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Sunday, July 23, 2023 – NATO (or OTAN, if you speak French)

Road Scholar is known for having  professional speakers who live in the region. They have been excellent, and today was no exception.

We started the day with a lecture by Justinas Kulys, Project Manager at Eastern Europe Studies Centre, who had a front row seat to the heads of state as they met for the NATO meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania last week. He was bursting with pride as 39 years ago, they were part of the Soviet Union, and today they are a host nation for the NATO summit!!

Here are his points that follow an outline of his presentation: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

  • There was a large sign on the building that said, “Putin, The Hague is Waiting for You.”
  • A clever electronic sign during that time said, “While you are waiting for a bus, Ukraine is waiting for F-16s.”
  • Russia is the most sanctioned country in the world.
  • “Never let a crisis go to waste”. Instead of talking about IF we are attacked, they are making specific plans for WHEN we are attacked. “Who is going to do what?”
  • After over 500 days, the war is not over as quickly as Putin had planned

The Bad

  • Lithuania (and Estonia and Latvia) are part of a synchronized electric grid with Russia and Belarus. They are trying to separate from this grid.
  • Lithuanians are encouraged to find individual solutions such as home solar panels.
  • New political elections in Europe and the US are a risk that the winners may not continue to fully support Europe.
  • Battle fatigue in Ukraine
  • The largest nuclear power plant in Europe is near the battlefield.
  • Ukraine is trying to cross fields of mines put down by the Russians as they counter-attack.

The Ugly

  • War Crimes by the Russians
  • Conflict is close to Lithuania. Russia crosses Lithuanian air space 30 times each week.
  • Potential Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  • Global Impact.
  • Starvation is a weapon that Russia claims to have in their tool kit. They have used it before, in 1932 … against Ukraine!
  • Russia constantly says that they are going to destroy us … they can and they have. SCARY.

Lithuania is Pro-Ukraine. This isn’t just talk but is put into action by raising money quickly for much needed supplies for Ukraine. NATO recommends that each country spend 2% of their GDP on defense. Lithuania currently spends 2.5 % but strives for 3%. They muse how a small country can meet and exceed whereas a larger country like Belgium can’t commit to even 2%.

The country of Lithuania desires a closer relationship with like-minded countries in the west. They are eager to build TRUST. Their biggest trading partner is Germany.

Lithuania has 25,000 soldiers. NATO will build up to 225,000 troops if there is a conflict. No Baltic countries have fighter jets. Lithuanians are happy to see American troops.

Belarus and Russia have a long-standing smuggling arrangement. Belarus was purposely sending migrants to Lithuania to cause disruptions and use up resources so Lithuania had to build a wall on the border.

We were trying to understand about Kaliningrad which is part of Russia but is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland.

How Does Russia own Kaliningrad? We were shown a YouTube video. See below:

Why Kaliningrad Belongs to Russia

Gotland is an island in Sweden. If Sweden becomes part of NATO, this would be good for Lithuania, and Kaliningrad would be even more surrounded by NATO countries.


Russians living in the Baltics don’t want to return to Russia. They like their life and want this freedom for their children.

Inside Russia they are constantly bombarded with stories that they might believe:

  • All West is bad and evil
  • Things are better in Russia.
  • NATO is repressive
  • Russian males must serve in the army and are taught that the external enemy is bad. Nothing else matters. Defend the Motherland.

Energy and Infrastructure

  • Russia controlled energy and in 1991, they cut off everything. Today Lithuania gets natural gas which is stored in ships as a liquid.
  • Lithuania is part of the Brell Ring which provides electricity to Lithuania. Russia can easily turn out the lights. It is risky, and we hope to be free by 2025.
  • The existing rail system has the Russian gauge (width of rails). Transporting goods to western Europe is arduous. Construction on Rail Baltica is well underway and will greatly enhance trade and travel with the west.

Lithuania has the biggest population and greatest land mass of the Baltic countries. The population is 2.7 million, but it is also declining like the other Baltic countries. Unlike Estonia and Latvia, 77% of the population is Catholic.

Estonia just accepted same sex marriage. Latvia and Lithuania have not. The Baltics don’t have a gun culture. If one wants to purchase a gun, it is a very long process.

Lithuania was once very large with land extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. It was joined with Poland. Lithuanians fought against Swedes and then Russians.

Trakai Island Castle near Vilnius was built in the early 1400’s to fight against the Teutonic Knights of the Crusades. It is surrounded by five clear freshwater lakes. It was never captured. 

However, neglect and people taking building materials took its toll on the castle. Roofs and frescoes were gone so weather caused further decline. Until 80 years ago there was no restoration. The castle has 13 different types of bricks. It was not easy to restore a medieval castle, especially during Soviet times. Only 30% of the first floor is original. It is now used as a museum and historical site. It’s the most visited site in Lithuania. Hollywood movies have been made here.

The Grand Duke of Lithuania called Witold the Great was the local hero of the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. There are three different names for the battle depending on three countries that were involved in the largest battle in medieval times. German: Schlacht bei Tannenberg, Polish: bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Lithuanian: Žalgirio mūšis.

Magdeburg rights were a set of town privileges that regulated the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages granted by the local ruler.

Unusual Things

Water fountain and water bottle station
Bike wash
Meeting room??
Dove photo opportunity
An arm relic of St. Stanislaus that had not been seen for 70 years and is now displayed in the Vilnius Cathedral. I think that it should be left unseen.
Vilnius Cathedral
In the square by the Vilnius Cathedral is a marker for the southern terminus of the human handholding chain across three countries called The Baltic Way.
Inside the cathedral.
They call any mound of dirt a mountain. The highest point in Lithuania is 961 feet. This Castle called Gediminus overlooks the city.
It is fun to watch sports in another country. Clay courts are the majority here.

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