President of the Republic of Lithuania

Speech by President Gitanas Nausėda at the meeting of Bucharest Nine foreign ministers

2020-03-10

Dear Ministers, Distinguished Guests,

I am delighted to address you all in Vilnius on the occasion of a very special day for my country – the 30th anniversary of the reestablishment of the Independence of Lithuania.

European and Western values have always been our values and the source of our strength. They sustained our goals, choices and strong commitment as we embarked on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration that led us to membership in the European Union and NATO.

We became a model example of what a small but proud nation can achieve – a nation with determination to be free and willingness to take it back from those who brutally deprived us of it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We just had another big celebration – the 70th anniversary of NATO, which is the guardian of core western world values.

Today we observe, that in some areas western values are somehow in decline. We too often measure values and principles against profit and pragmatism. We seem to have been losing some of that ideological clarity. “Has the West lost its way?” – this is a question we hear more and more on both sides of the Atlantic.

Such development profoundly worries me. The political West has no other option but to stand together ready to defend its principles and values.

I could not stress enough the importance of unity here.

Unity has many links among us. The transatlantic link is by far the most important one. So, we need the U.S. to remain a European power. This is the only winning strategy. For all of us.

We must believe in Europe and America together. The transatlantic bond is vital. It has no alternatives.

One of misleading and disturbing things in this context is talk about European strategic autonomy. Yes, Europe must do a lot more on defense spending and the quality of it. But two collective defense systems – one for NATO, one for Europe - would be rather confusing and obstructive.

Today’s security and defense, of course, go beyond military measures. Thus, NATO-EU cooperation is important. But here my approach is simple: “yes” to cooperation where feasible, “no” to duplication.

I agree, unity sometimes means compromises, and sacrifices. We can compromise on many things but not on values, no matter what.

We cannot compromise nor build a real partnership with those who undermine our values, break the rules-based order, occupy parts of independent countries, undertake hybrid activities against us all and manipulate historical facts.

Now we hear calls for a new geopolitical construct with a country that not only disregards our principles, but also ignores and breaks them, calling the liberal world order ‘obsolete’.

Inviting Russia to be part of a single geopolitical space under the false impression of shared interests would be a strategic mistake. The milestone of 2014 must stay with us as the most painful proof and disillusioned evidence of what kind of “result” interests without values can bring to our table.

Under any circumstances we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which security in Europe and North America rests. It is not only our Duty. It is our Mission.

Russia clearly remains the key and long-term threat to NATO. Russia has made a deliberate choice and seeks to destroy the world order as we know it. We should not have any illusions about that.

But we have our own choice not to legitimize any of Russia’s reckless actions. We must keep Russia accountable for what it has done. We must not forget that passiveness only encourages aggression.

Russia builds a false narrative that NATO’s military presence on the Eastern flank, particularly in the Baltics, can provoke a military conflict.

Russia attempts to convince that the Alliance is responsible for tensions in the region and tries to sell it to our publics.

It is a very dangerous narrative. We must counter it.

In fact, currently, NATO’s presence in the Eastern flank is very modest compared to Russia’s aggressive military posture – the Kaliningrad region says it all.

Thus, we should not be afraid to say out loud: the Allied forces are in our region to deter and defend. A message that even limited attack or invasion will trigger an imminent Allied response should be very firm and clear. So, that there is no doubt about that.

Deterrent messaging matters! And it is about de-escalation, not escalation.

If we cannot have as much forces as needed, we should aim at having them at the highest level of readiness – ready to fight tonight; we need to have forces enabled, constantly exercising, multinational, and let me add this – always with U.S. presence.

So, are we at this level already? Not yet, but we have moved a long way from what we had before 2014. The B9 group has every right to be proud of these achievements. But there is still much more to complete.

We need to fully implement what has been agreed by NATO leaders: forward presence always supported by exercises, enablers, reinforcement, air defense, to name only few.

We must also not forget that the Allied and especially U.S. presence in NATO’s Eastern flank is something our adversaries are watching very closely, too.

Allied and especially U.S. presence in our region is the strongest deterrent. Moreover, robust U.S. and NATO military presence is essential for both deterrence and de-escalation.

Strong NATO also means sharing burdens and risks. We have serious remaining capability gaps and they can only be closed by investing more.

Let me be clear: the absence of Allied military presence may only provoke Russia to miscalculate the Alliance’s resolve and fill the security gap with its own military presence.

Georgia, Ukraine, Syria are well known examples. They are also a lesson to be learned.

Dear Ministers, Dear Guests,

We cherish our freedom but we also care much about everyone’s right to be free and safe. Because we know the price of freedom and independence. Also, because we know this is not a given thing.

We must stand ready and defend what is the core of our existence on daily basis. We also must stand ready to help others.

Our top aspirants and trusted partners Georgia and Ukraine should get strong support and a strong signal of encouragement to continue reforms. Lithuania will host the 4th Ukraine Reform Conference in Vilnius on 7 July this summer. I encourage active participation from each of your countries. Your contribution would be of paramount importance.

My special plea for the B9 group would be to consolidate our unity and determination to help Georgia and Ukraine to become members of the NATO family. The Bucharest Summit decision stays for more than a decade now. It also stays as our promise. Decisions must be implemented, promises – need to be kept.

The Open Door policy proved to be the most effective tool in expanding security and providing peace for millions of Europeans. Lack of political will to take decisive action and decision over these two partner countries leaves us in the mist of “strategic confusion” far too long, risking to undermine the credibility of NATO policies.

It is our common duty to guarantee that Ukraine remains high on the international agenda – even if voices of fatigue are getting stronger and stronger. We need to further support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, assist Ukraine on its reform path, continue talking to Ukraine as a true friend, continue to vocally express the non-recognition policy of illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.

Today Ukraine needs our support as never before.

To conclude, the goal of Europe whole and free, united in peace, democracy and common values is not completed yet. I believe, this goal today remains as vital as it was back in 1989.

I also believe, that the Group of Nine has collective strength and obligation to contribute to ensuring that the vision of united Europe becomes a reality.

Thank you.

Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania

Last updated 2020.03.10 16:50

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