Gabrielius Landsbergis addressed students and faculty at a Monday talk about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s sanctions on Lithuania and the need for the West to stand up to autocracy.
Milan Singh, Contributing Photographer
The United States and Europe must reduce their economic and energy dependency on China and Russia, Lithuania’s chief diplomat argued on Monday.
Secretary of State Gabrielius Landsbergis addressed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its global implications at the Humanities Quadrangle hosted by the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.
The minister argued that the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and other nations once occupied by the Soviet Union were right to warn of the threat posed by Russia.
“People in Lithuania and in the Baltic States in general have a very good understanding of what Russia is,” Landsbergis said in an interview with the news. “That’s why we’ve always seen Russia as a threat, not just before or after Crimea in 2014, but always. For 30 years we have been saying that Russia has not changed, that it is an empire that looks aggressively at its neighbors.”
Landsbergis argued that many European nations ignored the Russian threat in order to gain access to cheap commodities – such as energy. Germany, for example, while shutting down its nuclear power plants, was building pipelines to import natural gas from Russia.
Lithuania, Landsbergis said, was hit by Russia with the highest tariffs in Europe – for political reasons – until Lithuania decided to build its own LNG terminals to secure energy independence.
The minister argued that the notion that trading with autocratic nations would make them more free and democratic had been proven wrong. After China sanctioned Lithuania for allowing Taiwan to open a representative office — a diplomatic outpost that isn’t an official embassy — Lithuania struck trade deals with democracies like Japan, South Korea and Australia.
Landsbergis added that the West must be prepared to bear the additional costs of not being dependent on authoritarian regimes. Through economic diversification—for example, through contracts with several countries for important raw materials—democratic nations will gain more influence over autocracies.
Luca Girodon ’26, Major for Future Global Affairs, expressed agreement with the minister’s argument for decoupling, but pointed out that idealism must be tempered with pragmatism.
“Despite Minister Landsbergis’ optimism, one must bear in mind the reality of diplomacy – that there will always be some form of hypocrisy,” Girodon told the News. “In order for the United States to continue to be a leading world power and to control Russia and China, it is inevitable that we must trade with nations of less than eminent backgrounds, such as Modi’s India or Bolsonaro’s Brazil, to maintain our economic advantage.”
The Secretary of State commended the Western response to Putin’s invasion, particularly President Biden’s push to sell arms to Ukraine and provide Ukraine with adequate assistance.
Landsbergis also noted that Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas has given Putin a powerful weapon in the short term, but accelerating the European Union’s plans for the clean energy transition would weaken the effectiveness of supply cuts in the medium to long term.
During the question-and-answer segment, some participants questioned the possibility that American foreign policy might be moving in a more isolationist direction in the near future.
According to Landsbergis, American support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia were vital to the war effort. For him, victory in Ukraine – which he defined as restoring pre-2014 borders – is an essential first step in promoting democracy in neighboring Kremlin-affiliated nations like Belarus and ultimately achieving regime change in Moscow.
However, Landsbergis noted that Lithuania’s precise foreign policy goals need not necessarily be shared by the United States or NATO, which will meet for a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius next year.
“[The event was] wonderful,” said Steven Wilkinson, director of the MacMillan Center. “One of the great things we’re doing at MacMillan with this speaker series is bringing world leaders and international scholars to Yale, and for students and faculty to meet them is really just an important part of a liberal arts education.”
Landsbergis was a member of the European Parliament from 2014 to 2016 and Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since December 2020.