Lithuanian politicians and diplomats, in general, are friends of Ukraine, but Linas Linkevičius holds a special place among them. He served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania for eight years until 2020 and had previously been the Minister of Defenсe twice in the 1990s and 2000s. He also led Lithuania's mission to NATO.
Therefore, we met with him before the NATO summit in Vilnius since Mr. Linkevičius has significant insights.
His main message may not be liked by everyone, but it is realistic. The diplomat acknowledges that the success of the summit, which Ukraine aspires to, is not excluded but would rather be a "miracle." It is necessary to prepare for other scenarios as well, and the former minister has advice on how to do it.
In the interview with the editor of "European Pravda," Linas Linkevičius discusses this, as well as the possible collapse of Russia, the threat posed by Prigozhin, and more.
"The idea of not provoking Russia is a stupid thing"
— Linas, welcome to Ukraine, and thanks for coming to our studio. I have no choice but to start with a question about the NATO Summit in Vilnius, which will begin in a few days. Tell me specifically what you expect from it, what will be decided overall, and whether will Ukraine feel that we have achieved what we are striving for.
— Summits have their own agenda regardless of where they take place. So it's not Lithuanian, but NATO Summit in Vilnius. It means many questions will be discussed there. But definitely, you're right, Ukraine is on our mind. Ukraine is a test of the resilience and also the sustainability of international organisations, which did not perform very well, including the United Nations. It has led to the incapability to act sufficiently and on time. It is also a test for NATO and NATO countries now.
— As for me, the test is simple. Either Ukraine receives an invitation to NATO, or at least a clear vision, a plan for the invitation – or we won't get it. What do you think, is the Alliance ready to take this step?
— I have to say that it's not yet clear. Discussions will last at the Summit until the last second. Probably the last moment. How will it be drafted in the communique? It's still a question. We will find out in Vilnius.
I believe that the majority of our colleagues understand that should be some progress made.
However, not everyone in NATO is ready for it.
In Bucharest, Ukraine, and Georgia were promised membership at that time. 15 years later, not much happened basically. Some political cosmetics, I would say, and not just a cosmetic package of support.
They promise to turn the Commission of NATO and Ukraine into the Council.
— This is just a technical change!
— Essentially, the main issue is in an invitation.
At the same time, even Ukrainians understand that they cannot be invited to join during the war. But after the war, it should happen. Ukraine must be granted security guarantees. We need to show how important it is.
Not everyone in NATO agrees with that. Some are too careful and some still believe that they cannot provoke Russia, which I believe it's a stupid thing. This "let's not provoke Russia" proved to be wrong for many years. Allies haven't learned lessons for many years. Even after occupying 20% of the territory of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, sanctions were weak. Even now we have 11 packages of sanctions and Moscow is still not exhausted, right?
We remember, all these statements a year ago that if Russia invades, sanctions will be devastating and immediately everybody will see how their economy will collapse. Nothing happened.
We threatened them but did not deliver
— You're saying that most countries understand that Ukraine should be invited to NATO. So let's not hide this elephant in the room – the minority that is against it is the United States.
— I will not name names, not correct to do so. But we need consensus. Some countries believe that they are careful and responsible. In my view it's irresponsibility. It's the same story as it was in 2008. I participated in that NATO summit. I remember how we were fighting for giving a membership action plan to Ukraine. We said that this is not membership, it's just a bureaucratic plan. It's no big deal. Right.
But colleagues said, no, no, it is a provocation. It would be even worse.
Then the war in Georgia broke out. I remember how I said to my colleagues at that time, "Look, we were right! Look, the war has begun!"
The response was, "No, we are right because if we had acted according to your suggestions, it would have been even worse." You see, there's a different perception.
And now, if they start talking about provocations again, I will say that they can provoke both through their actions and their inaction at the moments when action is needed.
That's exactly what we are seeing. If we don't take action, it may provoke Russia to continue doing what it's doing.
— I understand that you don't want to name names, but as a journalist, it's easier for me. It's Joe Biden and Jake Sullivan who don't want this. But I can't understand. What is their logic? What sense does it make to resist Ukraine's invitation? What do they explain? They can't just say no, there must be an explanation.
— I cannot follow that logic, not only in this case. When there are limitations or somebody asking Ukrainians not to attack targets on Russian territory, which is totally stupid and understandable. How is it possible not to use Western weapons to attack these sites, even if they are missile launches, for instance?
And now again, somebody is surprised that the counteroffensive is moving not sufficiently, but they are not giving fighter jets and long-range artillery... I am a former defence minister. I know that it is impossible to attack without cover from the air and without sufficient artillery.
Yes, it is still possible, as we can see, but it means more casualties and takes more time. It's not logical, to be honest. Maybe it sounds politically correct, but it's morally wrong. And I cannot support that.
— In my opinion, it's very likely that some opponents of this leave room for future trade-offs with Russia. Like saying, let's make a deal to end the war, and we promise that Ukraine will never be in NATO.
— There are many assumptions.
As we can see that it's a war of attrition.
It's good to see from a comfort situation how the Kremlin is being destroyed slowly, not immediately.
It looks nice but the price is too high for Ukraine.
When we're saying that Ukraine must win, some should realise that should mean that Russia should lose. Let's admit the issues which were always concerning, especially in Western society. Who will control the possession of nuclear weapons?
And after this performance by Prigozhin... who can deny that one day these weapons will be in the hands of some groups, military groups, which will have nothing to do with the government. It might cause not just damage, but a real disaster. Nobody wants not only in Russia but also in the West. The same issue when the USSR was collapsing. What happened after? Nothing happened.
