Polish Press Agency (PAP), interview with President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, before the centennial celebration of Lithuania’s independence.
Polish Press Agency (PAP): Nearly four years have passed since the annexation of Crimea by Russia. What is Lithuania’s assessment of the current threats to its security?
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite: It is not about our assessment of the situation, but what is happening around our borders that is important. Especially after the Zapad-2017 exercises, we witnessed Russian aggressive, offensive maneuvers, which were targeted directly against the West. They demonstrated a great readiness to concentrate huge military potential on our border – not only the Lithuanian border, but all the Baltic states. The Zapad-2017 exercises have also demonstrated that Russia is ready to launch an attack even within 48 hours across a border with NATO countries: the Baltic States, Poland, and even the Arctic region.
These events showed that the security challenges are even greater than in 2014. By the same token, last week, Iskander rockets were positioned in the Kaliningrad region. This means that threats already affect half of the European capitals. This shows that we need to increasingly strengthen our defense and deterrence in our entire region. That is why it is important to continue NATO reform this summer (at the Brussels summit – PAP). We invest a lot to strategically strengthen our defense and security in the region, with the support of NATO reform that occurred at this summit.
The future of Lithuania and Poland will be as good as we make it,” said President Dalia Grybauskaite. The President assessed in an interview that the challenges for Lithuania’s security are now greater than in 2014.
Is Russian direct military aggression against the Baltic states now possible?
I think that we are already the object of a certain kind of direct attack. I mean an unconventional attack, we can sometimes even call it a confrontational (warlike) situation. We are witnessing constant cyber attacks, in Lithuania alone, we had 50,000 cyber attacks last year. We are witnessing information attacks, interfering in our policy, a certain influence in various media groups. From this point of view, we already feel very strongly that in the unconventional sphere we are in a state of serious confrontation between the eastern flank of NATO and Russia. Of course, military threats are less probable in the near future, but with the unpredictability of Russia, it is better not to assume anything, but to be prepared for everything. What matters is what Russia does, not what it says. The example of Iskander clearly shows that we must be prepared for everything and we must be ready to defend ourselves.
Russia claims that this step is a response to the expansion of NATO infrastructure near its borders…
I can give you only one fact: today on the eastern border of NATO, and in the western regions of Russia, there are ten Russian soldiers per NATO soldier. This is the balance of military strength today. So, the possibility of fear on the Russian side of one thousand NATO soldiers in Lithuania or a little more in Poland, and in total four thousand soldiers in the whole region, in three Baltic States – this argument does not apply. It is only deterrence, there are no defense forces on our territory. It is not a viable argument that Iskanders are needed to scare half of Europe only because there are a thousand soldiers in Lithuania or three to four thousand in three Baltic States and Poland.
So what is the purpose of this move?
As usual, it is a demonstration of strength, aggressive attitude. This is not surprising, as since the annexation of Crimea, we see this pattern of behavior. Therefore, we must be prepared and invest very seriously in our defense. We have established a rapid reaction force, invested 2 percent of GDP in our defense, and modernized the army. These are the lessons we learned from Russia’s behavior.
What should be – after positioning of the Iskander’s – the next NATO steps and decisions on the Alliance’s eastern flank? Does NATO make enough and fast enough decisions in response to these new security threats?
These examples, especially the emergence of Iskanders in Kaliningrad, are a good argument for encouraging NATO to make further, faster and deeper reforms. We propose and ask that NATO should have reinforcement strategies, in particular to combat the A2 / AD strategy in the Suwałki Strip. We need binding defense plans for the Baltic States and Poland, we need faster decision-making in the Alliance and reform of NATO’s command, greater concentration within our region, on the eastern flank of NATO. We propose these reforms to NATO this summer, and expect certain decisions to be made.
Since 2014, Lithuania has done a lot to strengthen its security: defense spending is on the rise, partial conscription has been restored, as well as plans to restore it in the future. What other actions in such matters is Lithuania considering?
