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Lithuanian Foreign Minister: 'West has not yet dared to say what the goal of war in Ukraine is for it'

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: 'West has not yet dared to say what the goal of war in Ukraine is for it' Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

In an interview with RBC-Ukraine, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis talks about how the West can help Ukraine more, why Europe is talking about the possibility of direct Russian aggression, and about deterring Russia and a new Cold War.

Despite its relatively small size and population, Lithuania occupies a prominent place among all of Ukraine's Western partners. The Baltic country has already allocated more than 1% of its GDP for various assistance to Ukraine and is one of the leaders in the entire Western coalition.

RBC-Ukraine spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis, during his regular visit to Ukraine, the eighth during the full-scale war with Russia. For a diplomat, Landsbergis is very specific in his messages. In particular, he opposes the wording commonly used in the West concerning Ukraine - he calls for assistance not 'as long as it takes' but 'until victory, whatever it takes'.

"I find it quite cynical for some of the Western experts to contemplate whether Ukrainians are successful or not. Every time I say: look, there's no need to discuss Ukraine at this point. You did everything that you could with everything that we've given you. The only question is, could we have given more?" says the head of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. And he answers: of course, the West could have given Ukraine more.

In addition, Landsbergis suggests that some Western politicians are driven by a possible fear of Russia's defeat and what might happen afterward. However, the Lithuanian diplomat urges not to speculate on whether the collapse of the Russian Federation could happen, but instead calls on the West to immediately engage in a strategy of deterrence and defense against Russia - then peace in Europe will be possible.

On your way to Kyiv, you told the reporters that you would discuss some possible scenarios for Ukraine this year and how to avoid some difficult ones. So what exact scenarios for this year do you see: optimistic, realistic, pessimistic ones?

You know, I like the phrase that war is a combination of will and logistics. So, Ukrainians clearly showed that you have will. That is for certain. I don't think that there's a sole doubt in your conviction and possibility to push back on the invading force. The only remaining question is the logistics. And, obviously, you depend very much on the Western assistance which has been on the slower side lately.

So we would like to avoid a scenario where Ukraine, having all the possibilities to defeat Russians, would be unable to do that or slow the effort just because we cannot reassure that the guns, equipment, ammunition, shells, whatever is needed is reaching the front. So mostly, to make it very simple, the main question is: what do you need? What is the most pressing need? And how can we achieve that? Lithuania unfortunately does not have a huge industry of our own, but we can try to persuade some of our friends to look into this more.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: 'West has not yet dared to say what the goal of war in Ukraine is for it'Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

And what's behind all these delays or hesitance? Is it only because of some technical problems? Or is it a signal of a lack of a real political will and motivation of part of the Western coalition to give us what we need?

Honestly, I think that the culprit of the problem, the center of the problem, is that the West has not yet dared to say what the goal of the war in Ukraine is for it. And as one of the ways to process, I've used this: not 'as long as it takes' (to support Ukraine, - ed.), but 'until victory, whatever it takes'. By defining the goal, then you define the means to achieve the goal. If you don't have the goal, then you will not know what is needed. Why cannot we define the goal? You know, some say that it could be fear. Fear of Russia. Or what would happen if Russia loses.

How many of your colleagues are afraid of any 'disintegration of Russia' with some unpredictable consequences?

Honestly, I don't know. I mean, when it comes to the conversations that we're having in Brussels or whatever, everybody is still rather united. Obviously, there are changes. There have been elections here and there. But I don't see somebody declaring (their fear - ed.). It's a hypothesis. And we've been there. Lithuania was the first country to break away from the Soviet Union. And when we did it, when we declared our independence we were asked not to do it, to go back. Publicly.

Because 'something bad may happen'?

Yeah. I mean, "Can you imagine the Soviet Union breaking apart? Such an unimaginable perception. And, you know, we cannot let this happen". It happened. We're here, we're independent, we're part of the EU and NATO. And I'm sure that the same way that the Soviet Union could have broken apart and it did break apart, the same way Russia can lose.

