VILNIUS – Even without the incursion of the Russian armed forces, Ukraine is already under attack, therefore, the European Union should start considering sanctions for the Kremlin, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Monday.
"Ukraine has already been attacked, therefore, we should now start speaking about sanctions, without waiting for a military attack," the minister told reporters ahead of an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels.
In his words, having massed thousands of its troops near Ukraine's borders, Moscow is putting both economic and security pressure on Kyiv. Europe doesn't need to wait for actual attack by Russian troops, Landsbergis says, adding possible response can be agreed and applied now already.
"Putin is not drawing any red lines on his attack, therefore, we should not be drawing any red lines on our sanctions," Landsbergis said, asked about possible sanctions for the energy sector.
"Our government has given a mandate that everything should remain on the table," he added.
There will always be room for diplomacy, but "the aggressor has to show intention to withdraw", according to the minister.
Based on US data, Moscow has amassed up to 150,000 troops and military equipment near Ukraine's borders.
Landsbergis said after the Foreign Affairs Council's meeting that the EU could offer Kyiv" additional steps" towards integration into the bloc.
"Especially now, to show Putin is not frightening Ukraine, and has not frightened EU," he said.
The Lithuanian minister added that there had been "voices of support", but did not name the countries.
'OCCUPATION OF BELARUS'
Landsbergis said, among other things, that the situation in Belarus "is changing dramatically".
"Belarus allows using its territory for Russia's military action, and we should also speak about sanctions for the Belarusian regime," Lithuania's top diplomat said.
Landsbergis said new sanctions could target the potash fertilizer and petroleum products sectors.
In his words, next Sunday's referendum aimed at eliminating Belarus' "military neutrality" to allow Russian troops to remain there indefinitely is also worrying.
On Sunday, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said the joint Belarusian-Russian army drills, which had been scheduled to end on February 20, would continue.
The minister said in a statement that the decision was due to increased military activity along the Belarusian and Russian borders and because of an escalation in eastern Ukraine. He did not give an end date for the exercise.
According to the US, Russia has sent more than 30,000 troops for the war games in Belarus.
Landsbergis said it was changing not only Ukraine's security situation, but also that of the Baltic states and Poland.
"We have to admit that what we're seeing is a very slow occupation of the Belarusian territory and state," he said.
France said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that he intended to withdraw Russian troops from Belarus as soon as the ongoing military exercises there were over.
At the end of this week, Landsbergis and his Latvian and Estonian counterparts are planning to travel to Kiev to show solidarity with Ukraine. Danish and Bulgarian representatives are expected to join the delegation, according to information available to BNS.