In Vilnius, Lithuania, the atmosphere is charged with a sense of safety and urgency as heavy armored vehicles fill the streets. Ahead of the NATO summit, which will be held in the city, locals and visitors alike are witnessing a display of military might, including U.S.-made Abrams tanks, German Leopards, and Marders. The presence of Patriot missile defenses further reinforces the feeling of security. For many, it is an opportunity to reflect on Lithuania’s newfound safety, while also emphasizing the need to support Ukraine in its struggles against Russia. The summit, set to begin with U.S. President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders, is anticipated with both hope and skepticism.
Jonas Braukyla, an IT engineer, expresses his optimism about Lithuania’s security and hopes for positive outcomes for Ukraine. However, former Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite maintains a more cautious view. She questions whether the summit will lead to a precise and affirmative decision regarding Ukraine’s future. Grybauskaite’s skepticism reflects a broader sentiment in the Baltic countries that the West has not fully grasped the magnitude of the threat posed by Russia, even after Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Grybauskaite, known as the “Baltic Iron Lady” for her resolute stance against Russia, asserts that Western leaders are still misled about the Kremlin’s intentions and lack the necessary political will to respond effectively. She criticizes the slow reaction of the West to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its subsequent actions. Grybauskaite emphasizes the importance of understanding the stark differences in values between Russia and the West and dismisses the notion of finding common ground through negotiations.
The resentment toward Moscow runs deep in Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, due to their painful history under Soviet occupation. These countries have remained skeptical of peaceful coexistence with Russia since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Lithuania is investing heavily in its military, surpassing NATO defense spending targets, and receiving support from other NATO members. However, concerns persist about whether these measures will be sufficient if the conflict in Ukraine escalates.
Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s first post-independence leader, dismisses the possibility of reaching an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. He asserts that as long as Russia exists, the notion of “after the war” will never materialize. This perspective causes unease among some NATO partners, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who believes the war should not aim to “crush” Russia.
The Baltic countries stand among the top contributors of military aid to Ukraine and advocate strongly for Ukraine’s NATO membership. This issue will be on the agenda in Vilnius, where blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags decorate the streets and squares. Grybauskaite argues that initiating the accession process for Ukraine is crucial for the security of NATO territory.
As the NATO summit approaches, Vilnius becomes a symbol of hope and concern for Ukraine’s future. The atmosphere is a reminder of the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West, as well as the urgent need to address the situation in Ukraine decisively.