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Lithuania is on the front line against two autocracies. It is nestled between the Russian enclave Kaliningrad and Russian ally Belarus, and has long warned the world of the Russian threat. And now it has taken on China by opening a representative office in Taiwan, also allowing Taiwan to do the same in Lithuania. Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.
One NATO leader helping drive the fight against Russia in Ukraine is in Washington this week to show her strong support for the allied effort to evict Putin's army.
The prime minister of Lithuania has met with officials in the Biden administration and on Capitol Hill.
And she sat down with our Nick Schifrin a short time ago.
Lithuania is on the front line against two autocracies. It is nestled between the Russian enclave Kaliningrad and Russian ally Belarus and has long warned the world of the Russian threat.
And now it has taken on China. Last year, Lithuania opened a representative office in Taiwan and allowed Taiwan to do the same in Lithuania. China responded furiously and has tried to punish the country and the E.U. economically.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte is here with us in the studio.
And thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you on the "NewsHour."
Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuanian Prime Minister:
Thank you for inviting me.
Let me show you something that Vladimir Putin said earlier today, in which he had a televised meeting, and raised the possibility of a nuclear war.
Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator):
Regarding threats of nuclear war, you are right. This threat is growing. Under no circumstances will Russia strike first. Our strategy is to consider nuclear weapons as a means of protection.
What do you think the message Vladimir Putin is sending?
Well, it's the same message he's been sending for several times already.
So, I think it is completely reckless when a nuclear weapon is being blah-blah-blah'ed about in the way like Russia does. But if you ask me whether there is something new, I have heard that at least several times.
Are you saying the threat is empty?
Oh, no. I say that we should take that seriously.
But then the question is what we do, because if we take that seriously, and then do nothing, like sort of sit and tremble, then this is not the right strategy. I think what is the right strategy, what has been done in the past when Mr. Putin was speaking about nuclear threat, is the clear message that, if he tries something stupid like that, the response will be immediate, and that will be a very serious response.
Because, if he sees that there is a sort of a retreat or appeasement or something that sometimes countries do think is a good strategy with dictators, then, usually, what they do, they are just pushing farther, because they take it as a sign of weakness.
Russian nuclear doctrine is that when bases holding nuclear assets are attacked, Russia could consider some kind of nuclear response.
And Ukraine hasn't publicly admitted it, but the officials I talk to say that Ukraine did attack a Russian base earlier this week with Ukrainian drones. And that base has nuclear-capable long-range bombers. So, is attacking a Russian base with nuclear-capable long-range bombers reckless?
Well, nobody can judge it according these lines, because what is reckless is Putin's war. This is reckless.
And we all know that many things are happening just because Putin decided that he can invade a country that he have no right to invade. He has no — sort of no competence in dictating Ukraine how to live their lives.
So, definitely, this is reckless. And anything else is somewhat different, because Ukraine is defending itself.
As you know, U.S. officials have been concerned publicly and privately about the risk of nuclear escalation.
And one of the red lines that the intelligence community here believes that Putin has is long-range sophisticated American weapons based in Ukraine, and the U.S. has restricted those weapons from going to Ukraine. You have argued the U.S. should send those weapons.
But do you think that there is a risk of escalation if the U.S. sends certain weapons to Ukraine?
Well, again, I think that, for Russia, you do not — you cannot calculate what is a risk of escalation, because, if they want to escalate, they will escalate whatever.
In Russian propaganda now, they are not fighting Ukraine. They are fighting NATO…
The West, right.
… because they have to have a legend to explain why they are losing on the battleground.
And so, therefore, you think that the U.S. should send these longer-range weapons it has so far refused to send?
Well, I think that countries that are in the possession of all sorts of weapons that would be useful for Ukraine to defend its land and restore its territorial integrity should be sent to Ukraine.
But, of course, this is for a particular country to decide on this.
Let's talk about how the war in Ukraine ends.
And I want to show you a couple of statements, the first by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley. He is, of course, the president's top military adviser. And he said recently that neither side could win militarily. And, therefore: "When there's an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment."
And then Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted last month: "There will be peace when not a single Russian soldier remains on Ukrainian soil. There are two ways to achieve that. They either leave it or rest in it. We leave the choice of wording to them."
Who's right, Mark Milley or Andriy Yermak?
Oh, I think that it depends on how seriously you think there is a scope for negotiations.
And I don't think that Russia is interested in negotiations in the current moment. What they want, they want a cease-fire. They want a break. They want that for practical reasons, not for peace, but for reshuffling, rearranging, recruiting and re-everything, so that they could come back when the weather conditions and other conditions would be more favorable.
But General Milley is saying that Russia can't win militarily, but nor can Ukraine win militarily.
Andriy Yermak is saying: We will keep going until we win.
Well, I think this is the right solution, because, if Ukraine does not win this war, there will be no end of the war.
End of the war, meaning end of future wars?
End of the war in Europe, yes.
End of the war in Europe.
Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview on French TV — you're already smiling, you know where I'm going with this — about the future of European security and said: "We must address NATO expansion, the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia, and how to give guarantees to Russia."
Is Macron too focused on peace and not focused enough on victory?
Well, I think he's focused on wrong assumption, that there is any threat whatsoever for Russia, so that we should think about security guarantees for Russia, because nobody ever thought about attacking Russia.
There was no serious risk. When Russia says something about NATO threat, this is ridiculous, because all the presence of NATO on the eastern flank was a response to what Russia did. Now we have a higher presence of NATO partners on the ground because of invasion in February.
And Finland and Sweden joining NATO, yes.
Finland and Sweden joining NATO because of invasion on February.
So, what threats are there for Russia? I mean, this is nonsense. And I don't think we should very much care about security guarantees for a country that is a terrorist state, that is killing civilians, destroying infrastructure, and doing whatever they can, the war crimes, to make people just to give up and abide to Russia's dictate.
This is ridiculous.
As I mentioned at the top, you're on the front lines of not only Russia, but China.
Recently, U.S. and allied officials visited Taipei to talk about lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, and discussion focused on the importance of leadership and the importance of Taiwan's ability to turn its citizens into soldiers, as we have seen in Ukraine.
What lessons do you think Taiwan should take from the war in Ukraine?
Well, I think that the main lesson from Ukraine is that, basically, people who believe in freedom and who believe in their country, they are invincible.
And three times bigger country cannot do much about it and is failing on the battlefield. And, of course, the consequences for a civil population, for infrastructure are very dire. And there are many atrocities and war crimes going on as we speak. But the spirit of people, you cannot beat that.
And so Taiwan should think of its spirit if it were ever to be…
Well, you know, the hard defense and security, the weapons and military training is everything, which is, like, obvious.
But the first — the first thing, I think, is the motivation, the fact that you fight for a most important reason in the world.
Madam Prime Minister, thank you very much.
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