This week, the world’s eyes were on the Lithuanian capital Vilnius as it welcomed global leaders for Nato’s 74th summit. The event was a logistical challenge not helped by the fact that Vilnius is only 30km away from the border with Belarus, which is now home to Russian nuclear weapons.
Commercial flights were suspended for the duration of the summit. Air defence systems were stationed. Four-thousand troops, undercover police officers and bomb detection dogs roamed the streets. A Boeing E-3 Sentry – Nato’s eyes in the sky – circled the capital while a 30km radius no-fly zone was imposed.
But the most prominent sight in the capital was the sheer level of support for Ukraine. The summit may have ended this week without Nato membership being offered to Kyiv, but that did not stop the summit hosts from signalling to Ukraine that they are among its staunchest allies.
The horizontal bands of Ukraine’s blue and yellow outnumbered Lithuania’s tricolour throughout the city, with Ukrainian flags on rooftops, shopfronts, buses, balconies, recycling bins and even the motorway lamp posts that stretched beyond the capital. The Vilnius administration handed out some 20,000 Ukrainian flags for residents the day before the summit.
When journalists attending the event collected their passes, they received ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ chocolates and Ukrainian borscht-flavoured crisps. Adverts at the event listed the ways in which Lithuania has supported Ukraine throughout the conflict. This was just as much about lauding Vilnius as shaming other countries which have dragged their feet over military support. Sometimes the pro-Ukraine messaging was even more direct. Shuttles to and from the exhibition centre had paint jobs which read, ‘while you are waiting for this bus, Ukraine is waiting for F-16s’.