“I can still hear the harsh words of warning from Lithuanian colleagues about Russia – you were all right, Lithuania was right. I remember the debates in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – back then, many of my colleagues did not listen to you carefully. Sometimes they even laughed”, said former NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Karl A. Lamers at a conference at Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) on Tuesday, Indrė Naureckaitė reported in lrytas.lt.
During the conference, politicians recalled that Russian President Vladimir Putin had already made his plans for imperial ambitions quite clear to Western leaders more than a decade ago, but few countries had really responded seriously.
Linkevičius: “The cost of the attack was acceptable to Russia”
Linas Linkevičius, former Minister of National Defence and Foreign Affairs and Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, recalled that the West had heard many predictions about Russia’s future actions, sometimes even from Russia itself.
“We are very happy that our colleagues are noticing that we were right. But this is not enough. It is important not to repeat these mistakes, to be consistent, but I am not sure that this will be the case”, Linkevičius said.
“Now some Western politicians are asking us in surprise: ‘Why are the Russians doing this to the Ukrainians? Why do they humiliate them? Why do they deny their existence? I can recall Putin’s speech at the NATO-Russia Council meeting in 2008 when he explained to NATO leaders that NATO members were cooperating with a country that did not exist, that Ukraine was an artificial construct, not even a state.
All the Western leaders looked at each other in surprise. Then Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Danish Prime Minister and former Secretary-General of NATO, said: “President, we do not talk about our partners in this way. We are not used to it”.
But during the breaks backstage, Western leaders asked why Putin had said that. Only a minority of us pointed out at the time that this is what he really thinks. This is how he sees these countries – as Russia’s backyard, as its territory.
And just a few months after this NATO-Russia Council meeting, where Russia blocked the Georgia-Ukraine Membership Action Plan, saying that such a step would be “provocative”, Russia attacked Georgia”, Linkevičius recalled.
Linkevičius reflects that the West’s reaction was weak at the time and that the West may lack unity and decisiveness in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine once again.
“Did Russia learn its lessons then? The cost of the attack was acceptable, so why not? You can occupy the territory of another country at a perfectly acceptable price. Even now, Russia hoped that those sanctions would not be painful. (…)
How did we get into a situation where a country has become so aggressive, where they can blackmail the whole world, undermine the security system that we have built up, and then look again for exceptions, for concessions, and hope that they will listen?” – the former minister asked rhetorically.
M.Adomėnas: “The West’s reaction was to pat Putin on the back”
Mantas Adomėnas, the Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister, said that he had sensed Putin’s aggressive goals back in 2007 when he heard the Russian dictator’s speech at an international security conference.
“I remember the reactions of other heads of state to his speech when Putin presented his programme on how he would restore the Soviet empire. They saw Putin simply as a vindictive, disgruntled teenager who tries to get the attention of his elders by saying all sorts of horrible things.
The Western reaction was to pat him on the back, to tell him that ‘Everything will be all right, we will take care of you’. However, they didn’t understand, as we did, that this was his serious plan of action, which we are now seeing being implemented in reality”, Adomėnas recalled.
Former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly: “Putin has only lied once”
For his part, Karl A. Lamers, former long-time deputy chairman of the German Bundestag’s defence affairs committee and former chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told the conference that Putin had managed to deceive everybody – the Western countries, his own public.
“For years, Putin has lied to everyone – to all the Western countries, even to his own public, to the soldiers. Only once has he not lied – when he talked about his imperial ambitions to rebuild the Soviet Union,” said Mr Lamers.
But with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, he said, there was a turning point in German foreign policy.
” The 27th of February, three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, marked a historic turning point in Germany’s foreign and defence policy, a fundamental shift in the country’s overall strategy.
For many years, Germany has pursued a policy of not supplying arms to countries in conflict. However, supplying arms to Ukraine so that it could defend its people against Russian forces was and is the only correct solution.
You cannot fight against Putin without weapons. After a dance of hesitation, Germany has finally started to support Ukraine not only financially, not only with humanitarian aid but also with heavy weapons,” the German politician said.
According to Mr Lamers, anyone who says that NATO is provoking and threatening Russia by supplying arms to Ukraine is mistaken – the Kremlin regime does not need any additional incentive to aggression against other countries.
“Putin acts independently – he creates the narratives he needs, the misleading justifications for everything he wants to do, as he has always done in the past,” stressed Mr Lamers.
“I can still hear the harsh words of my Lithuanian colleagues warning against Russia – you were all right, Lithuania was right. The Baltic States were right. I remember the debate at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – many of my colleagues did not listen to you carefully. Sometimes they even laughed. I did not laugh, and I listened carefully.
Over the years, Europe, and Germany in particular, has been increasing its dependence on Russian oil, gas and coal, even though it has been obvious for a long time how insane the Kremlin regime has been”, he said.
Mr Lamers noted that Lithuania had acted decisively and was the first to move away from Russian energy sources.
“Germany made a big mistake and became too dependent on Russian gas, oil and coal. So now, the German Parliament is working hard day and night to make the country less and less dependent on Russian energy resources.
In weeks, we have reduced our dependence on Russian oil from 35% to 12%. Germany now supports an embargo on Russian oil.
The German government has also announced that it will work hard to minimise the use of Russian gas – in this case, we have reduced our dependence on Russian gas from 55% to 35% – and we are doing everything we can to rid Europe of Russian energy resources forever,” he pointed out.