Marija Golubeva: Hello, and welcome to CEPA Forum 2023, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. I’m Marija Golubeva, I’m a Distinguished Fellow at CEPA, and today we’re here in Vilnius with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis. So Mr. Landsbergis, my first question concerns Lithuanians’ great interest in the Three Seas Initiative. Just for our listeners, the Three Seas Initiative is about connecting the countries that border the Baltic, the Black and the Adriatic Sea, and which are on the borders of EU and NATO. So it’s about connectivity, but it’s also about security. How do you see the role of this initiative in increasing transatlantic security?
Gabrielius Landsbergis: I think that to start off, it’s good to know that even though the initiative has been announced before the huge geopolitical changes in our region, after last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, the need for closer integration in Central and Eastern Europe manifests itself even more vividly. Meaning that we need more connectors and infrastructure build-up to connect our countries. You know, just a couple of examples like green export from Ukraine, we’re seeing what kind of railway bottlenecks are forming, in order to assist Ukraine when the Black Sea is being blocked. I’m not sure though, whether all of these elements have been in mind or in the minds of the architects who thought of the policy and the initiative. But apparently, we needed to go ahead. To add to that, I think that it’s incredibly important so that at least this initiative is not just for European countries, that we’re adding also associated members such as Ukraine and Moldova, because connecting them to our energy, road railway network, into European network, is incredibly important also due to the geopolitical changes in the region.
Golubeva: Indeed. And speaking of those, of course, Ukraine and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, is the key challenge. And the question is after Europe has pledged at the moment about 15 billion in a new aid package under the Ukraine facility. Lithuania has recently pledged 41 million, which per capita is a huge contribution, and Lithuania is one of the leaders worldwide in terms of military aid to Ukraine, in terms of per capita. What else can we do to help Ukraine win?
Landsbergis: Well, first of all, there is no bigger element in Ukraine’s victory as weapons deliveries. What we’re seeing unfortunately, I think it merits to be said that, we are seeing a bit of a slowdown, a bit of more administrative, in some cases bureaucratic, approach to Ukrainian needs. We’ll get mired in discussions and debates as to what actually needs. If we think at the beginning, you know, the urgency when Ukraine was just attacked, and how many meetings and how political the meetings were, it was way, I would say, more efficient, you know, the push was much stronger. We need this now. We need this now for Ukraine to achieve its victory. Therefore, first of all, you know, we need to change the narrative when we say, you know, that we will stay with Ukraine as long as needed. But if we’re not saying how long is it needed, how long it might be needed, it doesn’t say much.
We have to admit that we need Ukrainian victory. Otherwise, we’ll be giving a victory to Putin, which in turn is a nightmare, not just for Ukraine, but for the region, for us, for Latvia, for Lithuania, for other countries in our neighborhood, but also globally it will send repercussions. So first of all, we need to go back to the urgency that we had and then send everything that we can. Now, what is needed today, what is needed tomorrow, and I think that over the last year, Ukrainians have been asking for long-range rockets that could reach and stop Russian military supplies into the occupied regions, that had to be sent, that has to be sent now.
Golubeva: Indeed, and do you have a feeling that the attitude in most countries in Europe and North America is currently on track for having that?
Landsbergis: Sending you mean, well, there are messages coming from Washington that the mood might be changing. I truly hope that it will change. I truly hope that it will change, and it will not change too late. Until Ukraine would find itself in a situation where they’re no longer being able to push forward. So they need it now.
Golubeva: So by changing moods, you mean that deliveries will get faster?
Landsbergis: I’ll answer that in two parts. First of all, we are seeing a lack of urgency, or slowing of urgency, of sense of urgency when it comes to supporting Ukraine. There are not so many, you know, good news coming from the capitals in the West that would signal that additional batches of armaments are being sent to Ukraine. But on the other hand what we’re seeing is that, for example, messages about the possible sending of ATACMS from the United States would truly be encouraging news. We’re hoping that it’s not too late, that the decision will not come too late.