According to a popular opinion in the Western media, one can say that now Ukraine has lost the initiative in the war and will probably have to spend all of 2024 on the defensive, to try to carry out another counteroffensive, probably in 2025. First, do you agree with this opinion? And secondly, have you heard similar assessments from your colleagues? Not from the experts, not from the media, but from decision makers from other NATO countries?

The war is really in many ways about bullets. It's about the people but if people are there, later on, it's about the bullets. If you don't have the bullets, it's very difficult to keep on pushing. And this is the biggest problem. I find it quite cynical for some Western experts to contemplate whether Ukrainians are successful or not. Every time I say: look, there's no need to discuss Ukraine at this point. You did everything that you could with everything that we've given you. The only question is, could we have given more?

And you could?

And we could, obviously. And if we could have and if we did that probably you would have achieved more. That is as simple as it gets. So it's difficult to predict now with everything that you currently have, and with the slow stream of what is reaching you currently, what achievements could happen on a battlefield. You know, there is another problem: Russians are producing (weaponry, - ed.). And if somebody hopes that the Russians are stopped and sanctions did everything - I'm not quite sure about this. I think that we need additional efforts. And the effort is needed by the West.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: 'West has not yet dared to say what the goal of war in Ukraine is for it'Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

The same applies to all these talks about 'freezing of the conflict', or 'diplomatic solution', or 'negotiations'. In your opinion, who or what is the primary source of all these narratives? May it be the inner desire of a certain part of the Western establishment to end this war at any cost?

It's definitely not the first time this is happening. And it's definitely worrying. I will talk about this every single time where I have the possibility: Putin is not going to stop unless he's stopped. The only way to stop him is to win the war in Ukraine. And that is the only way to be sure that his expansionist idea is halted, maybe not stopped forever because who knows, we cannot read the future, but at least halted. Otherwise, we have to start the clock until next time. And this is where it becomes really dangerous. It becomes really dangerous for Ukraine, but then it becomes dangerous for everybody else. It could be Moldova, Georgia, or even the Baltic states. And look, the Norwegian chief of defense says: you know, we have to be prepared for an actual war.

So this is not just empty rhetoric, is it? I mean Rob Bauer's (Chair of the NATO Military Committee, - ed.) comments, the Swedish minister's comments, and so on. So, is the Western establishment starting to understand that there is a real threat?

Yes. Definitely. There is a change. And it's happening even in my own country. I would say that it starts in those countries that have a border with Russia and history with Russia. This is a new sort of awakening. I mean, in 2022 we were shocked into war. But the idea was that it could be contained by Ukraine.

Like, 'it started in Ukraine and it will end up here'.

Yes. Russia can lose in Ukraine. We just need equipment and there was quite a lot of optimism. I remember just a year ago when Leopards were not there yet. But everybody was saying it was possible, HIMARSes were delivered, howitzers were delivered, many things were delivered. So it's possible to get other things going and pushing. It'll be good. Now everybody's awakening once more to an actual reality. What if Russia is not contained?

What has triggered this 'new awakening'?

Putin's enthusiasm. It's really when you see a person like him, he's confident he has time. He doesn't care about the people. And the understanding that the war is not somewhere far away. For Nordics, Baltics, Poland, Romania. These are the countries where the war is just there.

But what about, say, Portugal? Spain? France? Is there a difference between you and them?

Too early to tell. Because, look, two months ago almost no one was speaking about this, that the real war could come to NATO. There was very little debate about this. Now you would see more and more countries, you mentioned Sweden, the same debate in Poland, the same debate in Estonia. The German Minister of Defense said: 5 to 7 years, you have to be prepared for the war. That's coming from Germany. And it's a center-left party. It's a rather strong statement when you think of it. So I mean we see a shift and where it will stop, we'll see.

