Stronger Together: Ambassador Rolandas Kriščiūnas on Lithuania and the International Community

Miami students meet with the Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States.  The author is sixth from the left.

By August Hagemann

On Wednesday, September 26th, Miami University’s Office of Global Initiatives, Department of Anthropology, and Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet studies together hosted the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Rolandas Kriščiūnas.  Mr. Kriščiūnas spoke to a group of students and faculty on how Lithuania is closely tied to the international community, and how the country can continue working closely with the United States as well as the larger international community to achieve greater economic growth and geopolitical security.

The ambassador focused first on Lithuania’s economic situation, noting the importance of continued international integration and cooperation to the country’s growth and stability.  He explained that Lithuania is a country of only about 3 million people, which exports around 80% of what it produces.  Included among these exports is the majority of high-powered lasers in the world, which are used predominantly for scientific research, as well as to cut the high-strength glass used to make iPhones.  Its small population, industrial specialization, and very high ratio of exports means that Lithuania is reliant on an international market for economic stability.  Due to this, Mr. Kriščiūnas characterized Lithuania’s European Union membership as the country’s most significant achievement since the fall of the Soviet Union.  EU membership allows Lithuanian businesses to more easily sell their products to the 500 million people in the Union, a vast expansion from the 3 million-person domestic market.  The ambassador was hopeful that as the Lithuanian economy continues to develop and expand, so too will the country’s degree of participation in and cooperation with the European Union.

Unfortunately, not all of Lithuania’s neighbors are as interested in mutual growth.  Mr. Kriščiūnas characterized Russia as the biggest threat to security in Lithuania, and Europe as a whole.  The ambassador was clear, however, that the enemy is not the Russian people — he even pointed out that many ethnic Russians living in Lithuania are patriotic citizens and high-ranking government officials, and that each year Vilnius hosts a conference for Russians outside their country to discuss issues within it.  Mr. Kriščiūnas even spoke hopefully about the continued presence of democratic forces within Russia.  Citing former Miami University faculty member Karen Dawisha, the ambassador argued that what makes Russia dangerous is Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic government, and the economic and political warfare it has proven itself all too willing to engage in.  Prominent examples the ambassador cited included Russia’s frequent, unannounced naval exercises practically on top of the underwater cable Lithuania uses to import energy from Sweden, the publication of a fake news story about a boy on a bicycle being run over by a tank during a Lithuanian military exercise, and another fake story accusing German NATO troops stationed in Lithuania of raping a young girl.  Though on the surface Lithuania’s continuing importation of power from Sweden and the quick fact-checking that revealed the news stories as fake would seem to indicate that Russia’s efforts are lackluster at best, Mr. Kriščiūnas noted that Russia does not necessarily need wide-spread success for its operations to have their intended effect.  Rather, Russia’s true goal is to gradually erode trust in and support of Lithuania, Europe, and the United States, convincing people to instead turn to them as the leaders of the global community — if even a few people believe their fake stories or are intimidated by their military bravado, then in a sense they have succeeded.  Under Putin, such recognition would give Russia a platform to argue for further involvement in — and, potentially, annexation of — Ukraine, continually increasing, politically-determined prices on the natural gas Russia provides to much of Europe for energy, and any other Russian international interests, regardless of their effect on any other country in the world.

Ambassador Kriščiūnas further explained that Lithuania alone is powerless to confront Russia.  However, he also argued that with international support, Lithuania can be a powerful bastion of resistance against Russian aggression, both economically and militarily.  He asserted that no matter what Russian leadership may say to the contrary, international sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, and should be maintained.  In support for the concept of international economic collaboration as a defense against Russia, he noted that when the energy cable between Lithuania and Sweden was completed, Russian energy prices precipitously dropped to compete with Swedish prices, despite previous insistence that the price Russia had been offering Lithuania was internationally competitive.  The more Europe is able to cooperate, the ambassador argued, the less Russia will be able to use economics as leverage for achieving aggressive political and military goals.  Mr. Kriščiūnas also characterized international cooperation as the key for directly defending against any possible Russian military threat.  To the ambassador, the critical factor affecting Russia’s decision on whether or not to move militarily against Lithuania is how quickly NATO troops would respond.  He argues that if a practically immediate NATO-wide response is guaranteed, then Russia would never attack Lithuania.  He used this platform to respond to possible objectors who would argue that the United States or European countries should not put their own troops in harm’s way to defend Lithuania — if any NATO troops are in Lithuania at all, Kriščiūnas argues, then no harm will befall anyone, as the simple presence of international forces will deter any Russian action.

Throughout his talk, ambassador Kriščiūnas maintained his stance that Lithuania is a critical part of the international community, both contributing to and relying upon it.  Though he was clear about the seriousness of the Russian threat to regional and global stability, he remained firm in his belief that international economic and military cooperation can provide a solid defense against Putin’s agenda, and that hopefully, democracy will one day arise in Russia.    To Mr. Kriščiūnas, democracy and collaboration are the keys to Lithuania’s success, and to creating a safer, more prosperous world for everyone.

August Hagemann is a junior majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

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