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The Press in Lithuania | Defiant in the face of the Russian bear

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Vulnerable due to its geographical position, the Baltic nation bets on a strong image, without however underestimating the threat

“It’s a tough wake up call. The words of Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte echo a widespread sentiment among her people, who broke free from Soviet shackles in 1990. According to an expert, even though Lithuania is vulnerable in Due to its proximity to the heavily militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the country’s rhetoric is mostly used to prevent Putin from making another “senseless” move.

On Friday, 5 p.m., Boris-Nemtsov Square, Vilnius, an air raid siren sounded for one minute. A simulation that provokes whistles, cries and applause among the dozens of people gathered in this space located in front of the Russian Embassy, ​​named in memory of the Russian dissident assassinated in 2015. If the atmosphere is festive, the heart is not necessarily at the party.




« Je suis né en 1984, alors que la Russie occupait la Lituanie. Je me souviens que nos immeubles étaient surveillés par des soldats russes, et que je leur montrais ce doigt [le majeur]. I decided to take my son with me to explain to him what is happening,” explains Laurynas Pieskus.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Laurynas Pieskus and her son

I remember seeing tanks [de l’Armée rouge] driving towards buildings in the city and saw my father yelling at them: “Get out of here, Russians!”

Laurynas Pieskus, Lithuanian

“These memories resurfaced on the first day of the war against Ukraine,” continues the man, Ukrainian flag in hand. The day the war broke out, February 24, he was scared.

Wrapped in a blue and yellow flag, wearing a crown given to her by the Ukrainian mother of a friend, Akvile Tamoliunaite, 32, says she is not “really afraid” that Lithuania will suffer the same fate as the ‘Ukraine. “I feel completely safe here. I know our NATO partners would protect us,” she says. In his opinion, “people in Lithuania seem to be panicking”.

“Tragic cost”

The country’s prime minister, Ingrida Simonyte, shows no sign of panic.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Ingrida Simonyte, Prime Minister of Lithuania

But she argues that the threat should not be underestimated.

“What we are witnessing is a harsh awakening [moment of awakening] for some of our partners. It is tragic that the cost of this revival is so enormous. May this cost be that of the lives of Ukrainian civilians who die in the bombings, ”she said firmly at a press conference in the government building on Friday.

Of the three Baltic states, Lithuania appears the most vulnerable due to its proximity to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave whose “level of militarization is increasing from year to year”, recalls the leader, and the Suwalki corridor. This 65 km strip between Poland and Lithuania is located between Kaliningrad and Belarus, a vassal of the Kremlin.

They can’t help but puff out their chests against the Russian bear, says Mme Simonyte.

When could he go on the attack?

“I won’t guess what Putin has in mind. It’s not my job, ”replies tit for tat the Prime Minister, who received the Commissioner for the Internal Market of the European Commission, Thierry Breton.

We know the situation is extremely serious. This region has experience with Russians. We are entering a new world order. Europe must be ready.

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market of the European Commission

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has also warned of a possible Russian offensive against the Baltic countries. If Ukraine falls, he argued Thursday, Russia will go after them and Eastern Europe next.

Western leaders have increased visits to the Baltic countries since the start of the war in Ukraine. Briton Boris Johnson was seen visiting his troops in Estonia on Tuesday. In Lithuania, we will welcome the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, next Monday. As for the Canadian NATO contingent in Latvia, it will receive a visit from Justin Trudeau next Tuesday.

NATO countries ‘safe’

Professor Tomas Janeliunas, from the Faculty of International Relations at Vilnius University, has a reservation about this politico-military rhetoric.

“The war in Ukraine is a disaster for the Russian army, and it will not recover any time soon. I have the impression that at the moment, all NATO countries are safe, ”he says in an interview. Vladimir Putin, he believes, has not “lost his mind” and he wants first and foremost to achieve his goal in Ukraine.

Fight NATO? Under no circumstances would the Russians come out on top.

Tomas Janeliunas, professor at the Faculty of International Relations, Vilnius University

On the other hand, “we cannot risk that the image of Lithuania as that of a vulnerable country settles in Putin’s head, to avoid this kind of miscalculation on his part” – the one he committed while thinking of winning a victory on Ukrainian soil in a few days, judging that the Ukrainian army was too weak, explains Mr. Janeliunas.

He nevertheless judges that “we must be prepared for any other insane maneuver on the part of this regime”.

Street of Heroes-Ukrainians

In Vilnius, the mayor, Remigijus Simasius, thumbed his nose at the Russian regime.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

A protest has been going on for days outside the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“Russian Embassy, ​​update your business cards: 2, rue des Héros-Ukrainiens. I will help you with the translation: Улица Героев Украины 2. From now on, the business cards of Russian embassy staff will have to honor Ukrainian heroes,” he wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

“Putin, we are waiting for you in The Hague [où se trouve la Cour internationale de justice] reads in large white letters on the paved driveway linking the Russian diplomatic mission to Boris-Nemtsov Square.

And here, we approve the change of coordinates.

“I completely agree with the decision. Every time the address is used, there will be recognition that Ukrainians fought for their lives,” reacts 22-year-old Danguole Beniusyte.

“It’s epic! Totally epic”, exclaims Karolis Redeckas.

“The square where we stand has been renamed in honor of Boris Nemtsov, and now this? It’s perfect. It’s great,” he enthuses.

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