KYIV – Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says that if Russia invades Ukraine, the European Union should act as quickly and decisively against Moscow as it did against Belarus when authorities in Minsk diverted a civilian airplane to arrest a dissident blogger and his girlfriend.
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Speaking with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in an interview broadcast on February 12, Simonyte said that while the window for discussion may appear to be closing as Russia continues to amass troops – estimated to be well over 100,000 – in areas near its border with Ukraine, she believes there is still a chance that “diplomacy will prevail.”
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And if not, “really tough” sanctions should quickly follow.
“Even the option of having sanctions is a very powerful tool because what the Kremlin must know is that…in a time of need, reaction can be very rapid. I would recall the situation with Lukashenka where the hijack of the Ryanair flight happened and the European Union was very quick to impose quite painful sanctions,” she said.
The EU’s actions “proved that in circumstances that are unprecedented, the European Union can act unprecedentedly quick,” she added.
Simonyte was referring to the forced diversion last May of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius orchestrated by Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka to arrest journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
In response to the incident, the EU and countries including the United States, Canada, and Britain quickly announced harsh sanctions against Belarus.
Tensions over Ukraine have been rising for weeks over the Russia buildup. The United States warned on February 11 that Russia could attack Ukraine at any time. Moscow denies Western accusations it may be planning an invasion.
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Several rounds of diplomacy have failed to calm the situation, though Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, are scheduled to speak by phone on February 12.
Simonyte said that Russia’s past actions in areas such as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia in 2008 as well as Moscow’s forcible annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 prompted “quite a significant shift and quite a significant awakening” in the international community to what Moscow is capable of if it is not challenged.
She added that while “many people might take what is happening for bluffing,” Europe and the international community as a whole “all know who the aggressor is in this situation.”
“It is very important that we show our very strong support to Ukraine and make those arguments by the Kremlin that [Putin] uses for his blackmail null and void,” Simonyte said.