Speaking to CNN in Washington on Tuesday, Landsbergis also said his country is seeking a permanent US troop presence, calling it “the biggest deterrent to an aggressor like Russia,” as well as enhanced support from NATO at next month’s leaders’ summit in Madrid.
Lithuania has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since the war began more than two months ago and pushed for a strong response to counter Russia, becoming the first EU country to stop Russian gas imports.
So far, Landsbergis said, the United States and European allies have focused on their “tactical approach” to the war in Ukraine, in response to developments on the ground.
However, the foreign minister stressed that they also need to think strategically about the long-term — and until Putin and his backers are gone, the world needs to prepare because Russia “may fight again, not exclude NATO countries.”
“There are countries that expect that we just have to wait for the war to end and kind of wait for the war to end and then go back to business as usual,” said Landsbergis, noting that “Russia is out of the civilized world order… they no longer belong to this.”
“The state of war in Russia will end when the regime ends in Russia. This is the only way we see it,” he said.
Landsbergis did not suggest that the West take concrete measures to remove Putin from power and acknowledged that “it may take some time for that to change, because we don’t have any effective means to change it. So it must change from within…”
Moreover, Landsbergis made clear that it will not be enough just because Putin is no longer leading Russia because it is a “complete system”.
“Putin may be ill, he may be pushed aside by his inner circle – who may be completely dissatisfied with the losses on the battlefield – but this does not mean that the regime or its attitude will change, the attitude towards war-mongering will change,” he said, saying that it is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. .
“Who is he explaining that to? His audience? Well, they need no explanation,” the foreign minister said, referring to the Russian public’s approval of the invasion. “We? You know, we don’t believe him. I mean, we know the facts, you know, we’ve known them all along.”
“So I think he’s explaining that to his circle…people who might lose faith in him. So he has to nudge them that this was a good decision,” Landsbergis said.
The chief Lithuanian diplomat predicted that Putin would “become more and more paranoid about whom he trusts, and he will feel that there is more and more resentment around him due to losses on the battlefield, and this may make his steps–especially within the (inner) circle–more skewed.”
Such erratic behavior could lead him to hit one of the NATO countries, which is why “NATO decisions are so vital for countries like Lithuania” – one of the NATO countries that is geographically closest to Russia.
“We have to know we’re protected,” Landsbergis said.
Addressing such security concerns was a major topic in his meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday in Washington, Landsbergis told CNN, and it will be the focus of discussions with NATO leaders to discuss the east side at the Madrid summit in June.
Landsbergis said Lithuania wants a permanent U.S. troop presence on the “Swalki Pass” — which lies on the Lithuanian-Polish border and connects Belarus to Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad — and a permanent U.S. troop presence, and the possibility of an Allied dispatch brigade-level deployment. Landsbergis also said that Lithuania is pursuing integrated air defense capabilities, similar to Israel’s Iron Dome.
Landsbergis told CNN that his country did not get a clear answer from Washington about its position on the permanent presence of US forces, but hopes there will be consensus when NATO meets next month.
Ahead of that summit, Landsbergis said it was important for the world to face a “looming food crisis” as a result of the war, describing it as a “huge problem that is just beginning to reveal itself.”
“This is where this global coalition needs to put in a lot of effort,” he said.
“One of the things that could be done, and I think the main thing that should be done, is to provide the possibility for the Ukrainians to export wheat and maize through the port of Odessa and to provide a security corridor if needed. That could be the countries affected by the food crisis,” Landsbergis told CNN. Take Egypt.
He said he did not expect NATO itself to play a role in providing a security corridor, but “I would not rule out the fact that perhaps some NATO countries would participate in this, along with broader allies, with countries directly affected by this.”
“That’s because if you see the list of countries that used to buy food products from Ukraine, which are now in a vulnerable position, take Turkey, take Egypt, even Iran – and I don’t expect Iran to join the effort – there are still tens of millions of people who will be in a vulnerable position, Some of them will suffer because of food prices and shortages.”
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