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What It Means For Lithuania To Have Britain Leave The EU


We're continuing to see fallout from that vote in the United Kingdom to exit the European Union on world markets and also on the stability of many countries in the region. Some of the smaller Baltic nations, for example, who are right on Russia's doorstep, have long relied on Britain's guidance and toughness.

GREENE: We really need some backup.

GREENE: That is the voice of Linas Linkevicius. He is the foreign minister of Lithuania. And when he stopped by our studios in Washington, D.C., last week, I asked him what it means to lose the U.K. from the European Union.

LINAS LINKEVICIUS: We need to feel more confident in this uncertain the world, which is - we can see, it's not becoming more and more certain. So it's means a lot.

GREENE: A lot of people have seen this moment as a good one for Russia's president Vladimir Putin, who has made no secret, over time, that if he's able to divide NATO, divide the EU, that might be good for Russia. Britain has been seen as sort of among the toughest countries in the EU when it comes to confronting Russia, tougher than France, tougher than Germany. Is that a real concern for you, to lose their voice?

LINKEVICIUS: Yes. I told we will lose a very important, efficient ally within EU. We will not lose ally in the overall scene. This is very important, to draw lessons from the past. This is also very important. We didn't do that many times, many occasions. After war in South Caucasus, we didn't do that. So the situation...

GREENE: This is the Russian invasion of Georgia you're talking about in 2008.

LINKEVICIUS: This is Russian invasion to Georgia, annexation of part of the sovereign country, right?

GREENE: You know, I hear you talk about Russian invading Georgia. I mean, we saw them, you know, Russian involvement in Ukraine and invading Crimea. A lot of people have watched all of that and ask the question - could the Baltics be next? Could a country like Lithuania be next?

I mean, when you're home in Lithuania's capital, is that a real concern? Are people afraid of an invasion from Russia at some point?

LINKEVICIUS: I have no reasons to doubt about security guarantees provided by NATO. It's very serious. Organizations will be totally stupid to challenge that, although a lot of stupidity's happened so far. But nevertheless, it's too far. But when we're talking about others who are members of this prestigious club - Georgia, Ukraine, also...

GREENE: Right.

LINKEVICIUS: Maldova also has some problems. Are people relaxed? No, they are not. Are they really concerned? Yes, they are. So we...

GREENE: You feel like you being in NATO sort of protects you against Russian agression.

LINKEVICIUS: So we are more calm in this regard. We'll do our business, what we have to do to make sure that no one should doubt about seriousness of NATO to protect their own citizens.

GREENE: Well, there's quite a display of that last month. I mean, the largest joint military exercise by European countries since the end of the Cold War in Poland. I mean, we were talking about 30,000 troops from across NATO. Is there a risk in provoking him and making things worse and more dangerous?

LINKEVICIUS: And NATO doing nothing to make them angry because NATO trying to be open, trying to communicate, trying to explain, trying to cooperate to find something in common. Russia today - unfortunately, Russia today is not a partner. But we would like to have normal partnership in the future, but based...

GREENE: You could see that? You could see a normal partnership with Russia at some point?

LINKEVICIUS: In the future. It should be normal, but it should be based on values and principles.

GREENE: Your country has been through a lot in this last century.

LINKEVICIUS: And will be a lot, probably (laughter).

GREENE: I mean, I - there were times when it seemed like Lithuania was abandoned by other parts of Europe. You went through decades of Soviet occupation. Now you're in the European Union and a member of NATO. We have a moment when you feel the EU is going to be weaker than it has been. I mean, define this moment.

LINKEVICIUS: Through centuries, we never - one nation never was free, never was independent. Reality was always going from one aggressor to another, one hands to another hands. And only after membership in NATO, membership in European Union in 2004, we can assess. Of course, we know there could be difficulties and will be in the future. But together, we can solve them - if united, if convinced, if motivated with the optimism.

GREENE: Minister Linkevicius, thank you very much for coming in. We appreciate it.

LINKEVICIUS: Appreciate.

GREENE: Linas Linkevicius is Lithuania's foreign minister. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.