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Lithuania warns against 'self-imposed red lines' on Russia

March 14, 2024

In a DW interview, the Lithuanian prime minister called on Ukraine's allies to maintain a credible deterrent to Russia. She said an investigation is ongoing into a recent attack on a Russian dissident in Vilnius.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (l) und German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (r) in Berlin
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (l) criticized Ukraine's Western allies for imposing 'self-imposed red lines' rather than presenting a credible, united deterrent to Vladimir Putin's 'imperialist ambitions'Image: dts-Agentur/picture alliance

The prime minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Simonyte, met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Thursday after German lawmakers again voted against supplying long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine.

After the meeting, Simonyte told DW that the debate on sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine was for the German government to decide. But she criticized Ukraine's Western allies for imposing "self-imposed red lines" rather than presenting a credible, united deterrent to Vladimir Putin's "imperialist ambitions."

"Our problem is that we are very predictable for Russia and Putin because we constantly tell them what we are not going to do and we impose red lines on ourselves, but Putin does not have any red lines," she said.

Lithuanian PM meets Chancellor Scholz in Berlin

NATO: Lithuania demands credible Article 5 deterrent

On the bigger picture of Russia's overall threat to NATO and Europe, Simonyte pointed out that "Putin has declared that he's prepared for a long-term confrontation with NATO." 

She added that the Kremlin's worldview poses a serious danger to the NATO countries bordering Russia and Belarus, such as Lithuania, and called for a credible deterrent.

"We need to stick to ambitious levels of defense spending and we need military personnel which is combat ready along the NATO border with Russia," she said. "We have to ensure that it is not only us who trust in Article 5, but Putin, too."

Lithuania, which shares an eastern border with Russia's ally Belarus and a southwestern border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, formed part of the Soviet Union between 1944 and 1990. 

It is currently a member both of the European Union and NATO — to which it contributes 2.54% of its GDP, the fourth highest in the alliance and one of only 11 member states which hit the 2% target last year.

Lithuania welcomes German troops

Germany is one of those countries which has been criticized for failing to meet its NATO obligations in recent years, but Prime Minister Simonyte praised Berlin's efforts to readdress that shortfall since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"Germany is doing a lot, in comparison to other countries, both bilaterally and through EU structures," she said, welcoming the recent decision to permanently station 4,000 Bundeswehr troops in Lithuania as "crucial."

Germany to station troops in Lithuania

"The brigade in Lithuania is one of the elements of the deterrence and it's very important," she said.

"There is very high percentage of support among Lithuanian society for an increased German presence. I think approximately 90% would find it very good news and very important for our security and deterrence."

Russia behind attack on Navalny aid Volkov, says Lithuanian intelligence

Earlier Thursday, Lithuanian intelligence services said they believed a hammer attack Tuesday night on an exiled top aide to the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Vilnius was the "work of Russian special services."

Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Navalny, was briefly admitted to hospital with a broken arm and other injuries after being repeatedly struck with a hammer outside his home in the Lithuanian capital.

"It seems to be the work of the Russian special services, apparently done through some recruited person," Lithuanian intelligence chief Darius Jauniskis told reporters on Thursday, backing up a previous statement which had said the attack was likely "organized by Russia."

Simonyte said investigations were ongoing and cautioned against making "far-reaching conclusions out of one incident."

Putin critic Volkov defiant after attack

Nevertheless, she said, "we all know that things like that unfortunately happen, also in other countries, sometimes with even more dire consequences."

Simonyte said the fact that many political refugees from Russia and Belarus live in the Baltic states puts "an additional burden on the government and the institutions to ensure the maximum extent we can the security of those people." 

The prime minister said Lithuanian institutions will be "fast and good" in investigating the details of the case, and would "definitely adopt extra measures for those people to feel more secure." 

However, she added that individuals also need to pay special attention to their own personal security.

Written with material from AFP and Reuters news agencies

Edited by: Wesley Rahn