VILNIUS – The West does not see Russia's war in Ukraine as an immediate threat, waiting for a Pearl Harbor-like shock to happen, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Tuesday.
Lithuania's top diplomat drew the parallel to Japan's surprise attack in 1941, when the death of over 2,400 American soldiers prompted the US to enter World War II, during a discussion at a foreign policy forum in Berlin.
"We still aren't allowing the thought that this war is about us – not in a value description, you know, we fight because it's right, because it's a righteous war – but strategically that this affects us and that Russia is trying to undermine the West. That would mean that if Ukraine is unable to withstand, it will be our loss," he said.
Landsbergis said that Western nations are "not open and candid enough" about what the Russia-Ukraine war really means and suggested that this could be due to "the fear of escalation".
"In many cases we try to portray this as a regional, still far away geographically issue that might not affect us all. This is a major policy issue that should drive the debate," the minister said.
"As a person who is interested in history, what I am fearing is that we're waiting for Perl Harbor to happen," Landsbergis said.
"We have passed all the stages already and we're like Perl Harbor has not happened, so we're fine. We're not fine," he added.
In his words, it’s a matter of time when "when the really really hard decisions will need to be made" and whether "we will be ready for them".
"If you were sure and your electorate was sure that this is already Perl Harbor happening, you would send everything you have in order for it really not to happen, to defend yourself, to defend Berlin, to defend Vilnius, to defend the borders and in extension, to defend Kyiv in the same way you'd defend your own country," the Lithuanian foreign minister said.
Landsbergis and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock opened the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2023 on Tuesday.
In his speech, Landsbergis said that the crises in different parts of the world were linked because they "are all useful for those who benefit from chaos and dismantling of the rules-based international order".
The situation in Ukraine and the reaction of the West are also being watched by other non-democratic leaders to see how they would react if they decided to "to fix a border here and there" or to resolve a minority issue.
„If we were able to help Ukraine win and restore the order, that would send a very strong signal that this is not the way to go, that even Russia was stopped, even a permanent Security Council member was stopped in Ukraine because of the coordinated efforts. So you shouldn't try that elsewhere. If we're unable to do that, I am worried that we're opening the gates for instability for quite a while," Landsbergis said.
The two ministers also discussed security and defense issues, including the deployment of Germany's brigade in Lithuania, and support for Ukraine, the EU enlargement and other topics.
In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Berlin has committed to relocating a military brigade to Lithuania by 2027. In turn, Vilnius has pledged to put in place the necessary infrastructure for the deployment.
Speaking about the brigade deployment, Landsbergis said it’s viewed by Lithuania as "a strategic decision, a strategic change", and compared to the then US President George W. Bush's 2002 speech in Vilnius and his promise that "anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America".
Referring to the fact that the promise was inscribed on the wall of Vilnius City Hall, Landsbergis said he believed that "the German decision to send brigade should also find itself on the Town Hall because it's that important".
For her part, Baerbock said that as one of the strongest countries in the EU, Germany feels it must take responsibility for the security of others, just as it once did for its own.
„And this means also bringing the brigade to Lithuania. This means engaging heavily in the support of Ukraine, and this means also now in the Middle East not to say we cannot do anything because there's a big storm also in our own society, but doing the things that we believe that we can help to bring peace one day also to the Middle East," the German minister said.
She also stressed that, despite the German top court's ruling that the government had violated the borrowing brake rule enshrined in the country's constitution and that public debt cannot exceed 0.35 percent of the country's GDP, Germany would honor its commitments on the brigade and its support to Ukraine.
"The defense minister and I made that it very clear that we will not cut on the support to Ukraine because, as my colleague has said, this is not only a question of our own security," she said, adding that it's an investment in Germany's own security and the future of the rules-based world order.
Lithuania has consistently expressed support for Ukraine's EU membership in international forums.
In mid-November, the European Commission recommended that the EU start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, and grant candidate status to Georgia. The proposal has yet to be approved by the bloc's leaders.