VILNIUS - Lithuania has learned from Russia's invasion of Georgia and is ready to counter any attacks, Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said.
"We are better prepared to counter attacks than was the case with our friends in Georgia," Olekas told MPs Sept. 15.
President Valdas Adamkus disagrees, telling the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he believes the Caucasus state was the just start of Russia's long-term plans.
"If some crazy Russians planned an intrusion into our country, the occupation would be a matter of a few minutes," he said. Adamkus is also commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
"When you have long-term plans, you have to start somewhere," Adamkus said of Russia's actions in the two small Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The Lithuanian president said the plans would first involve the autonomous Ukrainian republic of Crimea, then the Baltic states and later the southern portion of the Caucasus.
Citizens of Lithuania have similar fears. A poll in Veidas magazine revealed that every fourth resident of Lithuania's largest cities believes that Russia represents a real military threat to Lithuania.
The same poll showed, however, that 38 percent of respondents think economic sanctions from the Kremlin were more likely than military action.
Olekas moved to quell fears, saying that bolstered defenses were enough. "The capacity to protect the homeland lies not within the quantity of soldiers or the number of people in frontier zones," he added.
Together with help from NATO partners, Lithuania's strategy is not to prepare to defend an occupied region, but to prevent occupation altogether, the minister noted, stressing the need to enhance collective defense. "Only then will we all be stronger," Olekas said.
Political analysts have been critical of Germany in particular for taking a soft stance on Russia following the Georgia conflict. Germany receives gas from Russia at affordable prices, but Adamkus says he holds no grudges for this.
"I respect Germany's desire for cheaper and safer energy, and this is the background of the deal with Russia. But this definitely does not serve our interests and our needs. Unfortunately, you just have to accept reality," Adamkus said.
Adamkus expressed his belief that international politics are moving in the direction of Russian expansion and hopes that the global community would resist such such a shift.
The Lithuanian leader said that Russia's conduct was the result of a nostalgia among its leaders for the vast Soviet empire.
"We see much proof of the growing admiration of the collapsed Soviet system," Adamkus said.
"The Kremlin does nothing to say, 'We live in the 21st century, we want all parts of a global, integrated, creative, peaceful world,'" Adamkus added.