00:56 - Source: CNN
Writer: 'Putin views Trump as an apprentice'

Editor’s Note: Liepa Želnienė is a political journalist and fact-checker for Lithuanian online media outlet 15min. She was a member of the Digital Communication Network exchange program in 2016, funded by the US Department of State. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

CNN —  

A few days ago I was talking to my daughter about World War II. She couldn’t believe that the US had helped Russia win a war against Germany.

“Now Trump is acting the same. He is supporting Russia!” she said, with panic in her voice.

This is precisely the issue that much of central and eastern Europe is thinking about, as it looks with concern at the news coming from Washington.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of FBI director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers giving testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about the Trump’s wiretapping claim, alleged Russian interference in the US election and what, if any, relationship Trump’s campaign aides had with Moscow.

While these allegations rightly concern Americans, here in Lithuania, it is more than a matter of domestic politics.

Since his election, President Trump has done little to halt the growing confidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. For those of us in the Russian “spheres of interest,” this carries potentially chilling consequences.

In his inaugural address, his first statement as US President, Trump said: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”

Now the President is following up words with action. In his budget, outlined last week, Trump confirmed earlier reports that he intends to dramatically scale back funds to the State Department.

What does that actually mean? Russian state-owned media has been very fast to translate. They wrote before the budget was officially announced that Trump was ready “to slaughter sacred US cows” and to stop “democracy export.”

“Democracy export” is a phrase commonly used in Russian propaganda. They’ve used it to describe the Arab spring, the Euromaidan protest in Ukraine and even the Lithuanian declaration of independence 27 years ago.

But in none of these historical events was there a drop of American imposition. I know this very well from my own family’s history. No one made my father’s uncle write and print illegal literature in his own flat.

No American helped him in 1980, when he was sentenced to prison and exiled to Siberia for seven years. No one told my parents in 1987 to take their 3-year-old daughter – me – to a demonstration against the Soviet Union in Vilnius. Nor did America organize the Baltic Chain – in which 2 million people joined their hands for freedom.

America didn’t impose any of these things on us. Rather, America gave us hope. We always knew that we were not alone. Like when the US refused to recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. Or how the Lithuanians who managed to break through iron walls were welcomed to come to the US as refugees.

01:48 - Source: CNN
Trump on Putin: One tough cookie

There was the the Voice of America on the radio, giving us small sips of truth. And American journalists bore witness as Soviet tanks tried to run over the fragile freedom of Lithuania on January 13, 1991.

Democracy is not a thing to export. It’s impossible to export a wish for freedom and justice. But when a country gives everything for liberty, it’s good to have friends with same values who can teach them how to transition from revolution to functioning democracy.

And one of the best ways to learn is to see and experience.

As a journalist, I had the opportunity to go abroad through Digital Communication Network, a group that exists because of State Department support. After a fellowship at PolitiFact, I opened a fact-checking unit in Lithuania, 15min.lt.

Today, my nation isn’t the only one wondering how Washington will treat Moscow and the rest of the world. Our neighbors in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are working hard to escape from the prison of Russia’s sphere of interest. If Trump keeps his promise, it won’t be long before the world faces another Ossetia or Crimea.

Americans shouldn’t forget about us in the Baltic states – they could even learn something from us as they go through their period of political turmoil. We lived in a world of fake news for 50 years. We had propaganda all around us, but didn’t lose the capability to identify the truth and to reach for the information we needed.

Trump seemingly doesn’t realize that by saying he doesn’t care about the rest of the world he plays into the hands of his own country’s enemies. America first should not mean turning a blind eye elsewhere. If Putin knows that the US is not looking, he might just remember Russia’s interest in the Baltic states.