Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States and is the eastern boundary of the European Union with the Commonwealth of Independent States. It sits astride both sea and land routes connecting North to South and East to West, with Poland and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation on one side and Belarus on the other.  Ethnically more homogenous than the other Baltic States, 83.6 percent of Lithuania’s population of approximately 2.7 million people is ethnically Lithuanian.  Approximately 6.6 percent are Polish and 5.8 percent Russian.

Lithuania claimed its independence from the Soviet Union when the new, democratically elected Supreme Council voted on March 11, 1990, to reestablish the Lithuanian Republic.  The collapse of the Moscow coup in August 1991 led to international, including Russian, recognition of Lithuania's independence.  Lithuania became a state party to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (which later became the OSCE) in 1991, the first international organization it joined after independence.  Accession to NATO and the European Union in 2004 cemented Lithuania's commitment to democracy and market economics.

Lithuania is particularly concerned with what it perceives as a security threat from Russia on the heels of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and continued Russian accusations of mistreatment of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltics. The deployment of Russian troops and equipment to Lithuania’s border with Belarus has also sparked growing concern. Lithuania’s values-based foreign policy has included hosting political opposition leaders from Russia and Belarus, as well as taking a principled stance against China’s authoritarian policies and human rights violations, including by deepening ties with Taiwan.  As a result, the country has faced a campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The Helsinki Commission has devoted significant attention to strategic picture in the Baltic region in recent years, and especially since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014.  For example, Commission Members visited the Baltic states in July 2021 (Estonia) and February 2022 (Lithuania).  In July 2019, the Helsinki Commission convened an unprecedented Field Hearing on Baltic Regional Security in Gdansk, Poland, to underscore America’s commitment to security in the Baltic Sea region and its unwavering support for U.S. friends and allies. Lithuanian Minister of Defense, Raimundas Karoblis, testified at the hearing, held less than 80 miles from Russia’s Kaliningrad border, alongside senior U.S. civilian and military leaders, who outlined America’s collaborative approach to enhancing security in the region, as well as high-level officials from Poland, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia, who provided regional perspectives on the evolving security environment.

Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor

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