Lithuania’s president has many admirers among her countrymen, but her independent-mindedness has raised eyebrows in Washington.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has goaded the US — unsuccessfully — to share information on two CIA prisons she says were set up in Lithuania, openly disagreed with the US on missile defense and even snubbed US President Barack Obama at a dinner in Prague last year, even though nearly every other eastern European president attended.
Since becoming Lithuania’s president in 2009, she has wasted no time defining her leadership.
“Yes, you have to be a strict and loud partner if you want to be heard in the conversation,” said Grybauskaite, 55.
Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union for a half-century and remains leery of Russian intentions in the Baltic region, but Grybauskaite’s views have stunned US diplomats, who were accustomed to virtually flawless relations with Lithuania under her predecessor, Valdas Adamkus.
After the Obama administration, along with Russia, unfurled a strategic missile reduction plan Grybauskaite was the only ally who criticized it, claiming the plan harmed Lithuanian security.
“Lithuania is not used to a straightforward, terse, forceful way of making statements. I admit using this style in pushing NATO defense plans for the Baltic states,” she said.
US cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this year show NATO privately decided in January last year to expand a NATO defense plan for Poland to cover members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“I am afraid that if I had chosen a different tone, Lithuania and its neighbors would be still waiting another six years for these,” she said.
A trained economist, she spent several years in Washington in the 1990s studying and working at the Lithuanian embassy. She returned home to become finance minister, and as a reward for her fiscal discipline and political independence was sent to Brussels to serve as the EU’s budget commissioner.
A poll last month by Lietuvos Rytas, the country’s leading daily, showed her with a more than 80 percent approval rating.
“This woman is God sent to us during such difficult times. She worked in Washington and Brussels for many years, and she came back not to steal like many others in politics, but to genuinely help her homeland,” said Vladislava Keraitiene, 72, a retired teacher.