EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, Former President of the Republic of Lithuania
EUBULLETIN: Mr. President, watching the recent developments in Crimea and Ukraine from the perspective of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn, among all of the EU members, these three Baltic states are most exposed to Russia, with Putin at its helm and with Russian public that would not question its Tsar-like leader whatever he does. The Russian leader seems to have a free reign. So, looking at the situation in which is Ukraine today, how can your own country and your two small neighbors handle this security predicament, this potential security challenge coming from Russia?
Landsbergis: Of course, we may rely a little bit on the democratic West because we are part of it, due to our memberships in the EU and NATO. But we are not very sure if we would be treated on an equal footing in any security crisis especially if we have seen the way the EU has handled the crisis in Ukraine. Nobody is sure if Ukraine is to be sold or not. Ukraine is fighting for Europe and Europe does not count it so highly. It’s shameful. It’s a shameful reality. They don’t understand yet but Ukraine is fighting not only for its own European future but Ukraine is fighting for Europe’s European future.
Because if Ukraine is lost, then the simple question is: ‘Who is next?’ Who is next before Russia will come and grab more and more lands and nations. Ukraine is the big piece, difficult to consume in one move. But if Ukraine is given to Russia, or at least it is made a satellite country, to become like half-Russia, then Russia will go further. It was after our liberation, when we appealed to join the European Community and then European Union in early 1990s, and the western Euro-Atlantic structures, we had a permission to do just that in advance from Yeltsin in the Lithuanian-Russian Treaty of 1991 – there is the paragraph that both countries have the right to choose their forms of government and means to achieve their national security. What you want – with Russia okay, with NATO okay. But several years later, this was already not possible.
EUBULLETIN: Some experts say that this was possible because Russia was weak, on its knees, at that time, in the 1990s.
Landsbergis: No, that is a false picture of Putin. Under Yeltsin, Russia was honest, Russia wanted to be different – from Stalin and Brezhnev and the old style. It was the moment when Russia was approaching Europe with the open face and good will. But then the old guards, the KGB guards, came back to the power and took over all the powers as a new ruling party – ‘KGB as a ruling party’ is the formula of Sergei Kovalev (Russian human rights activist and politician) presented in his article in 1999. At that time, Putin was already entering the position of prime minister and when the second Chechen war was already forthcoming – then Kovalev’s words were prophetic – because Russia started sliding back, this time not to communist authority but to KGB authority.
The roots were pretty much the same but more openly violent, more openly oppressive. The communists used to cover their inhumane qualities, policy of coercion by slogans of their ‘nice future of mankind’ and so on. It is not the case for KGB that is working for its own future but in line with the old communist tradition who called themselves ‘the people’. If we say ‘the people’, we mean the communist elites. And if anybody is criticizing us, then they are the enemies of the people, not the enemy of us, the communist elites. And it is like this until now. We on the top, we oppressors, we violators, we are ‘the people’. But Putin’s regime is repeating these Stalin-era ‘we-the-people’ slogans even with a greater conviction than in Stalin times. The Stalinist Soviet Union also treated the rest of the world as enemies – they created the picture of the proletariat in besieged by the bad capitalists. Putin’s current regime does something similar.
EUBULLETIN: But when faced with this security challenge from Putinist Russia, like in the form of that kind of intervention of the ‘green little men’ currently taking place in eastern Ukraine or earlier in Crimea, do the Baltic states have the faith in the EU that it would come to help them?
Landsbergis: For us, the people in the Baltic states, everything is clear about what is and what we can expect from the Putinist Russia. We may rely on ourselves for some time but we are most concerned about the stance of the European Union. Of course, we see them as being disunited, split, bribed – not consolidated, as they always say ‘to speak with one voice’. It’s not funny because Putin has his own guys inside of the European Union, influential guys, maybe not in governments yet but tomorrow they could be Putinist governments in the EU.
Putin has said recently and very openly, that he has already about 20 percent of supporters in the European Parliament. Now it’s 20 percent, next year he will have 40 percent… So, there are different forms of occupation, but it’s absolutely not only military occupation – (by means of) money, bribery, false friendships and surrender in advance… If you fear that he will sometime be the winner, maybe it is beneficial for you to not resist already today because he will remember who resisted. He is vengeful, he is cruel, he is the defender of basic human values – number 1 is ‘cruelty’.
EUBULLETIN: But can we quote you saying this?
Landsbergis: Please. (laughing)