"Ukrainians need to understand that there is life after the summit"
— NATO does not grant Russia the right of veto. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, where it has the right to veto resolutions. However, the acceptance of new members into NATO follows a different process that does not involve a veto power for Russia.
— Yeah, that's exactly what we have been discussing for years.
It is always suspicious if you start repeating many times that maybe it has some meaning. So we keep repeating that Russia has no veto or legal right. It simply looks like the interests of Russia are very important to some people.
Let's remember arguments when some politicians were trying to save the face of Putin. It was quite weird. It is not acceptable even to hear, let alone talk about compromises.
Such compromises create a mess and the West loses its authority and trust.
This is not morally right when you do not give sufficient military support, impose restrictions on using weapons, and do not give political support, which is needed now. The West definitely should understand that.
We talk about summit as some miracle right, but it may not happen.
But I want to emphasise: there is life after the summit. So if we do not achieve something, it shouldn't be a disaster.
We should not give up from the chosen way.
I have such experience.
I spent many years in NATO - as the Ambassador of Lithuania and as Minister of Defence. I vividly remember how in 2000, my future allies - because we joined the Alliance in 2004 - told me: "Listen, you will never be a NATO member."
— Never. Well, be realistic! Look at the map, look atthe environment, geopolitical interests, stability. These were not official statements, but privately, they told me that. They said, "Your country is nice. Your freedom fight also very impressive. But look, be realistic."
But now we have a different reality: we were admitted to NATO.
We now criticise the Bucharest decision regarding Ukraine, and there are reasons for that, but it says: Ukraine will become a member of NATO. And they told us - you will never be a member.
And you know when that changed? After the September 11 attacks in the United States. After the attacks on New York, on the Pentagon, the mindset changed - primarily in the United States. Because you know, in NATO, all countries are equal, but some are more...
— More equal.
— More important.
They changed their mind and decided to defend the Baltic states during the crisis. Then came the Prague Summit, where they invited us to the Alliance, and President Bush came to Vilnius and made an important statement that no one would attack the Baltic states.
And now his words are written on our town hall, like the Bible.
But at the same time, the mindset of Western Europe, which was completely skeptical or careful - choose the word you prefer - changed.
The key thing is that we didn't give up when we heard "no." And when the time came, we were ready.
The same advice goes to you. You are ready militarily, you are already prepared for membership, with your well-developed army. But you must be politically prepared when the moment comes. And it will inevitably happen.
Although I still hope that some solution will be found at the Vilnius summit. Perhaps they will find a formula that demonstrates progress (towards membership). But if not, you must not give up and fight until the end, until victory.
— So you are confident that Ukraine will become a member of NATO?
— Absolutely. It is simply inevitable. I cannot find a reason why not. Especially comparing it to my own case.
"He has already betrayed Putin and will easily betray Lukashenko"
— I remember that a year ago, last summer, no one in the West even considered the possibility of Russia falling apart. Now we hear how it is publicly discussed. Do you think the West started preparing for this?
— This possibility is not excluded, but let's not make these conclusions overwhelming. It is also important to note that it's up to Russians to decide.
Because when we’re talking about ending the war, we're not talking about taking Moscow. That is the task for the Russians. It's up to Russians if they need to, if they want to come back to civilised society. They need some changes and they should take over Moscow themselves. I'm not talking about Prigozhin or someone like that, but those who want to change the regime. They have to do it themselves.
But we need to consider the possibility of the collapse of the Russian empire. However, it is not our duty to facilitate its collapse.
— As for Prigozhin. We know that he is now in Belarus - at least it was publicly announced. And a part of his so-called "army" is there as well. So, it's close to Vilnius. Is it a threat?
— In military terms, I don't think so.
It shows the situation, the status of Russian society.
In any army, there should be a unified command structure. Especially during crisis times. And how many command structures are there in Russia? Only God knows. And they even fight with each other. They are capable of organising a coup - which also indicates the state of "health" of society, which is far from stable.
So, he might organise a coup, take a country hostage for a whole day, capture a major city with a key military headquarters. And then he remains free. They say he is in Belarus - but God knows where he is. Because after that, he freely traveled to Moscow, held negotiations, made statements.
Perhaps now he will travel to Africa for some business.
But he won't be in Ukraine anymore, and I think that's very important. It is obvious that his absence in Ukraine is very good for Ukraine.
What will he do with his limited forces in Belarus? That is the question. But I don't believe in their use. Rather, they will fly somewhere to Africa or elsewhere. I don't see their role in Belarus. And against Ukraine or others. They can only be used for military provocations, which Russia is familiar with.
— Let's imagine that this "army" marches towards Königsberg.
— Such a provocation requires you to be unaffiliated with the state. And then you can get involved in it. But Putin was smart enough to disclose financial sources of funding for "Wagner."
And that was a big mistake. Because there are criminal issues involved - in addition to the existing accusations of war crimes, we have additional crimes, as he admitted to fully financing this group for billions per year, or even more - and that's a lot. It proves that it was not a separate army but the hand of the Kremlin.
And now, regardless of what Prigozhin does, whatever provocations may occur, it will be very difficult to convincingly argue that the Russian government has nothing to do with it.
So, I believe the chance of such an attack is low. Even if such a possibility was considered, it is now unrealistic.
— Don't you think they could use him against Lukashenko?
— We are just now making some theories, right? But since he betrayed Putin, he can easily betray Lukashenko if necessary. Therefore, it will be dangerous for Lukashenko to keep "Wagner" in Belarus for too long, as they are stronger than the ineffective Belarusian army. They have combat experience, and no matter how many of these fighters there are, they are dangerous. So, I don't see any benefits for Lukashenko.
Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko
Editor, European Pravda
Video by Volodymyr Oliynyk