Apart from these activities, we are improving our Host Nation Support system, expanding our armed forces training areas, creating a national cyber security center, strengthening our abilities to identify and combat propaganda. We do all this together with other European countries and NATO countries, along with rising expenditures on defense and the modernization of the army.
Can we say that Lithuania now feels safer?
I would say that we feel more confident. Security depends not only on what we do, but also on what is happening around our countries and abroad. I do not think that with this attitude that Russia presents today, demonstrating an aggressive attitude and so on, anyone should feel safe. However, our goal is to be confident, invest together in our defense, and reform NATO, so that we have the ability to respond quickly to any threats wherever their origin.
Tri-Sea Initiative – can this pose as a new opportunity from the Lithuanian perspective? How can it be interesting for Lithuania?
Any initiative is good if it is implemented or reflected in very specific projects. Political formats are good, but in the absence of specific projects, they will be empty. The initiative of the Tri-Sea may become – it has not become permanent yet, but it may potentially be interesting for all our countries, from the Baltic states to the Black Sea, due to the possibilities of mergers, including electrical ones, integration into the single market. From this point of view, we are interested in the opportunities that we support: that is the Via Carpathia program and its inclusion in the Trans-European Transport Network, with the possibility of financing in the future financial framework (European Union). The Rail Baltica project may be of interest, as well as the sharing of experience in the energy sector, the LNG sector.
So, we have to establish what unites us, otherwise this initiative will only be a political meeting. However, slowly, step by step, we will try and of course, take part, to the extent that it will be good for all participants. Of the 28 EU countries, 12 countries participate (in this initiative). So, it depends on the possibility of European funding, from where all 12 countries will have common interests. There are many conditions. However, in general every meeting is good because it offers a platform for political contacts and joint projects. Due to the fact that it is about 12 countries, we must look for projects that would benefit not only on a national scale, but would also have European value added, and could be financed from European funds.
How can we talk about emerging discrepancies between EU countries, such as the reaction of EU institutions to dynamics within Polish domestic politics? Where are the limits of “Brussels’” interference in the internal affairs of the Member States?
I think it is important for all of us to understand that the borders (limitations) of the institutions are very well described and defined by the European Treaties. European institutions cannot go beyond the treaties or take any action that is not described in the treaties. In particular, the European Commission is responsible for the implementation of documents and directives. Thus, the European Commission or other institutions can only give recommendations under the treaties, rather than take action against any of the countries. All treaties, all directives are adopted with the support, and votes of all Member States. These are our decisions. Not decisions of institutions, but of Member States.
However, what instruments are used, whether they are used through dialogue and cooperation, or are trying to impose some elements of treaties by force – this is a matter that we should discuss. And if we understand that the Member States are responsible for acting under the acquis communitaire (all EU law – PAP), the method – which was used, for example, on immigration, a year ago, is not supported by Lithuania. Because in Europe, we must have dialogue, consensus and the Member States must be persuaded. We do not support forceful imposition of methods imposing the exertion of pressure. Both in Poland’s case and Lithuania’s.
I do not impose or tell Poland what it should or should not do; like Lithuania, we need to know our responsibilities and obligations within the Treaties. However, it would be very difficult for me and for Lithuania to impose something on someone. We would like to talk, to conduct a dialogue, to provide arguments. And, of course, we have to find solutions and compromises, because decisions in Europe require compromises. You cannot think that only you are right. However, I will never support the enforcement of any regulations or treaties against any country, including Poland. We must talk – between institutions, Poland, we should convince each other. Lithuania will support dialogue and consensus, but not pressure and we will never support the use of force.
The EC has recently called on the Baltic states and Poland to adopt (by June) a joint plan for the synchronization of electricity networks of the Baltic States with the European system by 2025. Does Lithuania support the deadline of 2025? Are there any political issues – in Lithuania or in partner countries that could make it difficult to meet this deadline?
