WASHINGTON — Lithuania’s top diplomat said Monday that ousting Russian President Vladimir Putin from power was the only way to protect the West and its allies from future threats from Moscow, calling for an even tougher stance than the one the United States and many NATO allies had been prepared to pursue since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with The Associated Press in Washington, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Putin’s annual Victory Day speech was “disappointing” and that the “gloomy faces” of generals and others were signs of failure in the war in Ukraine. Still, he said an injured Putin could be even more dangerous and the only way to eliminate the threat was to take him out.
“From our point of view, until the time when the current regime is not in power, the countries around it will be, to some extent, in danger. Not only Putin but the whole regime because, you know, one could change Putin and change his entourage, but another Putin could take his place,” Landsbergis said.
“And as long as a regime that intends to wage wars outside Russian territory is in place, the countries around it are in danger,” he said. “And, if one thing has been proven to those who doubted it after 2008 in Georgia in 2014 when the first war in Ukraine started, it’s that Russia is an aggressive country. That’s very clear.”
Lithuania is one of three Baltic states that among NATO allies are particularly concerned about possible Russian designs to forcibly remove them under Moscow’s rule. Lithuanian officials, including Landsbergis, have been particularly candid about their fears, but his overt calls for regime change go beyond what most NATO allies have been willing to voice.
President Joe Biden raised eyebrows among many others when he told an audience in Warsaw, Poland in March that “For the love of God, this man can’t stay in power.” But the White House quickly backtracked on that statement, and Biden himself said he was not calling for regime change in Moscow.
Landsbergis, who was in Washington for meetings with US officials and others, said he was unimpressed by Putin’s Victory Day speech in Red Square.
“‘Disappointing’ is probably the most widely used word to describe the situation and I will use it myself,” he said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of generals and politicians who feel like they’re losing a war against a much smaller country that they probably didn’t even want to start.”
“The faces were a bit sad and grim that you wouldn’t usually see on parade day which is about remembering the biggest victory they think they’ve had, but now it’s not a victory day for them and a lot of them understand that they’re losing,” Landsbergis told the AP.
Many expected Putin to enjoy the annual commemoration of the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II – a day after the rest of Europe marks VE Day – to announce an intensification of the military push against Ukraine or to call for referenda for annexation. of Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine. He did neither.
Landsbergis said Lithuania was happy with the support its NATO allies have given it and other countries on the eastern flank of the alliance, but they needed more. He said that Lithuania, together with the other Baltic countries, Estonia and Latvia, would pressure NATO to provide more air and sea defenses as well as permanent troop deployments on their territory when the leaders of the alliance will meet in Madrid at the end of June.
He said the Madrid summit should be a place where the particular vulnerabilities of the Baltic countries are taken into account and addressed. “It should be reflected that NATO needs to change its posture more on the eastern flank. In the Baltic states, we kind of have the impression that we are approaching that point where we increasingly resemble the feeling of Berlin- West and during the Cold War years,” he said.
He said the Baltics were delighted when Biden said NATO would defend “every square inch” of NATO territory, but that those words needed to be followed by action.
“We are very happy with the way our partners and allies have responded to Russia’s war in Ukraine, sending additional deployments to the Baltic states, but this is still a short-term solution,” he said. he declares. “We believe we are approaching the time when we really have to consider the strategic implications of the war.”