3/7/2022 Vilnius, Lithuania
We had an opportunity to discuss key and most concerning issues, including Russian war against Ukraine and further actions in support to Ukraine, and how we should strengthen the security of Lithuanian and the entire region. The Untied States, Lithuania, and other partners of the alliance are doing a lot, but we cannot stop. We cannot afford for Ukrainian cities to become another Srebrenica, Grozny, or Aleppo.
Providing assistance to Ukraine has to continue. We have to urge our partners to check their inventories to increase their orders and continue supplying assistance to Ukraine that it needs so much. The Russia initiated war also means humanitarian as well as climate crisis, and we have to do everything that is possible to prevent the humanitarian corridors and safe areas around nuclear power plants from becoming targets of Russian war machine. I’m happy that the U.S. is increasing its presence in the Baltic region in troops and in equipment. U.S. troops are protecting our country, together with other NATO partners. We know that the commitments of our – of the Allies are ironclad, and if we want to continue building even stronger NATO, politically stronger, we need to ensure security of the Baltic states.
Russian economic blockade has not reached total isolation level, and we heard that there were attempts to use unsanctioned banks to evade the already-existing sanctions. So we have to close all the possible gaps. And energy resources that we are using allows Russia to fund its military operation, and we cannot pay for oil and gas with Ukrainian blood. The U.S. stands with Lithuania and the Baltic states. The United States stand here with their commitments, with their troops and capabilities. They are here in reality and not in front of a green screen with the fake microphones.
Together – I’m sorry – today, the Secretary’s visit shows once again that United States stands with Lithuania and the Baltic states, and it also stands with Ukraine and its people.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very, very much. Gabrielius, thank you so much for the warm welcome. It’s been a real pleasure to be here to be able to spend time with the president, with the prime minister, and with you. And I just have to say for starts, on a personal note, how much I appreciate you as a colleague, how much I appreciate the strength of your voice, your conviction in our own relationship, at NATO, throughout Europe. It makes a big difference, and it’s greatly appreciated. And I’m pleased to be here with our ambassador to Lithuania, Bob Gilchrist, who’s been a terrific leader for the team that I was able to meet with this morning before meeting with our colleagues in the government.
We’re celebrating, the United States and Lithuania, 100 years of diplomatic relations this year. We’re NATO Allies. We’re economic partners. And we share together a deep commitment to democracy, to human rights, to the international rules-based order, which we recognize is the foundation of our shared security and which is being directly threatened by Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified war against Ukraine.
Lithuanians understand the critical importance of every nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity being respected, having lived through decades of Soviet occupation, a forceful occupation that the United States always refused to recognize. In recent years, Moscow has sought to undermine Lithuania’s democracy and sow polarization within its population through cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns. That’s because the free, open, vibrant, prosperous society that the people of Lithuania have built since the end of Soviet occupation shows what’s possible when people choose the path of democracy over autocracy. That’s why the United States supported and advocated for Lithuania’s membership in NATO and the European Union; and this country, Lithuania, has consistently made outsized contributions to both organizations.
Lithuania’s commitment to freedom was evident at the Summit for Democracy that President Biden convened late last year, where Vilnius pledged to expand its efforts to support and provide refuge for pro-democracy activists from Belarus and Russia, to promote international accountability measures for gross human rights violations, to increase support for media freedom and the safety of journalists. How prescient and necessary those commitments proved to be.
In the face of the current crisis, the United States and Lithuania are united in our resolve to stand with Ukraine. We’re surging security assistance to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself. We’re increasing humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people. We’re raising the costs on the Kremlin – and all who aid and enable it – for continuing this war of choice. And we’re bolstering our shared defense so that we and our allies are prepared to meet any threat.
The United States has deployed an additional 7,000 forces to Europe. We’re repositioned forces already in Europe to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank. That includes the extension, as of last week, of the U.S. Army’s 366 Armored Battalion, which was deployed to Lithuania in July; the deployment of F-35 strike fighters to the region to augment NATO’s enhanced air policing mission. An addition 400 personnel from the 1st Armored Brigade combat team will be arriving in Lithuania in the days to come.
The United States commitment to Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all – that commitment is sacrosanct. And as President Biden repeated to the American people in his State of the Union address just a few days ago, we will defend every inch of NATO territory if it comes under attack. No one should doubt our readiness; no one should doubt our resolve.
Over the past several weeks, I authorized allies to provide U.S.-origin defense equipment to our Ukrainian partners. Lithuania stepped up with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, M-72 light anti-tank weapons, and other supplies to help the extraordinarily courageous Ukrainian people defend their country from Russian aggression. Vilnius is also sending about $4 million Euros in emergency medical assistance for Ukraine – 30 truckloads packed with aid, urgently needed given the growing carnage that’s being influenced by the Kremlin’s sieges and attacks on civilians.
When the Lithuanian Red Cross issued a call just last week for donations to help people in Ukraine, it filled 50 trucks the very first day. We see blue and yellow flags hanging from homes and businesses across this country. And a Lithuanian NGO has reportedly registered nearly 6,000 households willing to take in Ukrainian refugees. The Ukrainians who eventually arrive in Lithuania will join hundreds of anti-corruption activists, opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders who already have found safe haven here after being forced to flee attacks, threats, imprisonment in Russia and Belarus in recent years.
Vilnius is the temporary home of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of Belarus’s pro-democracy movement, with whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting on several occasions, including most recently in Munich during the security conference.
We’re very grateful to Lithuania for hosting in the State Department’s Belarus Affairs unit, led by Ambassador Julie Fisher. That unit is focused on supporting the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people and holding the Lukashenka regime accountable for its widespread human rights violations.
