“Russia is threatening nearly everybody, it is their way – they want to intimidate, it is their way. They want to intimidate the Baltic states, they want to intimidate Poland, Ukraine and Romania – country after country. It’s like a bully on the schoolyard. And the question is, do you let the bully get away with that or do you stand up and say ‘no, you can threaten, but we will not allow to run over us’. I think, that’s, what is at stake,” the Republican congressman from Texas told journalists after meeting with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė.
He spoke in comment of recent media reports citing notes from a meeting between Russian generals and US officials, which suggest that Russia threatens to use nuclear force in the Baltic states, if NATO steps up its presence here.
Thornberry said the Russian actions are comparable to the attacks carried out by the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, noting that this is the first time in 70 years that the Russian aggression has jeopardized world peace.
“In many ways, I believe, we have not seen this serious of threat to world peace and stability since the end of WWII. We are very concerned about terrorism – ISIS and Al Qaeda. This is a different, but in some ways similar kind of threat to the stability of the world,” said Thornberry.
Presidential adviser Jovita Neliupšienė said the delegation of the US House Armed Services Committee and Grybauskaitė discussed bilateral cooperation, military, cyber and energy security, the situation in the region and the outcomes of NATO’s Wales summit.
The president emphasized that the US was a reliable Lithuanian partner, which has contributed specific measures to Lithuania’s security in the wake of the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the US congressman stated that the conversation with Grybauskaitė “focused on the Russian aggression in Ukraine and due response”.
Thornberry also assured that the presence of US troops and equipment in exercises in Lithuania will be enhanced in the future.
On Thursday, the Congressional delegation visited Rukla, which currently hosts rotational US troops. He said that a number of people in the US were caught by surprise by the Russian aggression in Ukraine, therefore, the US took measures: Congress took budget decisions on increasing the defence budget next year.
“Part of that is because of ISIS ant other things going on in the world, but a great deal of it is because of what’s happening in Ukraine. I think, that the importance of NATO standing strong to resist this aggression is (…) certainly something, that the president reiterated for us today,” said Thornberry.
“I think there will clearly be more exercises in the future, in addition, as you may know, last December the Congress approved the European reassurance initiative, which provides funding to improve military infrastructure, including the training sites, that we saw this morning, here, in Lithuania. And I think there will be another year of that, so there will be further improvements,” he added.
Speaking about the discussions underway in the US to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, the congressman recalled that that the vast majority of the Congress is behind the initiative, which would give Ukraine “a broader choice”.
“It is true that some European nations do not favour certain kinds of weapons. But my personal opinion is that any people are to be able to defend themselves ant their right to make their own decisions, and that includes the people in Ukraine. My opinion also is that if we do not stand up and effectively resist Russia, it will continue. So it requires effective weapons to stop it, to prevent it from expanding into more territory or even more countries,” he said.
The congressman emphasized the importance of “keeping the economic pressure” on Russia, a move supported by both US parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.
The visit in Lithuania is the final stop of the regional tour of Romania, Ukraine, Latvia and Poland.
Discussions are currently underway in Lithuania on weaponry supplies to Ukraine, which is fighting Russia-supported separatists. Lithuania has confirmed having handed over elements of munitions to Kiev.