Edward Lucas: Lithuania can do a better job as Lithuania

Edward Lucas
DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The Lithuania Tribune team spoke to Edward Lucas at the Riga Conference on 12 October. We spoke about French President Macron’s Reset initiatives with Russia, Lithuanian energy security politics and Astravyets, Georgia and Ukraine.  Read the interview conducted by Ruslanas Iržikevičius and Jurgis Vedrickas.

First of all, I would like to ask about the latest initiative by Macron in Europe, saying that without Russia, Europe will not survive.

I think that Macron is playing a game here, where he is trying to become centre stage during the vacuum of power in Germany we see as Angela Merkel’s years come to an end. Macron knows what Russia is like, he remembers how the Russians tried to hack his campaign. I know people, who work for Macron, who are extremely clear-eyed about the threat we face from Russia, but I think he sees a political opportunity to put France at the centre of the diplomatic stage and he’s taking it.

It will gain him some political points in the countries that want better relations with Russia and I don’t think it loses him much in the countries that are scared of Russia. So I can see, why he’s doing it, but I still don’t approve

Astravyets. Some ten-fifteen years ago, Lithuania spoke about Russian energy threats. No one believed us and we were laughed at. Five years ago, before that even, we spoke about information threats from Russia. No one believed us. Again. Now we speak about Astravyets and we have exactly the same response from our Western allies, saying that we are wrong.

I think that you are right that Lithuania is a sort of early warning system for the Alliance on everything, from energy security to propaganda, to subversion and many other things. I think that Lithuania can do a better job as Lithuania. What you need to show is that you can disconnect from the Russian grid, switching over to Nordpool. This has been postponed and postponed and the belief in many Western capitals is that Lithuania loves talking about energy security, but doesn’t actually believe in doing anything.

I know that the energy would be more expensive, but if you disconnect yourself from the Russian grid, you are in a far better position to say that you’re serious and it also makes the case for Astravyets much less good because it is built as an export plant. The suspicion in many Western capitals is that you will be very happy to take cheap electricity from Astravyets once it’s built.

Some of my foreign friends who reside in Lithuania are anxious. The way we see our surroundings – a crisis in the Middle East, of course, we have Mr Trump, we have Brexit, what is happening with the EU is unclear and there’s the resurgence of Russia. She asks if this might be a good time to move out of Lithuania.

Where will you move to?

Let’s say to Sweden?

On balance, I would rather be in a NATO country than a non-NATO country if I am worried about security, but I also think it is very corrosive speculation. We can easily talk ourselves into a funk, where this is actually playing into the hands of the Russians.

The Russians want people to say that the Baltics are essentially risky and unsafe. Doing that is bad for the economy, bad for morale and then the Baltics become risky and unsafe. So I think that the correct response to Russian threats and pressure is to stay where you are and have lots of children.

Georgia. Is Georgia going in the right direction or is something starting to…?

I’m very worried about Georgia and have been ever since the Ivanishvili… What you might call a take-over of the country and I can see why Georgians have become fed up with the Saakashvili camp, which is divided among itself and has a record, which is good on some things and really bad on others. So I can understand all that, but I think that the progress of the past few years has been bad.

We have seen increased politicisation and growing Russian influence, the penetration and weakening of the security, intelligence and defence forces. I’m worried and I think this is the result of the vacuum that we are in. If this were happening under the Bush administration, Kurt Volker or one of his deputies would have taken a flight to Tbilisi and said: “Hang on a moment.” If necessary, we would have had John Kerry going, even Vice President Biden going.

America was able to act in those days and you also had a more cohesive European Union policy, to some extent. Now we see the absolute vacuum with all the big countries distracted or polarised. This makes it really easy for Russia to gain influence in small countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, how is he doing?

The showmanship is terrific, I really liked his twelve-hour press conference. It makes Putin seem quite weedy in comparison – nearly five hours. I very much like the way he has captured new political energy and cleaned up the old political class in the Rada and to some extent in the ministries as well.

The big worry for me is Kolomoisky and PrivatBank. There’s no room for a deal on this. PrivatBank was bailed out by the taxpayer. Kolomoisky has to explain where the money went. This is not open to negotiation and I worry very much when I see the resignations we’ve seen and the ones I hear about.

We still have this state capture at the heart of the Ukrainian political system and that will be very bad for international credibility because, in the end, you need IMF support and while Ukraine is out of intensive care, in terms of its economic state it is still in the hospital. The last thing it needs is the continued presence of these oligarchic circles in central power.

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