It is very important that we understand that this synchronization is a geopolitical project, that it is not just economic but also a policy. Until we synchronize the power networks with Europe, we are still in the electrical connections of the former Soviet Union. In fact, in order to become economically independent, we must be in the system of the European Union. For us, the best solution is to connect Poland to the continental European network. Lithuania is committed to this term, I hope that by June, we, all three Baltic countries, will sign an agreement on the synchronization; the fourth country will be Poland, and the fifth partner will be the European Commission. We expect that it will still be possible to use the current (EU) financial framework by 2020, we still have some financial resources available to start this project and we will try. We must act as soon as possible, because Russia is already beginning the discontinuation and we would like to make it, not be disconnected too early and not jeopardize our economy. We are very pleased that Poland is also involved in this project. We already have connections – Estonia has one line with Finland, and Lithuania with Sweden, but these are Nordic power networks, not a continental network. For us, the only route is the continental network through Poland. For this reason, we support the project and think that it is very important in geopolitical terms. It is the ultimate indicator of political and economic independence of the Baltic region.
The construction of the GIPL interconnector – are these plans facing any political barriers in Lithuania or Poland?
No. I think that it (the project) has full support, and for us, it is also an important project. Of course, we are now increasingly independent and generally less dependent on gas after – like Poland – we built an LNG terminal. I think that it was a good solution for both our countries to be less dependent on Gazprom. In fact, we can survive without Gazprom, but when we gained the LNG terminal, Gazprom reduced prices and now they are competitive. Sometimes, at small amounts (of gas), we choose Gazprom. In the case of this interconnector, it is also important for the Baltic states, due to the common gas market in Europe, to be connected to the EU through gas and electricity, and the only way is through Poland.
After the construction of the LNG terminal, which helped to reduce the price of Russian gas, some Lithuanian companies, however, buy gas from Gazprom. What is the position of the authorities in this matter?
The LNG Terminal has made Gazprom lower prices for everyone, for state and private companies. And because it is cheaper for everyone, no one intervenes and if a private company wants to buy from Gazprom, then please! The problem is that before the LNG terminal started operating, we had to pay 30 percent more than the Germans, and only because of LNG, Gazprom lowered its prices. Nobody, of course, dictates to private companies how to proceed, but LNG makes sense because it lowered prices for everyone.
This year, both Lithuania and Poland celebrate the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence in 1918. Do we need a fresh view of our relations in the 20th century?
I am glad that we had a long and, I think, quite successful story, between our countries. We had tremendous opportunities in 1918, our entire region, the five countries: three Baltic States, Finland and Poland. We had the chance to gain independence from the tsarist Russian regime, and we took every opportunity. Of course, we encountered some sensitive issues, but this is history. I think that the interests of our two countries and our neighbors lies in our future – in NATO and the European Union, as well as in friendship, because regardless of everything, you are our best, most friendly neighbor. I think that this is reflected in the opinions of our societies. In a poll last December, 62 percent Lithuanians said that Poland is our best partner. This is a great result. I hope that this will be confirmed in the tangible projects that we create together and that will help the Baltic states, the whole region, to deeper integration with Europe.
Our assessment of history and the assessment of threats with regard to Russia are very similar, and in matters of security we agree completely. I hope this will facilitate a friendly common future, no matter what sensitive issues were in the past. There will always be discussions about them – sometimes during my travels, I joke that usually the best relationships are with distant neighbors, because we have never had problems in the past. In turn, with close neighbors, it has sometimes been painful for both sides. In essence, the future really matters. We must evaluate our history, whatever happened, we were great nations together, with more or less successes, but we are still neighbors. The future depends only on us, on how much we want to build our successful future, and how much we want to live with the pain and memories of what was in the past.
After 1918, Lithuania was very isolated and very lonely. We now have many friends; as will be evident on February 16, all our neighbors will come, the neighbors who are friendly to us, have been invited, including Polish President Andrzej Duda, who will stay for an additional official visit. I welcome them all, and am very happy that we are friends, in our neighborhood, no matter how some politicians or some people would like it. I think we have a future ahead and it will be as good as we create it.
Anna Wróbel in Vilnius, in cooperation with: Aleksandra Akińczo, Wojciech Krzyczkowski.