Golubeva: And you mentioned repercussions of any possible gains made by Russia, negative repercussions that are relevant also for the rest of the world, not just for Ukraine. But that probably meaning also this region here, the Baltic and the Nordic states. So in your opinion, what are the key crucial challenges at the moment while the war in Ukraine is still going on, which are the other key challenges for the security of the Nordic-Baltic region?
Landsbergis: Well, I would revert the clock back in that every incursion that Russia had in this neighborhood, it always had the repercussions for the future. And with every incursion, the repercussions were greater. 2008 led to 2014. 2014 led to 2022. So in case the, you know, it would become frozen conflict or Ukrainians would be forced, due to lack of deliveries and weapons, would be forced to you know, to sue for peace or negotiate some sort of a ceasefire, it would definitely have even stronger repercussions for the future. So, the question that will remain: what kind, where, how strong, and who would be in most danger? And I think that this should be put very strictly on the table. Then countries like Georgia, Moldova, would be coming under increased pressure. The whole region of the Black Sea I think would be in peril because now the Black Sea basically is under control. There’s no free navigation in the Black Sea.
What was supposedly could have been a free sea for any country’s navigation, you know, coming in and going back, now with quite a big group of NATO countries around it, now it’s a sea that is basically under Russian control. It gives you an idea, you know, could it happen in the Baltic Sea? You know, imagine Russian exercises somewhere in international waters in the middle of the Baltic Sea, limiting our navigation, limiting, you know, LNG inflows into terminals in Finland or Lithuania. So truly it is a very worrying, it would be a very worrying development, and worrying is a diplomatic phrase. And I think it’s a very important time also to talk about this, really to remind of the mood that was, for example, in 2008, when President Sarkozy believed that he managed to secure peace in Georgia, after talks with President Putin. But it was not so. Minsk, one, Minsk two, also people believed that this will bring peace, it did not. So there is no reason to believe that without Ukraine winning, there would be peace. And then we need, at least at this point, we need to speak up.
Golubeva: You mentioned the possibility of hybrid threats in the Baltic Sea area, mentioning, for example, Russian exercises. We also see, of course, hybrid threats from Belarus at the moment, at the borders of the Baltic States and Poland. Do you think, though it’s rather obvious that we need to stay united as NATO, especially the Nordic-Baltic flank of NATO in view of all of these potential threats or existing threats, do you see some good new chances for transatlantic unity to get stronger? Or do you see some alarming trends as well?
Landsbergis: I think that we’re still being tested. We managed, as a transatlantic community, we managed to withstand the first test. Maybe Putin hoped that the initial invasion would immobilize us, freeze us in our position, you know, incapable of making decisions. Now the question is, how long can we resist that? After resisting for one and a half years, when in a moment where we are actually getting tired, faster than Ukrainians themselves. And it is a test for transatlantic unity. Obviously, the question is whether we’re able to tackle one additional point of instability globally. And I think it’s incredible to see that even though Ukraine is of paramount importance to Europe, and globally as well, but there are other points of inflection forming, you know, take the Sahel, with military coups, you know, appearing regularly now. It’s, you know, it would be difficult to say that, but it’s a regular event.
Golubeva: In Africa. [Inaudible]
Landsbergis: Yes. And again, you know, there is a need for assistance and preparation and a strategic mindset, on how to tackle that, because it can become a huge problem for Europe, for the African continent. And I would not stop there. Also, you know, we have a simmering Cold War, in the Indo-Pacific, which is, you know, it’s manifesting itself already. And clearly, the challenges that might arise out of this would be, you know, on par with what we’re seeing now currently in Europe. And for all that, you know, we would need to stay united, we would need to have enough trust between the partners and allies in order to withstand, you know, geopolitical pressures, here in Europe and elsewhere.
Golubeva: So let us hope that unity holds, as also our commitment to Ukraine.
Golubeva: Thank you very much. Thank you for tuning into this conversation on CEPA Forum, Winning the War, Winning the Peace, and you’re welcome to look up other conversations, and the list of upcoming speakers, and the agenda, on cepa.org. As well as follow CEPA on social media #CEPAForum.