Lithuania just recently put an end to war of words with Moscow, and Russian leaders declared their will to support good relations with Lithuania. However, now Lithuania faces another problem: Warsaw launched a verbal attack on Lithuania.
Strange things have been happening lately in Lithuania’s neighborhood. Russia and Belarus, whose relations with Lithuania had been that of an undeclared Cold War, have suddenly started sending friendly signals and are close to becoming strategic partners in Lithuania’s quest for energy security. In the meantime, Poland, the country with which Lithuania has been creating strategic partnership for some 20 years now, the country that is Lithuania’s military partner in NATO, the country that has political and economic ties with Lithuania, has taken over the role of the ultimate foe.
“I believe that our relations with Lithuania have been the same (bad) for many years, but only now have we properly described them,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in his interview with a Polish radio a week ago.
The Deterioration of Relations Was Expected
Lithuania got used to the fact that some Polish politicians, especially those who have withdrawn from active politics and have moved to the quiet and lethargic corridors of the European Parliament, fight against “discrimination” of the Polish minority in Lithuania. This was what former Poland’s chief auditor Janusz Wojciechowski, and Jaroslaw Kalinowski, former Polish Sejm’s deputy speaker and chairman of the Lithuanian-Polish Parliamentary Assembly have been doing.
Vilnius is not surprised with Sikorski’s statements, the Polish foreign minister is known for his unpredictable behavior and statements against virtually all of the country’s neighbors. Already in 2008, when Sikorski became Poland’s foreign minister, it became clear that Polish-Lithuanian relations would go sour. That year, Sikorski compared the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania to the situation of the Polish minority in Belarus. This was when Polish minority leaders were in prison for their activities in Belarus, and leaders of the Polish minority in Lithuania were members of the Vilnius City Council and the Lithuanian Parliament.
The only hurdle for Sikorski’s verbal attacks on Lithuania was the then Polish President Lech Kaczynski, whom Sikorski hated. After the tragic death of Lech Kaczynski in Smolensk, one of the diplomats who participates in the shaping of Lithuanian foreign policy, especially the country’s policy toward Poland, told Veidas: “We know that the period of difficult relations with Poland has come, and the verbal attacks, often ungrounded, will only intensify. We will have to wait. The most important thing is that Lithuania will never give tit for tat if Poland does something ugly.”
Is the Problem Caused by the Forthcoming Election?
Considering the extent to which the Lithuanian-Polish relations have deteriorated lately, we should admit that the diplomat was right. But there is one thing he could not predict — that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk would get involved in the verbal war. Tusk, an advocate of pragmatic policy, has never had any sentiments for Lithuania, but he had never allowed himself to cross the lines of political and diplomatic etiquette during official and unofficial discussions.
However, according to a report by the Polish press agency PAP, Tusk said after the EU Council meeting last week that Poland would not withdraw its demands regarding the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania, but confirmed that Poland would not use brutal and immediate measures to exert pressure on Lithuania. Which means that Warsaw has these “brutal and immediate measures” that it could use against Lithuania but does not want to (or perhaps cannot) use them yet.
The Lithuanian diplomats working in Poland and monitoring the processes there explain that the avalanche of accusations can be explained by domestic political processes in Poland. “On 21 November, Poland will hold local government elections. The tension between the parties of Tusk and Jaroslaw Kaczynski has reached the limit, they are waging a verbal and a direct war,” a Lithuanian diplomat told Veidas. “Moreover, the Polish Parliament is going to discuss the budget soon. This is why the government is interested in diverting attention of society and the press away from the budget to somewhere else. They have a ‘reserve’ of topics for that purpose, and the relations with Lithuania and the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania is one of such topics,” the diplomat added.
Who Does Not Like Vilnius’s Friendship With Minsk?
Lithuania’s relations with Poland reveal many other, more disturbing, issues. The government officials and the diplomats who discussed this problem with Veidas said that Poland was accusing Lithuania of obstructing the work of the Mazeikiai oil refiner, owned by Poland’s PKN Orlen, but Warsaw itself has not done anything to help the company get out of debt; the only thing it is doing is threatening to sell the company to Russia.
“Let us be honest, we should admit that some of the accusations that Poland has voiced regarding the work of the Mazeikiai oil refinery are justified. Lithuanian Railways has dismantled the railway track to Latvia. By making it impossible to transport oil products via a cheaper route, the company is behaving against Lithuania’s own interests,” a government representative told Veidas. “Lithuanian Railways’ tariffs for Orlen’s products are discriminatory. However, the Polish side should also admit that the Mazeikiai oil refinery will not become profitable even if the railway track is restored and the tariffs are not discriminatory. Perhaps the losses could be reduced a little, but that is about that. The only way to solve Orlen’s problems with the Mazeikiai oil refinery is to renew the delivery of oil via the Friendship Druzhba Pipeline. For that to happen, it is necessary to talk to Russia, but for some reason Poland is unwilling to do that. More! over, when, because of the Friendship Pipeline, Lithuania blocked the EU’s negotiations with Russia two years ago, Poland did not support Lithuania, even though it was in its own best interest to seek to reopen the pipeline. When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came to Poland, Sikorski did not mention a word about the renewal of oil delivery to the Mazeikiai oil refinery. When, last week, Waldemar Pawlak, Polish deputy prime minister and economy minister, was negotiating gas delivery in Moscow, he did not say a word about the Friendship Pipeline.
Therefore, until Poland — who has the best relations with Russia it has ever had in the past decade — talks to Moscow about the renewal of oil deliveries to the Mazeikiai oil refinery, Vilnius will not believe that Warsaw is indeed concerned with the losses Orlen Lithuania has been making.
For the moment, however, Lithuania is more concerned with the sudden decision of Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to meet with [Belarusian President] Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk. During their visit, they promised Belarus EUR 3 billion if the forthcoming presidential election is fair. Such a hasty visit by the new allies right after the visit of Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite to Minsk (and the concerned expressed by an influential Polish political science center that Vilnius’s friendship with Minsk could anger Moscow and create serious problems for Lithuania), raise a question: “Whose interests did Sikorski and Westerwelle indeed represent in Minsk – the EU’s or Russia’s? Sikorski’s visit to Minsk fueled rumors that he was attacking Lithuania because the Kremlin did not like Vilnius’s friendship with Minsk and the country’s support for Lukashenka.