A. Ažubalis. Top grade for comments on foreign policy, but what about real achievements?…

Audronius Ažubalis
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, suggested that Latvia would not support Lithuania in its efforts to stop the construction of the Astravyets nuclear power plant that represents a danger and a threat to the security of the entire region. This reminds me of a situation I have observed on a number of occasions already. Minister Linkevičius is great at making comments on foreign policy and always wonderfully apt at naming the main priorities and challenges. However, if we look at specific achievements since 2012, especially in our neighbourhood policy, the question arises as to when we will see the results of the work done in the last five years.

Social democrats are in power for the second term, fully in charge of formulation and implementation of Lithuania’s foreign policy priorities both at parliamentary and governmental levels. Have we seen any success story, though? Traditionally, as with every leftist government, the Government under Algirdas Butkevičius naively promised to recharge the relations with Russia. After the first meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Lithuanian Minister referred to a consensus being reached on the deepening of relations. These intentions were soon put to a halt after the Russian aggression against Ukraine, as well as in view of the unwavering Russian policy towards Lithuania based on demands and blackmail. Was there really a need to go through this, given that the outcome of the recharge strategy was predictable from the very start?

On Poland: the Government made a high-sounding pledge to recharge Lithuania’s relations with Poland. To this end, during his visit to Poland, Minister Linkevičius even apologised to Poland (without being authorised to do so) that in 2010 the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) failed to make a much-awaited-for decision on the spelling of personal names. In fact, this is a matter of domestic policy, rather than that of bilateral relations. In any case, both the former and the current Polish Government remained unimpressed by the apology: we still continue hearing unjustified allegations from Warsaw concerning discrimination against Poles in Lithuania. Both the previous and the current Government have so far failed to understand that neither ignorance nor excessive submissiveness will right the wrongs in the relations with Poland, as mutual willingness and efforts are needed instead.

On Belarus: Lithuania’s policy on Belarus is amazingly inconsistent, if not two-faced. Even though we are constantly immersed in the discourse of support for the democratisation and opposition forces in Belarus, de facto, we see that Lithuania takes part in the pan-European exercise of connivance to Lukashenka’s regime.

Lifting of sanctions against Belarus, which the governing coalition of Lithuania had promoted in the European Union, failed to materialise: political prisoners in Belarus still suffer in KGB prisons, and, once Russia’s money-tap runs dry, that of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as the World Bank, turns on… Through Belarus’ active participation in the ZAPAD and similar exercises, Minsk is getting increasingly more related to Moscow in military terms. Even so, the European Union is making further progress towards visa facilitation regime… To the urges to halt these processes as they are in fact reinforcing the Lukashenko’s regime, we receive the reply from the Minister that “we should not be punishing ordinary people” and “it would be a shame to look bad against the example of our partners.” The question to the Minister is thus whether the Astravyets and other threats in our neighbourhood are real, or just perceived?

Regarding Ukraine, indeed, Lithuania has provided and will continue to provide all possible support to the country. This, however, has not affected and will never have any substantial effect on the policy towards Ukraine pursued by the biggest global players. Serious action needs to be grounded on ideas. In fact, it is the opposition that has come up with the ideas to Lithuania’s foreign policy. The Marshal Plan for Ukraine, conceived by Andrius Kubilius and intelligently presented in the European capitals and the US, begins to take shape.

On Latvia: a number of years of experience have demonstrated that this country is apt to opportunism. Latvia is inclined to sacrifice European solidarity on Astravyets NPP for the Belarussian freight transit through the port of Ventspils at a petty cost ranging from EUR 10 mln to 100 mln. Therefore, I see no grounds to conclude that the Lithuanian bilateral diplomacy has done its utmost to change Latvia’s position. Frankly, this is yet another unaccomplished task.

In practical terms, almost nothing has been done to solve the issue of the Astravyets NPP. The entire international process is based on the complaint with the Espoo Implementation Committee (which was actually drafted by ourselves), and the Committee’s decision, which confirms the existence of an essential breach in the process of choosing the site for the construction of a nuclear power plant. We have seen four years of silence and strange political comments that we care about the security of the Astravyets NPP, instead of claiming that the construction of an NPP in that location is out of the question. Under the new legislative term, Lithuania finally appointed an ambassador in charge of the issues related to the Astravyets NPP. However, why did it take so long to accomplish this? There is no answer.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was busy shaping the policy on Lithuania’s history. For the purposes of Lithuania’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, a book on Lithuania’s history was compiled and translated into a host of languages. Guidance for diplomats was drafted on ways to protect our history from unfriendly attacks. All of these projects have long been forgotten and are gathering dust in drawers. Now that Kremlin’s attacks on our historical narrative have only grown stronger, these measures, should they have been developed further, could have played a leading role in dealing with the attacks. Instead, all we do now is react in a fragmented manner, often only thanks to informed citizens.

Finally, the MFA’s budget has shrunk again, even though, in comparison to the budgets of other ministries, it was the smallest. From a formal point of view, the Ministry’s budget will remain the same next year. However, the Ministry will have a number of new functions related to the organisation of the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the state of Lithuania. So the money earmarked for political diplomacy will de facto decrease.

Foreign policy is formulated in a way to avoid offending any of our European friends or neighbours. However, is this all diplomacy is about? We cannot just play secondary parts in the European choir. We have not renounced the refugee quotas and we are delivering on the targets. We have fulfilled the NATO obligations, thus gaining respect from the big European nations. This is important. However, this is far from being sufficient, as there is obviously a gap in the area of accomplishments on our neighbourhood policy, and this is exactly where attainments are badly needed. Therefore, I can give Minister Linkevičius a passing grade only for his comments and not for his performance.

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