Interview With Vaidotas Beniusis of the Baltic News Service

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Paunguriai, Trakai Region, Lithuania
January 14, 2016

Question: Madam Ambassador, this meeting, in fact, is primarily focused on the upcoming Warsaw Summit. Is this Warsaw Summit going to boost in some way the security of the Baltic States?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: I think certainly it is. This is about keeping the promises that we made to each other at Wales that we are going to ensure that we deter any threats, that we do it together, that we are ready to reinforce if need be, and that we strengthen the capability of all of the countries in this region, including Lithuania, to be strong players in their own defense as well. We’ve come a very, very long way. I think you see we have regular rotations of 150 Americans in each of these countries. We have a NATO headquarters element that we didn’t have before. Lithuania is the first country to receive U.S. equipment that we’re pre-positioning here in case we need it. You air defenses are getting better. Your cyber security capabilities are getting stronger and all of the countries in the region are working better together. So I think that citizens of Lithuania and all the countries here will feel the benefit.

Question: To be more precise, people in the Baltic states, the officials speak about so-called, what you can call a Baltic brigade, or at least multi-national battalion in each of the three Baltic states. Are you supportive of this initiative?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, I think we have this idea that currently in each of these countries, we have a host country company that is ready to work; we have a U.S. company that’s ready to work. So the question is can we get one more ally who will join us with a company who will regularly rotate, and how can we put those companies together so the net effect is a battalion of force at any given time? I think certainly, the United States would support more allies coming and joining us with land forces out here in the east, but we’re going to have to work on our other allies to join us here in the same way that we are asking countries on NATO’s eastern edge to also think about what they can contribute to the stresses that we have to the south. As you know, we are not only ensuring our security to the east, we are also trying to work to ensure our security together to the south, so we have to have solidarity in both of those missions.

Question: Back in 2014 and also last year after Russia annexed Crimea, and after the war in east Ukraine started, there have been quite many warnings both from politicians, from journalists, from analysts, that the Baltic states will be the next target for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Do you see this as a realistic scenario?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, I think it speaks to the work that we’ve done, over the last year and a half, two years, that the deterrent is strong and Russia has not tested us beyond some probing of our air defenses. And it’s incumbent on all of us to work together to ensure that the situation continues, that our strength is evident and it’s not even worth testing it.

Question: For quite many Lithuanians, I think a very straightforward question comes into their mind: would the U.S. ever risk World War III to defend the Baltic states in theoretical case of Russian attack? What could you tell those people?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, Vaidotas, we don’t invite a new member into the Alliance, whether it was Germany in the 50s or Lithuania when you joined, without being ready to defend you. That’s what Article 5 is about. And as the mom of a fighting age son, I take it very seriously. I think all Americans take it very seriously. What’s important is that we understand that it’s not simply about Americans coming to defend Lithuania. It’s also about the contribution that Lithuania makes to all of our security, including what you’ve done in far-flung places like Afghanistan. That’s what the Alliance is about.

Question: If I may turn shortly on to Syria, do you see Russia there as a partner there or more as a troublemaker to American efforts there?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, Russia has its own point of view, as you know, in Syria. It continues to say that its military activity is primarily directed at fighting ISIL. We’ve expressed concerns that some of the targeting that theyare doing looks to be more in defense of Asad and his regime, but we are working very hard through the dialogue that my boss Secretary Kerry is conducting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and in the larger international support group for Syria to try to find a political solution that will end this war. And that’s the most important thing, not simply for Syria, but also for the entire region, and to stop the awful flows of desperate migrants coming up into Europe.

Question: My last question is about Ukraine. This year again both sides have renewed ceasefire earlier this week, just a few days ago. Do you see the prospects that this year the ceasefire will start holding and do you see that Minsk agreements will be implemented?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, it’s very important to all of us who are friends of Ukraine to work very hard to help not only Ukraine, but all of the Normandy powers, implement the Minsk agreements, because it is essential not only to the security of Ukraine, but to the security of the entire region. You are right that we’ve had a better implementation of the ceasefire recently, but it’s still not complete. People are still dying. There are still skirmishes. So that’s, the first challenge is to end the killing so we can get on to the other parts of Minsk, notably, including the political solution, having real elections out there under Ukrainian law that meet OSCE standards, get that foreign military equipment and personnel out and then return of the border. And we’ve got to ensure that we all work as hard as possible to see Minsk implemented, because otherwise we have, at a minimum, a frozen conflict and potentially worse, a permanent threat to Ukraine and the rest of us.

Question: Madam Assistant Secretary, thank you for your time.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thank you very much.