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Lithuania Seeks U.S. Support Against Russian Aggression


The crisis in Ukraine has many of Russia's neighbors nervous, especially the three Baltic states - the only former Soviet Republics to have joined NATO. A high-level delegation from Lithuania is in Washington this week and the Lithuanian foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, is our guest today.

Welcome to the program.

LINAS LINKEVICIUS: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Lithuania is in NATO, Ukraine isn't. Do you see that as an assurance of Lithuanian independence and freedom from the kind of Russian interference the Ukrainians have seen?

LINKEVICIUS: It's obviously that in 2004 we made the right decisions joining the European Union, joining NATO. Now we can see that it's really very important and crisis in Ukraine now show that countries which are not belonging to these structures, they cannot be certain.

SIEGEL: Are you certain? Are Lithuanians certain?

LINKEVICIUS: Well, as a minister of foreign affairs, as somebody who takes part in these, you know, discussions, meetings and - I know that NATO military authorities are seriously working and I really have no reasons to doubt these guarantees provided by the alliance. But our people are nervous; this is also true.

SIEGEL: Do you feel nervous right now?

LINKEVICIUS: Me personally?

SIEGEL: Yes, yes - about Russia's...

LINKEVICIUS: I'm not nervous but I'm not relaxed. (Laughter) I'm not relaxed, I'm focused.

SIEGEL: Foreign Minister Linkevicius, how do you assess the West's response to the Ukrainian crisis?

LINKEVICIUS: What do you mean West, you know? Because...

SIEGEL: Well, let's say the United States?

LINKEVICIUS: The United States - easier to take decision because it's a national decision - you can take a decision and implement immediately. In EU we have 28 members. It takes time to discuss because sometimes different views, opinions, tactics and sometimes we are taking decisions too little, too late, you know?

SIEGEL: In the European Union.

LINKEVICIUS: Yeah. But - so we need and value and I would say, really value a leadership of the United States, which is desperately needed. And the biggest affect in strength when we are doing that is the coordination, in regard to the sanctions, for instance, which are now introduced by EU and United States. This is really efficient. It's not efficient if we are split.

SIEGEL: Lithuania is about to open a new floating liquefied natural gas terminal. I gather the name of it in Lithuanian is Independence.

LINKEVICIUS: Yeah, the ship called Independence.

SIEGEL: Yeah. And this is expected to liberate Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia from their status of being energy islands - overly dependent on Russia. But isn't it the case that Russian gas is here to stay? You can't conceivably bring in enough from Norway to make up for the Russians'. Isn't this a reality that everyone in the region has to somehow figure out how to deal with?

LINKEVICIUS: Liberation as you said - it's really not yet happening, but this is a big step towards that direction. There was never, ever, a gas market in this region and even after...

SIEGEL: I mean, it was a Russian monopoly.

LINKEVICIUS: ...Yeah, absolutely - 100 percent. So they immediately corrected a bit also prices, which also are part of the competition. And you're right. We already signed the contract with Statoil for five years.

SIEGEL: This is the Norwegian gas company.

LINKEVICIUS: Yeah, the Norwegian company, which will cover 20 percent, let's say, of our needs. But we need really more. Including, we will anticipate and expect the liberty of the gas from United States. That would be also a big contribution to the creation of a gas market, which is desperately needed in the region.

SIEGEL: Isn't Russia though going to remain a major gas supplier? I mean, there are long-term contracts with Europe which have not been subject to sanctions.

LINKEVICIUS: Russia will play in the market as an equal player. But if Russia will not have a monopoly, it will be more transparency - will be more competition, more efficiency. Which of course, those who have monopoly, they're reluctant to give up, you know, these rights. But this is not our problem, you know?

SIEGEL: When you think of what might be a normal relationship with your neighbor Russia...

LINKEVICIUS: You know...

SIEGEL: ...What's a realistic, positive outcome of this relationship?

LINKEVICIUS: Look at the map. Look at Lithuania - our size and this big, big neighbor. Definitely, we are those who would like to have normal, good relations. We do not have anything against Russia except when they're considering that something - some more decisions. For instance, joining NATO was against their national interest. Well, they should - used to know that there are rules in the world. Big values shouldn't be for the big guys and small values for the small guys. They should be really equal. So a big country definitely deserves to be an equal player, but on the foundation of that is some commitments.

What is the big disaster nowadays is that we're less and less talking about values and more and more about interests, and interests taking over at the expense of values in what we're doing. I believe it's very dangerous and it's really time to think about that and get back to the source of it and to rethink our strategy. I'm talking now generally - not only about this conflict, but about our general attitude, which is really quite symptomatic.

SIEGEL: Foreign Minister Linkevicius, thank you very much...


SIEGEL: ...For talking with us today.

Linas Linkevicius is the Foreign Minister of Lithuania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.