In the past week, Russia has made significant threats to Lithuania as a result of the country’s decision to ban the transit of certain goods from Russia to Kaliningrad. In this exclusive interview with the Kyiv Post’s Jason Jay Smart, Lithuania’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Mantas Adomėnas, talks about the potential implications; how Lithuania views the importance of Ukraine’s success and its broader geo-political ambitions; and how the war might be understood in China.
Welcome, Mr Adomėnas. The term “blockade” has been used to describe Lithuania’s transit ban. Has this action shaken Lithuanian public opinion, or that of the MFA? Are you not tempting the devil?
First, it is not a “blockade”. It is a prohibition to carry European Union (EU) sanctioned goods – which only account for 1-2 per cent of the entire volume of goods which are shipped from Russia to Kaliningrad.
Second, this excitement and hype is a typical Russian propaganda move. It seems to have impressed far more people in the West than in Lithuania, as we are used to Russian propaganda.
We are members of NATO and the EU – these Russian threats have not cost many people in Lithuania any sleep. And I can assure you that I sleep just fine.
Recently, there have been media reports that Belarus may be brought into the war against Ukraine or even as part of an invasion of Lithuania. Do you see signs of this?
We closely monitor Kaliningrad and Belarus. Right now, we see no evidence of a military threat.
But let’s look at this from another angle. Belarussian society is generally opposed to the war in Ukraine. It would make it much harder for their dictator to jump into a war that his people oppose. It could be very destabilizing to his regime.
Ukrainians respect Lithuania’s strong, unwavering commitment to democracy and it support for a free and sovereign Ukraine. Why do Lithuanians invest so much in Ukraine? And do you think that Ukraine dropping out of the top news headlines will change this?
I cannot see how support for Ukraine would change in Lithuania given the centuries of shared history and generations of suffering we – together – have experienced under Kremlin despots.
This isn’t just a Lithuanian reaction to a media story, it is very sincere and heartfelt.
Lithuania will continue to remind other democratic countries that they need to continue to assist Ukraine after the initial shock of the war has worn-off. We must all stand united with Ukraine.
Ukraine was recently granted “candidate status” to join the EU. As Lithuania has always been a strong supporter of Ukraine’s entry to the EU, could give some insight as to how that journey might look based upon Lithuania’s own pathway to membership?
Candidate status did not exist in its present form when Lithuania applied for EU membership. However, our country applied in 1995 (as Ukraine did this March) and it took nine years from application to full membership for Lithuania.
It is naturally a protracted process. Nonetheless, Lithuania will continue to be a strong supporter of Ukraine throughout that journey and will play an active role in promoting Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
On NATO – would you say Ukraine’s prospects of joining are growing or diminishing in the view of protracted war of attrition in the east and south of the country?
NATO membership, which Lithuania also supports for Ukraine, is not decided by day-to-day events and battles. The decisive factor will be how the war ends. Obviously, the way that the war should end, and what Lithuania supports, is that 100 per rcent of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory is restored.
We must work to ensure a complete Ukrainian victory. Anything short of total victory for Ukraine would only further embolden Russia. If the Russian leadership believes that it had some gain resulting from attacking Ukraine, then Russia will only come back around in the future to challenge European security in even more fundamental ways. Also, it would open the door for Russia to create new threats to Moldova, Georgia, and other countries.
So, the best way for Ukraine to join NATO is if we work together to assure a total Ukrainian victory.
What do you feel the West could do more of to support Ukraine?
Firstly, supplying heavy weapons in greater quantities – and faster – would help a lot. Secondly, the West must be far less timid in confronting Russian aggression in such areas, as, for example, the Black Sea which Russia is blockading.
Russia feels emboldened when other countries do not enforce international law, as we are observing now in the Black Sea. We must act to prevent the Black Sea from becoming “the Russian Lake.” We should not allow Russia to prevent the export of Ukrainian grain, or to interdict freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.
There are international agreements – it is not Moscow’s decision as to who can enter the Black Sea and certainly unacceptable that Russia dictates what happens in Ukrainian ports.
If we do not act, this will not only further hurt Ukraine, and will set the wrong precedent which will be noted by other countries, such as China.
Speaking of China, you are a noted proponent of Taiwan. How has this war been understood by the Chinese?
In the short term, the war in Ukraine has been an inconvenience for China. It didn’t plan for it. In the long term, it demonstrates that the democratic world is a strong force that can be united to defend its own values.
At the same time, China is learning from the war in Ukraine. They are paying close attention to the fact that a big, burly invasion has its downsides compared to a more precise strategy: the use of drones, the assassination of high-value targets, hacking, etc.
But it also demonstrates that Taiwan is way more defensible than previously assumed. So, it raised the stakes on both sides. We must always be ready to defend our democratic values and our allies who embrace those values.
How do you think that the war in Ukraine will end?
There is only one way that we can allow it to end – a total and complete Ukrainian victory.
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