Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has raised fears that the Baltic states—all three of which are NATO members—could be next. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned of the danger when she spoke with the Washignton Post’s Lally Weymouth this week. Excerpts:
Lally Weymouth: Do you approve of President Obama’s bombing of Syria?
President Dalia Grybauskaite: Yes, [he showed] some leadership. Lack of leadership today in the world—in Europe and the United States—is one reason these terrorists are growing so fast.
Do you feel the lack of leadership in your part of the world?
Yes. Lack of leadership has allowed terrorist groups such as ISIS [the Islamic State] to grow, and on the question of Ukraine, it has allowed Russia to become a state with terrorist elements.
How do you see the situation in Ukraine?
The situation is still deteriorating. Russian troops are still on the territory of Ukraine. That means that Europe and the world are allowing Russia to be a country which is not only threatening its neighbors but is also organizing a war against its neighbors. It is the same international terrorism as we have in Iraq and Syria.
In Ukraine, it is a real war. The European Union and most of the leaders in the world are trying to talk about it as if it is not war but some kind of support of terrorist elements. We saw Crimea. In the very beginning, it was green men, and it became Russian military. Now it is the same in eastern Ukraine. And I’m sure that it is not the last territory where Putin is going to demonstrate his powers.
Where do you think he is going now?
If we will be too soft with our sanctions or adapt sanctions but not implement them, I think he will go further trying to unite east Ukraine with south Ukraine and Crimea. He recently said that in two days he is capable to reach Warsaw, the Baltic states, and Bucharest. So that is an open threat to his neighbors.
Might he go to Transnistria?
If we will allow him to go, he will go anywhere. The problem is that Putin’s Russia today is ready and willing to go to war. Europe and the West are not ready and not willing to go to war. There is no leadership in Europe or in the world able to stop Putin. Afterwards, we will be surprised that new territories are taken, that new countries are partitioned, and it will be a lot more costly and too late maybe to solve it.
Are you worried he will next attack the Baltics?
If he will not be stopped in Ukraine, he will go further.
So Article 5 and NATO are not enough?
No. Everybody declares that the NATO’s Article 5 will take place. But it will not stop Putin from his plans if he does not see real actions from the European and world leaders. They are only talking. We need to stop him in Ukraine. And until now, that is not understood. That is why I am saying that in Europe today, leadership is taken by Putin, not by the West.
Is Putin’s aim to split Europe?
The danger of Russia’s behavior today is not smaller than what we have with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
So you think both ISIS and Russia are terrorists?
Yes. I think that Russia is terrorizing its neighbors and using terrorist methods.
But the world is more concerned with ISIS.
Of course. It is the primary goal. Unfortunately, this is a perfect position for Putin to do what he wants. In reality, these so-called peace negotiations in Minsk were done under the ultimatum of Putin. Western countries and the European Union gave into his conditions, meaning practically the partitioning of Ukraine.
The U.S. sent Ukraine MREs [meals ready to eat], and they were delivered in German trucks so as not to offend Putin.
Why are we so busy trying not to offend Putin, who is today sending his troops to kill and occupy Ukrainian territory? Why are we not sensitive about what Ukrainians are feeling? Sooner or later we will call him a terrorist and a criminal …
Does the situation remind you of the Sudetenland?
The situation before the Second World War? Yes, of course. We with open eyes are allowing the partition of Ukraine.
Do you feel you have enough protection after the Wales summit?
After Wales, NATO is revived, not sleeping any more. We have something to improve our security. We need to invest more. But how much time do we have?
So the sanctions are not hurting Putin?
They are not sufficient. But if he will go further, maybe countries will apply more serious sanctions.
The head of Ukrainian intelligence told a U.S. official that they had to agree to the cease-fire.
Yes. The Europeans and other countries asked [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko to agree to conditions that were unacceptable because [they amounted to a partition] of Ukrainian territory.
So Russia got Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine?
With the applause of European and other leaders in the world because they didn’t help Ukraine at all.
You worry about your own country.
All neighboring countries to Russia are under threat now. He is threatening them and joking that they are not real states.
Will the result be a war?
We can avoid a war. If both sides are ready to go to war, there will never be a war. If Russia is willing to go to war and the West avoids it, Russia will go as far as it will. …
The U.S. appears to be more interested in making a nuclear deal with Iran.
That is a problem. If we see that for some reason we are selling out independent countries, what moral values are we fighting for?
You think that is true?
When I see how the process is going, it is very much possible. The conditions of the cease-fire were done on Russia’s proposal. The West is not militarily supporting Ukraine. Russia is allowed to do whatever it wants on Ukraine’s territory. It is a shame on all the Western leaders to allow an aggressor to do what he wants with a sovereign country in the 21st century.
I am happy Obama finally showed leadership on Iran and Syria. I hope this will allow him to show leadership on Ukraine. Leadership comes with learning. You are not born a leader but you can become a leader.
That leaves Lithuania in a difficult position.
We were occupied for 50 years, and we know how to deal with this neighbor. What is surprising is that countries far away that have never been touched by aggressive Russian policy are afraid of dealing with Russia.
Only countries with a border—the Baltic states and Poland—are vocal. It is our one tool to fight Russia: to be vocal and courageous and to shame leaders of the West for not taking the responsibility for protecting freedom, sovereignty and democracy in Europe.