Do you believe that a stable peace in Europe may be achieved with the current political regime still being in the Kremlin, or does it necessarily require the change of this regime or perhaps the disintegration of Russia as a state or other scenarios?

I'm trying not to go into scenarios where we don't have instruments. Some might say, okay, Ukraine wins and maybe there's a disintegration of Russia. I mean, we don't know, maybe it won't. But we want to win in Ukraine, not because of disintegration (of Russia, - ed.), we want to restore what's properly Ukrainian to Ukraine. And whatever happens to Russia, this is their problem. Not ours. So the way that I'm answering this question is that it is possible to have a peaceful Europe. That is to have a strategy on how to defend itself from Russia. So we need a capable, adequate strategy. First of all, to contain the threat and be ready to defend.

Somebody will say, okay, but this was the Cold War. Yeah, Cold War. Some of us were occupied, but then those who were not did not have an active war. It was a containment strategy. It cost. I mean, peace sometimes does cost. And then freedom is not free. The same goes here.

So, I believe that we need to look into these scenarios and not think so much about what's going to happen with Russia. I mean, the regime could stay. It could stay for 10 years or 20 years. It could change and become even more hostile. So we have to be prepared, ready to defend ourselves. And honestly, I don't see Europe being peaceful without the full transatlantic integration of Ukraine.

Is the European establishment ready for this Cold War 2.0?

I think we are discovering that it is already there. Putin's war is not a regional war. It's not against Ukraine, it's against Europe, it's against the West. And the sooner we realize this, the sooner we start preparing for it, adequately preparing. If it comes to this, we would start calling this a Cold War 2.0 or any other way, it would be the war that we did not choose. It is not our thinking, not our strategy. It was forced on us.

And more and more colleagues in particular from Western European countries, come to realize and understand this as well as you already do, is that correct?

There was a really a flow of military people, and politicians speaking exactly the same things like, we might awaken to the new reality, that war. You know, the war might choose us. We're not choosing war, but it might choose us, and we have to be ready. And this is the awakening. Again, it's a bit too early to say what it will lead to. I would expect that my country, as well as others in the region, will start changing and adapting, learning from the war in Ukraine because the lessons that we can learn now are being paid with the highest price.

And we have to learn. We have to do what we can to assist you, but also to defend ourselves because it can escalate.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister: 'West has not yet dared to say what the goal of war in Ukraine is for it'Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

Western financial aid to Ukraine. Can we hope that all the problems will be solved at the summit on February 1?

We are hearing good signals. You know that some of the vetoes are being lifted and more agreements are being made. What does that mean? Ukraine does have a tremendously capable foreign diplomatic system. Your people wherever I travel are really capable professionals, they're doing a tremendous job. So I have trust that it's possible to expect this. But as many times before, let's keep champagne in the fridge until things are really done and signed. Then we can open the champagne.

What about the U.S. and the current delay in delivering American aid due to the situation in Congress and the election process? So how do you assess these risks? And in the worst possible scenario, will Europe be capable of providing Ukraine with enough financial and military aid on its own?

I do hope that for Europe's sake, Europe will do what it can. That's in our interest.

Future NATO summit in Washington. Can we hope for any real progress for Ukraine compared with the Vilnius summit? Political invitation to NATO?

Currently, it is very difficult to tell. We have to see. There will be milestones along the way, we'll see what is possible to achieve.

It took Lithuania four years from the start of the negotiations on accession to the EU to join the EU. Will Ukraine's path toward the EU last the same amount of time, may it be longer or quicker?

It's hard to tell. It's a bit of guesswork, right? So we don't know. I mean, many people did not expect that you would manage to achieve what you achieved in December. Not for the political reasons in Europe, but the way that you presented yourselves. I mean, you managed while fighting the war to achieve the best result from all the candidate states. So you've proven once again that you're able and, if that continues, we will see really good results. It depends on your preparedness and effort but then again we have political processes in Brussels which are difficult to prognose.