U.S. action supported by Baltics

  • 2001-10-11
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - The Baltic states have declared support for the attacks launched by the United States and Great Britain in Afghanistan on Oct. 7 in retaliation for September's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Estonia's outgoing President Lennart Meri sent a message to U.S. President George W. Bush on the night of Oct. 7-8 expressing Estonia's approval.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said Oct. 8 that the United States had no choice but to react. Not doing so would allow terrorism to thrive unchecked, she said.

While Latvia has so far not been asked to take an active role in the military actions, it is cooperating to the extent of its abilities by carrying out border checks, exchanging information and conducting financial investigations, she said.

Shortly after the first strikes in Afghanistan, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis appeared on Lithuanian national TV to say that Lithuania absolutely supported U.S. and British action against terrorism and was ready to help its Western allies. But, he added, "It is unlikely that Washington will ask for our direct military involvement because of our geopolitical situation."

Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius told the Baltic News Service, "Lithuania's stance remains unchanged, and if there are any requests or a specific interest, Lithuania is ready to give it serious thought."

In case U.S. and British activities in Afghanistan created gaps in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Lithuania might increase its presence there, said Linkevicius.

At the end of September the Lithuanian government granted long-term permission for U.S. aircraft to use its airspace and to land at Lithuanian airports in the framework of the anti-terrorist campaign.

President Valdas Adamkus reiterated Lithuania's support, as did a number of major Lithuanian political parties, including Christian Democrat leader Kazys Bobelis, who told The Baltic Times he expected the action to be a success. "I do not expect the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan will take much time," he said. "It is a pity terrorists have attacked the mediators in the Middle East peace process. I think the West is trying to be neutral in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a pity that Ariel Sharon, known as a radical extremist, came to power in Israel. But I admire the position of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Only negotiations, not guns, can solve that problem."

Among the wider public, sympathies are clearly with the United States. "I feel I'm an American now," said Arturas Andriusaitis, a volunteer in the Lithuanian army during the anti-Soviet struggle of 1991 who has never been to the United States. "I would join the U.S. Army if I had the chance."

Lithuania reinforced its eastern border with Belarus in response to the increase in flows of illegal immigrants following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has recommended travelers postpone trips to Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins said Latvia had increased controls on cargo and people crossing its borders and had heightened security at a number of locations.

An anti-terrorism working group established prior to the attacks is developing an anti-terrorism plan, set to be accepted by the government on Oct. 16.