Lithuania. During the year, around 1,000 NATO soldiers
were stationed in Lithuania with the intention of increasing
Lithuania's defense in the shadow of the Russian military
build-up in the region. NATO troops came from several
countries, were under German command and were equipped with
over 200 tanks.
Countryaah.com, President Dalia Grybauskaite expressed concern that this
fall's large Russian military exercise Zapad in Belarus,
near the border with Lithuania, would demonstrate
preparations for war with the West. The President urged NATO
to increase its military presence in the Baltic States and
create a faster decision-making process. Lithuania also
planned to increase its own defense budget for 2018 to 2% of
GDP, the target NATO had set.
The military tension between NATO and Moscow affected
society. The government planned to build fences along parts
of the border with the Russian exclave Kaliningrad on the
Baltic Sea coast. In addition, the government stopped the
construction of a data center that would install a fiber
optic cable to the Russian Federation. It was feared that
the center would open a channel for Russian intelligence
operations into Lithuania. According to official sources,
several attempts had been made to infect the government's
computer system with Russian spy software.
In February, a Russian citizen and a Lithuanian were
sentenced to several years in prison accused of intelligence
activities on Russian behalf. Later in the year, a Russian
man was sentenced to ten years in prison for having traveled
to Lithuania with false identity, practicing espionage and
attempting to install interception equipment in the
president's office and residence.
In May, Lithuania granted asylum to two gay Chechens who
fled their Russian sub-republic, where homosexuals were
subjected to violent persecution.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Lithuania in
May. President Grybauskaite said that the United States
should station American robots in Lithuania in response to
Russian robots in Kaliningrad. This happened temporarily
during this summer's NATO exercise, when about 500 soldiers
participated in some 30 different air defense systems.
Grybauskaite believed that the robots should stay
permanently in the Baltic.
In June, the Government of Lithuania decided to ban all
alcohol advertising in TV, radio and newspapers, reduce the
opening hours for alcohol sales and raise the legal age for
alcohol consumption from 18 to 20 years. For young people
under the age of 20, it is illegal to drink alcohol or to
deal with it unless you work in a bar. The law, which comes
into force in 2018, will be the most stringent of its kind
According to WHO, Lithuanians drink more pure alcohol
than any other people in the world, averaging over 18 liters
per person per year.
Lithuania's tense relationship with Poland improved
during the year, after an agreement was reached between the
Lithuanian railways and the Polish owner of the giant
refinery Mažeikiai. A fierce conflict over unpaid oil
freight charges had led to litigation and several years of
At the beginning of the year, it was clear that the
population decreased more in Lithuania than in any other EU
country last year. Despite Britain's decision on Brexit, the
emigration of labor increased there, and 170,000 Lithuanians