Lithuanians are voting in a presidential runoff election, with Dalia Grybauskaite set to retain her post after pledging to reinforce the country’s defenses as Russian expansionism rattles the Baltic region. Grybauskaite, 58, garnered more than three times as many votes as her rival, former Finance Minister Zigmantas Balcytis, in the May 11 first round. Voting ends at 8 p.m. in the capital, Vilnius, with early results due about two hours later. Turnout was 7.4 percent as of 10 a.m., in addition to 6.6 percent in early voting, according to the election commission. Grybauskaite, a former European Union budget commissioner, used the campaign to focus on her defense credentials while accusing the government, led by allies of Balcytis, of inaction. The Baltic states are seeking permanent NATO bases to counter what they say is Russia’s military buildup in the region. The alliance has added air patrols and land troops in the region after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, which also holds a presidential election today.
“It’s today that our country needs additional security,” Grybauskaite said in a televised debate May 22. “We’ve witnessed massive military maneuvering on our border in Kaliningrad just last week. A Russian army of 40,000 remains on Ukraine’s border. We’re in the vortex of threats.”
The U.S. and Ukraine have accused Putin of failing to live up to his repeated pledges to pull troops back from Ukraine’s border. Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s General Staff, said May 23 that the withdrawal began May 19 and will take about 20 days.