ForMin of Lithuania – Real action taken, without PR exercises,

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Pranešk apie klaidą

Read an interview with Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Azubalis by Veidas magazine.  The interview was published on 13 September.

The foreign policy is hazy at best; and to be more specific – it is pro-Russian, it turns away from the United States, our strategic partner, and it betrays the countries, advocates of which we have been for many years in the international arena. This is the image of the new Lithuanian foreign policy that one sees today. We asked Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis whether this was true.

Several days ago our President announced: Lithuania will not be a hostage to the US foreign policy and will implement an independent foreign policy. How will this be manifested in Lithuania’s foreign policy?

I cannot say what Lithuania will not be, but I can definitely say that the United States has been and will continue to be a strategic partner of Lithuania, especially when it comes to security issues. By the way, this was also emphasized by the president in her speech to the Lithuanian diplomats. We are holding very active consultations with senior US officials, experts, and diplomats on all issues, including the NATO strategic concept and other issues.

This is your opinion. However, by rejecting US President Barack Obama’s invitation to meet with him in Prague, the president clearly expressed a doubt whether the United States viewed Lithuania as its strategic partner.

It does. Sometimes I talk to the US ambassador twice a day; we maintain constant contact. Where does such a view come from? I have been in politics for twenty years, and I know that sometimes words get twisted, and, after all, every quote has its context. For me, things written in the government programme, in the programme of the Conservatives, and the president’s words on foreign policy issues are very important to me. I can only repeat: Cooperation is conducted at the strategic level on strategic questions.

Previous President Valdas Adamkus criticized the foreign policy, because, according to him, the relations with Russia were improved at any cost and less attention was spent on Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia.

I can say I am surprised. Perhaps President Adamkus does not have as much information as he did when he was in office. I do not see anything that would allow one to claim that the ties with Russia are improved at any price. Unless someone thinks that it is some sort of a price that after a two-year break for the first time a successful meeting of the intergovernmental commission was held, that five agreements out of 17 that were vegetating for eight or nine years have almost been completed pretty much during these six months, and that Lithuania’s senior officials have had contacts with Russian leaders, something that had been missing for so many years.

If we were to talk about our relations with the eastern partners – Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia – I could say that they became much more concrete and that Lithuania’s assistance to these countries is very significant. My second trip as foreign minister was to Georgia, where a concrete document on supporting Georgia’s path to the EU was signed; this issue was also included in the EU Foreign Affairs Council agenda for October. I initiated a meeting of the group of Moldova’s friends in Kishinev. A delegation of our diplomats and economists is travelling to Ukraine in order to boost our business positions there and in order to clarify certain misunderstandings in our bilateral trade relations.

By the way, when Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri visited Lithuania, he told me he was sincerely surprised why everyone was asking him how Georgia felt after Lithuania stopped supporting it. One thing that really changed – the rhetoric: Today, real action is taken, without PR exercises.

Why, however, did the agreements over facilitated border regime with the Kaliningrad Region and Belarusian border regions get stuck?

In 2009, Lithuania was ready to sign an agreement with Belarus, and was p repaired to sign it with Russia. We will sign it with Belarus very soon. When it comes to Russia, however, everything was ready, but later there were ideas related to providing the facilitated regime for the entire region, not just the 50-kilomoter strip by the border. One gets the impression that someone wants to delay this process on purpose, even though the people living by the border could be taking advantage of the facilitated regime already today.

Are there any talks regarding official visits by Lithuanian and Russian leaders? On what concrete issues would Lithuania try to agree, if such a meeting was held in the near future?

We should not become hostages of meetings and visits, because this can start dictating the political agenda and the negotiations process. The diplomatic service is doing its job. Agreements on cooperation in the area of metrology and standardization, on cooperation under extreme situations, agreements regarding a new bridge over Nemunas River, and other agreements have been coordinated. Today we do not have any agreements in our court – all of them are on the Russian side with our proposals. There is an invitation to meet for senior officials, but the time must ripen naturally, when the size of the package of agreements will seem pretty significant for both sides.

What pragmatic goals is Lithuania trying to achieve by trying to improve its relations with Belarus?

I do not want to say pragmatic or not pragmatic. Belarus is our neighbour and therefore it is important in various aspects. For example, we spoke to the Belarusian opposition about the upcoming elections in Belarus; it is no secret that we have been supporting and will continue to support Belarus’ democratic movements. However, at the same time I spoke to Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhei Martynaw about the repairs of the electric power line that stretches from Smolensk via Belarus to Lithuania. In my opinion, Belarus will not be able to balance between the two giants – the EU and Russia – long and soon will have to select the country’s direction. If it decides to turn towards Europe, the EU will have to help them, without forgetting its principles and values, of course.

When you were on the Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, you were much more critical.

I was not even allowed to enter Belarus. Now, however, my duties obligate me through the consular service to defend the interests of Lithuanian citizens in Belarus and to defend Lithuania’s interests to have a safe, stable, and democratic neighbour. In order to see this stability manifested, we must help Belarus.

It is emphasized that Lithuania adheres to the common EU foreign policy. However, can we claim that it exists at all after the Nord Stream and Mistral ordeals?

It does. Such examples fall out of the context, but if everyone is talking about them in a controversial way, it shows that the situation is changing. After all, the EU has existed for a long time, but the common diplomatic service is being created only now. The big countries were used to playing alone.

What concrete results were achieved regarding the initiative of Latvia and Lithuania to have closer cooperation among the countries of the Baltic Sea region?

My first trip as minister was to Latvia, where we had the idea to initiate the creation of a group of wise men. Nordic countries proposed an audit of relations, and today we have not theoretical strategies, but 38 concrete recommendations. This is a good start for having closer cooperation.

What can Lithuania gain from the OSCE chairmanship in 2011?

Unofficially, we are starting to chair the OSCE this week by organizing a high-level seminar on energy in Vilnius. Energy independence is one of the most important directions of our chairmanship, especially c considering the fact that the OSCE is unique, because this is where Russia, the United States, the EU, and Asian countries meet. By the way, we can rejoice that thanks to cooperation with Poland. The LitPolLink is moving forward, especially after German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly supported this project and the construction of a new nuclear power plant. It is a signal to the entire Europe that we must be integrated into the common European energy system.

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