Lithuanians perceive Russia as the biggest threat to their country’s security, according to a survey by the Eastern European Studies Centre (EESC) presented on Friday.
The poll conducted in April–May 2020, included 1,012 respondents aged 18–75. Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, thought that the Kremlin‘s foreign policy was a threat to Lithuania.
Among other hostile countries, Lithuanians mentioned Belarus (36 percent) and China (26 percent), while Latvia, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, and Ukraine were deemed the most ‘friendly’ nations.
According to the EESC study, which was conducted for the third time, fewer people than before thought that Lithuania’s policy towards Russia was ‘too strict’. In the latest survey, 32 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, compared to 42 percent in 2016.
Respondents were also in favour of extending EU sanctions on Russia for as long as the country continues hostilities in Ukraine. More than 40 percent of Lithuanians would support the sanctions even at some extra cost to Lithuania.
“This shows that the Lithuanian society is not weary of Russia-related politics,” said Linas Kojala, the EESC director.
Moreover, 54 percent of the respondents also deemed the Astravyets nuclear power plant in Belarus, built some 50 kilometers from Vilnius without consulting Lithuania, a threat to the country.
Moreover, fewer Lithuanians perceived Belarus as a ‘friendly’ state in 2020 (44 percent), compared to 2016 (55 percent).
Sceptical about democratic processes
The EESC also queried the respondents about democracy and economic situation in Lithuania.
The results showed that Lithuanians are sceptical about the functioning of democracy and their own power to influence decision-making processes in the country. Only 36 percent of the respondents said that they were satisfied with how democracy worked in Lithuania.
“This distrust of public institutions, of each other, and of our democracy is our vulnerability, which is being targeted by Russia,” said Margarita Šešelgytė, the director of Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, commenting on the survey results.
Nevertheless, 62 percent of the respondents said they were proud of their Lithuanian nationality, while 58 percent would be ready to defend the country by other means if they were unable to take up arms in case of a military conflict.
Lithuanians also continue to overwhelmingly support their country‘s membership in NATO and the EU, with only 9 percent thinking that it would be better-off without them.
Close to 45 percent expressed support for Lithuania‘s NATO commitment to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defence. This marked a significant increase since the previous years, when only a quarter agreed to this level of spending.
“The Lithuanian society had not learnt defence lessons in the wake of Russia’s war in Georgia [in 2008], but the war in Ukraine became a true lesson. […] There is more understanding now that military capabilities must be maintained,” said Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis.
Šešelgytė, meanwhile, stressed that a significant portion of the society still did not support bigger defence spending.
“People have expectations about the worsening economic situation, which will affect the national budget. So we have to think about how to maintain the 2 percent [defence spending] and whether the society will be in favour of it,” she said.