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Vilniaus Diena daily on 25 September published an interview with Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis.

Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis says that Lithuanian foreign policy has not undergone a radical change after President Dalia Grybauskaite became president. However, the foreign minister admits that less attention is being paid to the United States and more attention is being paid to Europe.


Has the direction of Lithuanian foreign policy been changing recently?

Everything is as it was in the past. Lithuania has the same three key foreign policy pillars. The first two are Lithuania’s membership in the two international organizations — the EU and NATO. The third one is good relations with the neighbors. These are the three pillars on which Lithuanian foreign policy has always been based.

Perhaps there is one new priority that I could single out here: Since the Lithuanian emigrants are establishing their groups very actively, we see one more challenge that I could call “Global Lithuania.” This challenge includes many things, such as consular services that Lithuanian citizens living abroad could use, maintaining contact with the emigrants, education issues and many other issues that have to do with emigration.

Over the past several years, Lithuania has been trying to make its relations with the neighbors more pragmatic, but it seems that values are not as important to Lithuania anymore.

This is not true. Let us take Belarus as an example. Some people are saying that the EU’s current policy toward Belarus has not been successful and that the EU should have changed it. I disagree with this statement. The policy of sanctions and the EU’s principled position on values and human rights has produced results.

On the other hand, there are objective reasons that force us to engage in constructive relations with Belarus. We are in a similar situation: Belarus, just as Lithuania, is an energy island.

I do not know whether we can call this cooperation more pragmatic or not. The explanation is simple: The situation has changed — the Belarusian authority has become a little more eager to cooperate with us, it is looking for alternatives.

But, Belarus has not changed at all. The country’s authority still views the opposition as “public enemies.”

I am not saying that the attitude of the Belarusian authority toward democracy has changed drastically. However, there have been fewer repression incidents. We have to cooperate with Belarus in two directions — with the opposition and the current government. And this is what we are doing.

And what about Lithuania’s relations with Russia?

Lithuania’s attitude toward Russia remains the same: We are seeking our relations with Russia to be based on the principles of equality and mutual benefit. Are you saying that the fact that the top leaders of the two countries have had contacts means that the situation has changed drastically, that our attitude toward the most important values has changed? There have been some meetings, and that is all. Both sides were seeking to meet, because they saw that the longstanding break in meetings was not beneficial to either side.

After the nine-year break, we have finally started working on 17 agreements; five of them are almost ready. Have we done something wrong? Have we renounced our values? No. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, before the previous meeting of the Lithuanian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, I proposed to include the compensation for the Soviet occupation damages in the agenda. This means that this issue would have been included in the agenda of a bilateral meeting. Of course, the Russians refused to discuss this issue, but this has been recorded, which means that this issue is already on the table.

But one can get an impression that Lithuania is not afraid that Russia could invade the country, for example economically. Have we stopped perceiving Russia as a threat?

Russia was the evil when it was ruled by Stalin, when it was a Soviet country. Now Russia is going through a post-imperial syndrome. It has changed its status: It used to be an empire and now it is changing, and I believe that it will keep changing in the positive direction.

As for an economic invasion, as you have put it, I would like to stress that we have started implementing projects that will ensure Lithuania’s energy security. Previous governments were actively opposing these projects. This is more important than all those statements and declarations. I think that nobody could call such our steps a bow to Russia.

It seems that you have forgotten the strategy on containing Russia, which you yourself have created.

The strategy to stop the monopoly of third countries, especially the monopoly of energy companies, is part of the strategy.

We can see that the Trans-Atlantic dimension of Lithuanian foreign policy is being replaced with a European dimension. In other words, our relations with the United States are getting colder, but the United States is the main guarantor of our security.

If the Prime Minister has visited Washington twice in six months, if the Parliamentary Speaker has visited various events in the United States on several occasions, can we really say that our relations are getting colder?

For me other issues are important. The Americans are very serious about the negotiations regarding cargo transit to Afghanistan via Lithuania. We have almost agreed on the training of US troops at a Lithuanian firing ground, Washington is contributing to the work on the NATO defense plans for the Baltic countries. I do not have anything more to say about the relations with the United States. The relations have not changed.

Sometimes, the constructs of our imagination do not reflect the real situation.

But, not long ago, the president said that Washington had betrayed Lithuania by resetting its relations with Russia and by negotiating some bad things behind our backs.

I have stated my opinion on Washington. However, there are always doubts regarding some steps. I can tell you that Lithuania has started to participate in the consultations on the Arms Treaty, and this is why we were being cautious and had various doubts. And we even had called a meeting of the National Defense Council to discuss these doubts.

It would be silly of us not to think and not to see what certain agreements among big countries may mean for Lithuania, especially the ones on arms reduction or on some other security issues. Only an idiot could blindly trust someone and think that everything would be fine. History teaches that we should be closely watching the power games played by certain big countries or their agreements on power-related issues.

Are there any agreements between Moscow and Washington that pose a threat to Lithuania?

It depends on our point of view. It is easy to speculate about things. I do not want to do that. But I know that the president has approved the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed in Prague.

Lithuania’s earlier priorities were relations with NATO and the Trans-Atlantic ties. Is Lithuania now getting more interested in relations with the EU?

I think that this is the right and the wise decision, because Lithuania is an EU member. We have asked the EU for EUR 175 million for the Baltic electricity bridge project, and nobody questioned that, everybody was happy. But if after that we started turning away from the EU and saying that these Western Europeans are strange and that we do not have much in common with them, it would not have looked good. I can tell you that the European and Trans-Atlantic relations have leveled out and there is more balance now.

But there have bee n some changes in foreign policy. Lithuania has turned more toward the EU, and, to a certain extent, the Trans-Atlantic relations have been sacrificed as a result.

You will not find a single Lithuanian president who would say that Lithuania’s integration into the EU is not a priority. All the presidents have been saying the same. The question is how much they had succeeded in implementing this goal.

Indeed, the rhetoric has changed a little. Now we are paying more attention to what results can be achieved, and we are not paying as much attention to some ongoing processes.

When leaders change, there is always a change of vocabulary, which perhaps sometimes results in distrust, confusion, and interpretations.

Does Poland remain our strategic partner? We all know about the name spelling problems and the attempts by Poland’s PKN Orlen to sell Orlen Lithuania.

I will base my answer on the letter by my colleague Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, in which he emphasizes that Poland and Lithuania are strategic partners, especially when cooperating in the EU, NATO, and the Eastern neighborhood program. These are the issues that should not be overshadowed by the issues such as a roof or a window of a national minority school building that need to be repaired or a provocative monument placed in the wrong location (the foreign minister has in mind the proposal to erect a monument to Jozef Pilsudski, Polish chief of state in 1918-1922 in a Lithuanian town of Druskininkai. We should separate these things and not mix them. Because, if we start mixing these things, our relations with the strategic partner would be ruined.

Source: lithuaniatribune.com