. And I saw this unity here in Madrid.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Over the last few weeks, Moscow has withheld some natural gas from Europe.

    You have worked for years to achieve energy independence from Russia. And, of course, you have been able to ban natural gas imports recently. Do you believe the rest of the European Union is trying to pursue the same policy that you are, and can they?

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    I think they will be pressed to pursue the same policy but we understand very well that it takes time.

    But if you will not start today, will not get to the result tomorrow, to do the same as Lithuania did, to let all the illusions about Russia or engagements with Russia.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senior German officials admitted there was no plan B, there was — had been no plans at all…

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    Unfortunately…

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … not to use Russian energy before February 24, when Russian invaded.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    I remember my conversations with former Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    But they decided to go this way. Now this — they proved to be wrong.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Late last year, you allowed Taiwan to open a diplomatic office in Lithuania using the title Taiwanese representative office. That was the first time any E.U. member had used the word Taiwanese in the diplomatic office inside the E.U.

    Beijing was furious, launched, basically, a trade embargo. You said you weren't consulted on the name change. But, overall, why do you believe it's important for Lithuania to support Taiwan.

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    This is not diplomatic office. This is trade office we established in Lithuania. The reaction of Chinese authorities was not adequate, I would say.

    We are a country which tries to respect the principles and values. Sometimes, we pay a high price for that. But this is our policy towards other countries which are fighting for their freedom. And I think Lithuania is very consistent in this. And, sometimes, we are example from some larger countries.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Nauseda, thank you.

  • Gitanas Nausėda:

    Thank you very much.

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