Vytautas Landsbergis, the patriarch of Lithuanian politics known for his tough anti-Russian stance, is uncompromisingly critical of how NATO countries have responded to Russia's recent incursions into Turkey's airspace.
Vytautas Landsbergis
© DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

In an interview to LRT television, Landsbergis, the first head of state of independent Lithuania and a former leader of the conservative Homeland Union, says there is no point in denouncing Russia, unless words are backed by actions. "Mr Putin, prepare tin coffins for you pilots, if you continue to do what you're doing," is what NATO leaders should tell Moscow, Landsbergis insists.

Russia has violated Turkey's airspace several times. Russian officials say this happened due to bad weather and there's no basis for conspiracy theories. Is that possible?

No, this is just regular nonsense coming from Russian politician that we shouldn't pay any attention to. We should look instead at what they are doing. They are doing particular things with a particular goal in mind - they want to provoke a fourth warring party [in the Syrian conflict]. Three parties to the conflict present already enough confusion. One of them is backed by the United States, another by Russia. There's already the possibility of a direct confrontation when they fly around one another within kilometres. With one more party involved, Turkey, the tensions will rise even more.

Why does Russia want one more party in the Syrian conflict?

Today's Russia and its leadership need as much tension as possible everywhere. They exploit it to win influence. They use threats, because it's very effective. Read: you must talk with us because we are unpredictable. And "with us" means "by our rules". That's the goal of the Kremlin's masters.

The Turkish president has said his country will not remain an idle observer, that Russia's actions against Turkey are actions against NATO. What kind of response should we expect from Turkey? What do you think Turkey should do?

The most straightforward response from Turkey would be this: Make sure there's no bad weather, because next time your plane might not return. Or if you get lost, make sure you're ten kilometres away from the Turkish border, because if you do, the plane might not return. This would be serious talk, whereas now there are just laments and promises to talk. Putin laughs at this. He uses a simple formula: they talk, I act.

But NATO denounced Russia's actions in Turkey.

They can denounce as much as they want. What's the use when you denounce but don't do anything? They must say: Mr Putin, prepare tin coffins for you pilots, if you continue to do what you're doing.

What if they did say so? What then?

Let Russians think very hard what they want. Do they want to be hit back or do they think the other side are cowards and will never dare to say anything. This is how Russia becomes more daring each day. They might as well attack Spitsbergen in Norway, where two Russians are digging coal. Build a military base and defend Russia's legitimate interests. If we allow it, such provocations will multiply.

Where could they lead?

Either to Russia's collapse or domination.

Can Russia's involvement in Syria lead to collapse in Russia itself?

It can, but that will also depend on consequences. Right now, Russians are flying undisturbed and attacking Bashar al-Assad's opponents, including those who want to remove Assad as a terrorist who gases children. Few talk about this fact, except the United States reminding it will not talk to a mass murderer. Putin perhaps wants to force America to talk and thus humiliate it once again.

What do you make of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statements that talks on Syria must include Assad?

Unfortunately, it's Putin's line. It's what Putin wants. I don't know, perhaps Ms Merkel fails to understand that she wants humiliation for America. Americans have said they will not talk to a mass murderer of children and that he [Assad] needs to go. And now what? Americans will have to apologize for what they said about murdered Syrian children?

What do you think about US President Barack Obama's policy and position in the situation? What is it down to?

I think it is down to his weak character and the weakness of his team. Barack Obama sometimes makes very strict statements, but there are no strict actions. He has vetoed initiatives to rearm Ukraine, since he knows that Moscow will be very upset by it. There are probably people counting days until the US presidential election, thinking what more Moscow could win until then.

What do you think Moscow is intent on winning?

As much as the West allows. There's advance in one direction, without any response, without any backlash, only attempts to retreat, to talk, to negotiate. We have been in a similar situation, too, we were treated like this. Back then, there was more sincerity among Western states.

What are the goals of Russia's intervention in Syria?

On the one hand, it's classic. Putin's tsarist Russia needs colonies overseas, especially in the Mediterranean with a strong military base. Once there, Russians will be difficult to push out, they will control the Mediterranean, so that the US navy feels very uneasy there. Should there be a need to intervene in the issues of North Africa, the Arab states, that, too, will be much easier to do. They'll be able to dictate the terms, orchestrate negotiations with both Palestine and Israel. Russia thus becomes indispensable everywhere, because it's dangerous. It quite likes being dangerous and thus indispensable. It's a pity that the West refuses to see it and respond properly.

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