Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, voiced support yesterday for the presence of U.S. soldiers in the country. Russian interference in the Ukraine – both in annexing Crimea and support for factions fighting the government – has caused a surge of suspicion and fear amongst countries formerly in the Soviet bloc.
After Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Poland between them in 1939, the Soviet Union pressured baltic states such as Lithuania to allow Soviet military bases there and then outright annexed the territories in 1940. Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence in 1990.
The country has a population of less than three million and armed forces encompassing only 15,000 soldiers. In 2004, Lithuania became a member of NATO. Democratic and free market reforms have boosted the economy and the typical Lithuania now earns more than $30,000 per year compared to $27,000 for the typical Russian.
Grybauskaite is widely popular in Lithuania and has compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to both Stalin and Hitler in the past. She led Lithuania in a boycott of the Sochi Olympic Games, along with several other countries, in protest of Russian conduct in the Ukraine. She has also consistently advocated for close ties between Lithuania and the European Union and the United States.
NATO currently has 1,000 troops and the U.S. 150 in the country.