Until last May, Vilnius also provided refuge for Belarusian blogger and dissident Roman Protasevich until a commercial jet that he was traveling on was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and he was arbitrarily detained. We join Lithuania in continuing to call for his immediate release and the release of all people being unjustly detained in Russia and in Belarus, including the growing number arrested for protesting the Kremlin’s ongoing war. Yesterday alone, the Russian Government reportedly detained more than 4,600 people demonstrating against the war in 65 Russian cities and towns.
Vilnius recognized that a threat to the rules-based order anywhere has the potential to weaken it everywhere. This includes the principle that every nation is free to associate with whom it chooses. That’s why we respect and support Lithuania’s decision to expand commercial ties with Taiwan, another leading democracy. Beijing has responded to Vilnius’s decision with economic coercion and political pressure designed to divide the European Union – and punishing Lithuania into reversing course. We support the EU’s decision to launch a legal challenge against China at the WTO. We have to defend the rules that keep trade fair.
Beijing talks a lot about the importance of upholding international order, stability, respecting sovereignty. But from its coercion of Vilnius to its failure thus far to condemn Moscow’s flagrant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, today and in 2014, Beijing’s actions are speaking much louder than its words.
The United States continues to stand by Lithuania and the right of every nation to choose its own path. We’re supporting Lithuania as it reorients its supply chains and deepens its economic resilience. In November we created a $600 million Export-Import Bank credit facility here, and that will help facilitate U.S. exports to Lithuania, but also help Lithuanian businesses in the sectors that have been hardest hit by the PRC’s measures like semiconductors, like biotechnology. Our Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Jose Fernandez was just here – with colleagues from the Export-Import Bank – to support these efforts and deepen our economic cooperation. As Lithuania continues to stand for these principles, it can count on the United States to stand with it. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Now is the time for questions. Žygintas Abromaitis from Lithuanian National Television. Žygintas Abromaitis.
QUESTION: Žygintas Abromaitis, Lithuanian national broadcaster on behalf of all Lithuanian media. It’s a question for you, Mr. Blinken. President Nausėda warned about World War III if Putin is not stopped, but it looks like the only war could stop him, and not sanctions or political pressure or even deterrence. Putin is now saying that he’ll go till the end and Russia is threatening NATO countries over support of Ukraine. You keep saying that you will defend every inch of NATO territory. So will you send American troops to the Baltic region permanently, air defense systems? Where is the red line after crossing it NATO will enter the war directly, and how likely Russia is ready to start a nuclear war? And furthermore, could you confirm that Poland will send fighter jets in exchange for American F-16s? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. A few things. First, as I noted, in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, one of the things we did is exactly what we said we’d do for many, many months, which is, in the event of Russian aggression, we would reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. And that’s exactly what we’ve done, and we’re in the midst of continuing to do that now, including with the deployment of additional forces, including American forces, here to Lithuania – F-35 fighters, various pieces of important equipment, all of which is being deployed here, deployed to the other states in the Baltics.
At the same time, we’re continuously reviewing within NATO our defense posture, including looking at questions of extending the deployment of forces, looking at questions of more permanent deployments. All of that is under regular review, and we’re engaged with NATO Allies in doing just that. Gabrielius and I were just at a meeting of the NATO foreign ministers a few days ago in Brussels, and this is one of the issues, of course, that came up.
Second, we said a few other things for many, many months as we saw – the two of us, our countries – the likelihood of Russian aggression against Ukraine. And even as we tried everything we could to push Russia to a diplomatic path to try to resolve whatever concerns it had that might be – that anyone would consider legitimate through diplomacy and dialogue – even as we were doing that, we said then we would be fully prepared if it chose the path of aggression. We said that we would reinforce NATO’s eastern flank – we are. We said that we would come to the aid of Ukraine by providing it more and more assistance – we are. We said that we impose massive consequences on Russia for its aggression – we are. And I think those consequences, the severity of the economic sanctions and other measures that have been taken, are well beyond what I think many people anticipated and are certainly unprecedented.
And they are having a dramatic impact already. We see the ruble going through the floor. We see Russia’s credit rating coming basically to zero, to “junk status,” as we would call it. We see its stock market shut down. We see an exodus of virtually every leading company from Russia. All of those things are happening; they’re happening in real time. At the same time, other steps that we’ve taken, including export controls on the most important technology that Russia needs to modernize for the future – including its defense and aerospace industries, including its energy sector – that technology is being denied to Russia. That’s going to have a powerful impact over time.
We’re also seeing the effect of the assistance that we have been able to provide to Ukraine and we’re continuing to provide to Ukraine – in Ukraine – when it comes to the incredible courage they’re showing in the effectiveness they’re having in standing against Russian aggression. So all of these things, as we said, are happening. They’re having an impact. Having said that, it’s also true and clear that Russia has a hugely disproportionate force compared to what Ukraine has. It has the ability to continue to grind down the Ukrainian military and, of course, to take horrific actions against the Ukrainian people, including attacking civilians.
We want this to come to a stop as quickly as possible, which is why we will continue to increase pressure on Russia, continue to support Ukraine. But as I said yesterday, even if and as Russia might win a battle in Ukraine, that doesn’t mean it’s winning the war. If and as Russia might take a city in Ukraine, that doesn’t mean that it’s taking the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian people. It can’t; it won’t. And whether it’s a week, whether it’s a month, whether it’s longer, I am utterly convinced that Ukraine will prevail.
Finally, when it comes to NATO, the line is very clear. And I’ll repeat it: If there is any aggression anywhere on NATO territory, on NATO countries, we the United States, all of our allies and partners, will take action to defend every inch of NATO territory. It’s as clear and direct as that.