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Lithuania's foreign minister reminds Washington what's at stake in Ukraine war

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Twenty years ago today, three Baltic states joined NATO. Top diplomats from those nations on NATO's eastern flank came to Washington earlier this week as Russia continues to pound Ukraine and U.S. aid is held up in Congress. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports they are calling for U.S. leadership.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Lithuania's foreign minister joined his counterparts from the Baltic nations of Estonia and Latvia to remind policymakers in Washington of what's at stake in the war in Ukraine. Gabrielius Landsbergis is clearly worried about the debates over U.S. aid.

GABRIELIUS LANDSBERGIS: But I think it goes beyond just Congress vote, right? It's the mindset that we're talking about, that the peacetime in Europe is over. The continent, you know, against our wishes, is again, at war. And all the last conflicts in Europe have been won with a combined effort from both sides of the Atlantic.

KELEMEN: And he says American leadership is still needed today. Landsbergis fears that the Russians will use a recent ISIS attack in Moscow to mobilize more forces to fight in Ukraine. The Russians have already tried to connect the attack to Ukraine, which the U.S. calls nonsense and propaganda. Lithuania's top diplomat agrees.

LANDSBERGIS: We have not to lose focus. I mean, the most important thing I would say of this century is taking place in Ukraine.

KELEMEN: We meet in the lobby of the State Department at the end of a trip that also took him to the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania. He says the U.S. and Europe must make sure that Ukraine wins this war.

LANDSBERGIS: My point always has been that Ukraine can win. They are able. Afghanistan won against Soviet Union in 1980. So the Ukraine definitely has a chance. The only question - do we have an understanding how much do we need to support them and what's at stake if we don't?

KELEMEN: Next week, NATO foreign ministers will be meeting in Brussels and the war in Ukraine will again likely loom large. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says there's been a dramatic increase in what he calls Russia's air terror, with hundreds of missiles, drones and bombs launched at Ukrainian cities in the last week alone.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.