Lithuanian FM: Russian threats are real and should be taken seriously

Foreign Affairs Minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius, at the Foreign Affairs Ministery in Lisbon, 23 February 2018. [EPA-EFE/JOSE SENA GOULAO]

Although there are no direct Russian threats to Lithuania, there are insecurities in the region and militaristic arguments used in political debates, which must be taken seriously, Lithuania’s foreign minister told EURACTIV Croatia in an interview.

Linas Antanas Linkevičius also said the idea of a European army is “weird because no one really knows what’s going on” and the rumours only create doubts about the stability of transatlantic relations, while Nordstream 2 pipeline project for Russian gas is “an example of disrespect for our core policies and consistency”.

Linas Antanas Linkevičius is the Lithuanian foreign minister and former Lithuanian representative in NATO. He is also known as an outspoken critic of Moscow.

To what extent does Russia present a real threat?

It’s not just that we hear about threats but we testify them because they are real, they are not a big secret. Let’s remember the case of annexing the territory of Georgia, and recently they did so with the Crimea. We are asking ourselves how we can really resist it.

If you are asking whether or not Russia is threatening our region, this is a different case. Lithuania is a member of NATO and the European Union, so there is no direct threat. However, there are insecurities in the region, and militaristic arguments are used in political debates. This is worrying and we have to understand it as a challenge and react.

Do NATO units that have been sent to your eastern border give a sense of security?

Currently, about 1,500 members of NATO troops from all countries are in Lithuania and that units are an important, significant, tangible way of implementing NATO’s security and we are very grateful for the way the situation developed. Someone can say that such a step was symbolic, but security is guaranteed and we are grateful to all the contributing countries.

Have you noticed some forms of hybrid war between Russia and Lithuania?

The hybrid war is not happening only in Lithuania, it is happening everywhere in the world. It is not only present in the Eastern parts of Europe but also in the West. Inevitable are strategies used in war such as apply energy as a weapon, strategic communication, propaganda, cyber attacks. I think we should really take care of the threats and know how to resist them through best practices. We need to work closely so we can not underestimate this threat.

How do you look at the idea of establishing a European army?

That’s a weird idea because no one really knows what’s going on. This idea does not create anything but provoke uncertainty and doubt. We should be very careful when concepts, that might start suspicion of the stability of our transatlantic relations, emerge. In my opinion, in the European Union, there has never been any serious discussion of the project of the European army, but rumours were strong enough to cause a transatlantic doubt about European actions. We, on both sides of the Atlantic, should be more responsible in order to preserve the alliance that lasts for seven decades. It is the most powerful military alliance in world history. Yet who knows what could happen in the future? We need to be responsible when presenting ideas, and sure that good relations will not be distorted by contemplating different initiatives, such as the formation of a European army.

How did Nord Stream 2 affect Lithuania and the Baltic region?

North Stream 2 was a test for the consistency of our policies. Within the European Union we agreed on common energy principles, we agreed to diversify our energy sources so that we do not depend on just one source. It is a fairly simple principle that sometimes is not respected and does not apply. Nord Stream 2 is an example of disrespect for our core policies and consistency. This may also be present in the future, it was present in past projects – recall the South Stream, whose construction was prevented for the same reasons.

What is the future of the EU? Are we moving in a positive direction, given the growth of the populist forces?

As I have already said, we do not know what can happen in the future. The past was quite different and we achieved a lot. Also, the European Union is an important player in the world. I think it could be even bigger, especially in the area of ​​security. Now we are going through a sort of a survival test for the Union because we are facing Brexit, tensions in the eurozone etc.

In the recent European elections, it was widely expected that populists and radicals would win a large number of votes, but that did not happen. Nevertheless, we should not celebrate their loss, but draw the lesson out of it. Leaders must engage people and give them a better insight into European processes. The gap between people and institutions of the European Union must be overcome, as this gap will be filled with populist ideas, as is the case in some countries. The elections for the European Parliament were a strong sign and a call to wake up to leaders in order to behave more accountable and to implement a more creative policy rather than just attacking each other.

How do you see differences between different parts of Europe, South and North, East and West?

There are various challenges we face. We must show solidarity and understanding. NATO uses the term “360 degrees”. So, we have to turn around and consider all the challenges and risks from which direction they are coming. We have to voluntary accept that we are responsible for helping other member countries. This is also expected from the southern European countries when we talk about the challenges our regions are facing. The same applies to our partnership with countries from the East.

What is your opinion of the Chinese initiative Belt and road, 16 + 1, ie 17 + 1, in which Lithuania also participates?

This is one of the ways China engages the world because it is a growing force in every respect, economic, trade, security … Their challenges and ambitions have a strong potential that is spreading worldwide. We have to accept it as a reality, but it is important to set rules and keep these rules in place for China. Every partner in investment is important and must be respected, but our national rules must also be respected.

EU is currently caught between two powerful forces, China and the United States.  Do you think their influence and their principles will slow down the development of the EU? Will the Union be able to fight in this environment and at the global level?

I would not agree with your statement that we are between two forces. The European Union, historically, was always closer to the United States. Europeans should not have the same approach to China and the United States. At the same time, although we have traditionally always been closer to the United States, it does not mean that we must be enemies with China.

No doubt, it will be very difficult to deal with all the challenges. We must create alliances. We need to make sure that US leaders understand that the EU is not an enemy but a partner who shares the same opinion on democracy and freedom. We are at the same level and more connected, unlike other parts of the world who have different rules and organization. This does not mean that we should be in conflict with these countries, we must find a common language. But, we need to find what we share in relations with the US so that we do not hurt the long-lasting ties we have so far created. In this process, we must exploit more potential in cooperation, creation of transatlantic relations and reduction of barriers. Certainly, no trade wars will make us stronger.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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