Lithuanian President: help Ukraine by speeding up EU accession

The writer is President of Lithuania

For many years, Lithuania has followed with great interest Ukraine’s progress on the road to political and economic reform. Inspired by our close historical and cultural ties, we have actively supported Ukrainian efforts to strengthen the state and move closer to Euro-Atlantic integration.

The opposite must be said of Russia. As his previous public statements have shown, President Vladimir Putin has long believed that the neighboring independent state of Ukraine must cease to exist and its people must submit to Russian political and cultural influence.

The increasing level of violence against the civilian population of Ukrainian cities shows Russia’s willingness to use terror for political ends.

We have seen such cruelty before, especially in Chechnya and Syria. This time, it is to be hoped that Putin will have a much harder time continuing his war on terror for an extended period.

Perhaps the most spectacular failure of the Russian leadership so far has been their inability to calculate the international community’s response. Although the unprovoked show of force in Ukraine shocked the world, what followed was not a soft acquiescence, but a widespread outpouring of anger and mass protests around the world.

The West, in particular, seems to have learned the hard lessons of the past. We cannot appease those who only dream of power, conquest and revenge. Any concession to the aggressor brings new demands. Thus the vicious wheel of violence continues to turn. Somebody has to stop it.

Russian aggression prompted the West to unite and take a stand. Major European nations are already breaking with longstanding political traditions to play a more active geopolitical role. The doors of Russian capital are closing at a pace that would not have seemed possible just a few weeks ago. NATO is very active and engaged, and the EU looks rejuvenated and resolute as never before.

What is crucial now is not to stop halfway. We have already seen Russia place its nuclear forces on “high alert”. There may be more attempts to sow fear and anxiety soon.

However, if the West cannot risk an all-out nuclear war, neither can Russia. We must call the Kremlin to the bluff and continue to support the Ukrainian struggle by all means except direct military confrontation. There is nothing inherently new about this situation, even though Russia is much weaker today than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.

The war in Ukraine is bloody and its brave people will suffer much more before things start to look up. However, only by forcing Russian forces to withdraw from the territories they have sought to occupy can we both stop the bloodshed and prevent further destabilization of the entire region. Moscow should have no doubts about the West’s collective will to punish any further Russian transgressions.

To help Ukraine, we must join forces across the Atlantic. Lithuania is already trying its best to build a broad coalition to support this freedom-loving country. We welcome Ukraine’s sovereign decision to apply for EU membership and hope that the accession process will be as fast as possible, given the current circumstances.

The United States and its European allies must work closely together to ensure respect for international law and the rules-based global order. Strong political will is needed both to avoid any potential pitfalls and to ensure lasting peace on the European continent.

At this crucial moment in history, the West must not weaken. Now is the time for us to draw – and defend – our own red lines. The future of our world could be decided in Ukraine.

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