VILNIUS - Lithuania may be willing to host part of a U.S. missile defense system, President Valdas Adamkus said in an interview with the Argentinean newspaper La Nacion.
La Nacion quoted Adamkus as saying that Lithuania is not currently holding talks with Washington but would be prepared to cooperate if approached.
At a press conference earlier this month, President Adamkus said that if a missile defense agreement with Poland could not be reached, Lithuania would consider hosting elements of the missile defense shield.
Russia, which sees the plan as a threat to its national security, has threatened to increase military presence in the Kaliningrad region that borders Poland and Lithuania.
Russia may also build its own missile defense system in direct response to the U.S. plans. A spokesperson from the Russian Defense Ministry said, "It would be an entirely legitimate way of acting. If the U.S.A. is keen on expanding its military influence in Europe, we have the right to do the same."
The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry is defending their rights to set up a missile defense base of their own. They have plans to put the base in the Kaliningrad region or in Belarus. "If we see a nuclear missile from the U.S. then it will put us in danger and we will take any measures to neutralize that," Russian Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Sergei Kislyak said.
Experts are not surprised at Russia's reaction, and some say it may retaliate against nations that collaborate with the U.S. Arunas Molis, political analyst and lecturer at the Baltic Defense College, said, "I don't think the possibility of a direct attack is high, but there have already been impolite actions such as the cyber-attacks."
Molis warned that Russia has many tools at its disposal. "They could affect transport or energy for Lithuania, and this would be of little consequence to them," he said.
The Polish newspaper Polska has reported that the U.S. plans to install part of the defense system close to Palanga or Salcininkai, both of which are close to Kaliningrad region. U.S. officials have not confirmed these reports.
The U.S. contends that the missile defense program is needed to defend against potential strikes from Iran. Deals have already been made with the Czech Republic to host part of the system on its soil, but talks with Warsaw have stalled over the terms of the deal.
Adamkus has said that the location of the missile defense installation is unimportant to its function. Molis predicts that if talks with Poland and Lithuania are unsuccessful, the U.S. will approach Latvia and Estonia next. "It is just a radar station, and you can put it anywhere," Molis said.
Washington officials said they might look for another location in Eastern Europe if they don't reach an agreement with Poland. There have been weeks of speculation over the prospect of a deal with Lithuania.
Adamkus spoke to La Nacion while in Argentina as part of his South American tour to engage with Lithuanian descendents there. There are over 200,000 Lithuanian-Argentineans living in the country.