NATO’s European members have increased defense spending for the first time in seven years, Euronews reports:
The hike was driven by Latvia, Lithuania and to a lesser extent Estonia, three of just six countries to increase spending compared with seven years ago. Analysts say the three Baltic republics are upping outlay on arms and military equipment after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The trio were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 after the outbreak of World War Two but regained independence in 1991 amid the collapse of communism.
Lithuania has been subject to the Kremlin’s aggressive information warfare, US lawmakers were told last week.
Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, and the ambassadors of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Georgia all joined a panel urging the U.S. Senate to keep the flow of military and nonmilitary aid flowing to eastern Europe, Foreign Policy reports.
The Lithuanian ambassador Rolandas Kriščiūnas said Russian spies tried to “aggressively” meddle in his country’s domestic politics, adding Moscow was bankrolling Russian-speaking groups in the Baltic states to “incite ethnic tensions.”
Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland has become the “most militarized region in Europe,” Wilczek warned.
“I think for smaller countries, more exposed to Russia, the risk is now very big,” Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius told The Guardian.
The National Endowment for Democracy has worked with Lithuania in countering Russian efforts to subvert and destroy democracy in Lithuania, in Europe, and in Russia itself, said NED President Carl Gershman.
“We have supported the work of the Lithuania-based DELFI and the East European Studies Center in monitoring, documenting, and combatting Russian disinformation in Lithuania and the Baltic states,” he said, addressing Lithuania’s Parliament last week, commemorating the Day of the Restoration of Lithuania’s Independence.
“On a per capita basis no people suffered more under Soviet communism in terms of death, mass deportations, prison, and exile than the people of Lithuania,” Gershman added, noting that:
- We supported the Sajudis reform movement and The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.
- We helped Lithuanian and U.S. NGOs that assisted in the country’s post-communist transition to democracy.
- We funded cross-border programs carried out by Lithuanian NGOs working in Kaliningrad and Belarus.
- We supported pro-democracy Belarusian exile and diaspora groups based in Vilnius but working in Belarus.
- We have supported the Inter-Parliamentary Training Institute through which the Lithuanian Parliament has shared its best practices with parliamentarians and their staffs from Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
- We worked with the Lithuanian government and parliament in organizing the Vilnius ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies in 2011 when Lithuanian held the presidency of the Community.
- And we had the privilege in 2013 of organizing in Washington a ceremony at which the National Endowment for Democracy bestowed its Democracy Service Medal on the father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis.