Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has taken a big step toward winning a second term, dominating the first round of voting in the Baltic country's sixth presidential election since it regained independence in 1991.
Lithuania's election commission said Grybauskaite, a former European Union budget commissioner, had about 45.8 percent of the vote in Sunday's election with 97 percent of the ballots counted.
Grybauskaite has been a vocal critic of Russia's actions on Ukraine, boosting her popularity in a country controlled by Moscow during the Cold War.
If the preliminary results stand she will face her top challenger in a runoff to be held along with European Parliament elections on May 25.
The race for second place was tight: Zigmantas Balcytis, a social democrat, had 14 percent, just one percentage point more than Labor lawmaker Arturas Paulauskas.
Grybauskaite’s criticism of Moscow's intervention in Ukraine has struck a chord in Lithuania, which, like the other former Soviet Baltic states has been on edge since Russia seized Crimea, saying it needed to protect Russian speakers there.
Concerns have grown that Russia may try to destabilize the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have small military forces and Russian speaking minorities.
Grybauskaite has supported moving Lithuania away from energy dependence on Russia, which she described as an "existential threat" to the small republic. .Lithuania is constructing an LNG terminal called "Independence" in the port city of Klaipeda to provide an alternative to Russian gas.
This year, as the Ukraine crisis grew, she backtracked on her policy of cutting defense spending and pushed for Lithuania to commit to raising defense spending to the NATO target of two percent of GDP by 2020.