“It’s not just [a] right, it’s a duty to defend [the] sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” he told RFE/RL. “And we definitely support [the] actions of the government and we believe they are legitimate.”
Linkevicius’s comments came on the same day that Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the country’s military is on “full combat alert” as pro-Russian militias continue to seize government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an April 30 statement that it was unnerved by what it described as Turchynov’s “militaristic statements.”
Linkevicius, however, praised Ukraine for “really showing restraint” in its attempts to curtail the unrest in eastern Ukraine, which the United States and Lithuania’s other Western allies have accused the Kremlin of stoking after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean territory in March.
Both the European Union, whose presidency is currently held by Lithuania, and the United States issued a fresh round of sanctions against senior Russian officials this week in response to what they consider Russia’s destabilizing role in the Ukraine crisis.
Senior U.S. lawmakers and other critics, however, have called the sanctions insufficient and are calling for broader, tougher punitive measures against sectors of the Russian economy.
Linkevicius told RFE/RL that the EU is sometimes settling on a “common denominator” that is “too low” when it comes to sanctions against Russia due to the range of economic ramifications such measures could have for EU members.
“We are doing sometimes too late, too soft, too little, and this is the problem,” he said. “But nevertheless, I have to say that thanks to the coordination with other players, in coordination with the United States, we are producing concerted actions.”
American troops arrived in Lithuania last week in a show of U.S. solidarity, assurances that Linkevicius said are appreciated in Lithuania and fellow Baltic countries Estonia and Latvia, which were previously controlled by the Soviet Union and have ethnic Russian minorities.
As NATO members, all three countries are guaranteed protection by the military alliance’s Article 5, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all members. But reinforcements are nonetheless welcomed, Linkevicius said.
“As a former defense minister, I know through the contacts with military authorities, I know that these Article 5 commitments are not artificial.” he said. “They are real, and we have no doubts about the security. But people are nervous.”