Indrė Makaraitytė. But Skvernelis has a plan B

Indrė Makaraitytė
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Let us grant the prime minister’s Russia policy some content.

Some may ask, what content? The public wants to hear that Lithuania must maintain especially good relations with its neighbours and particularly if you don’t talk back to Russia, being so small and poor, everything will be alright. This is why S. Skvernelis is talking in preparation for the presidential elections.

And really, when asked about Russia, what new channels he wishes to open, S. Skvernelis has nothing specific to say. His advisors run in circles. Thus you can listen once because it is new, a second time because you are curious, where things are going here. Third time you hear the same, many will think they are being conned. But the fourth time is already too much for it to only be talk.

Then experts start seeking, what could be floating around in these murky talks of S. Skvernelis about new relations with Russia.

You cannot say that the prime minister’s office is not working at all, seeking to grant new colour to their boss’ interest in Russian affairs. During the meeting with S. Skvernelis organised this week, to which not only the foreign minister came, but also ambassadors, the topic was somewhat different – the prime minister apparently did not have information about Russia and other Eastern policy countries so far, ones he has to visit often. The meeting was fruitful, the prime minister found out much and finally concluded that his position regarding Russia is no different to that declared by the president.

What enlightenment!

And if not the argument that unlike many other EU member states, by not maintaining any political contacts with Russia, Lithuania is risking its national interests, which have gone nowhere from the prime minister’s field, you could end up believing.

However, here experts, who are no rookies regarding relations with Russia, point out parallels.

A decree signed by Vladimir Putin last year came into power on January 1 in Kaliningrad Oblast. The decree does more than outline, how the Kaliningrad special economic zone should develop. For the first time, the internal waters of Kaliningrad and the Russian part of the Baltic Sea are included into the special economic zone’s territory. This territory features active work by Russian oil company Lukoil. One oil field, D6, has been in use for a time now. According to the publically released plans, Lukoil will open a new oil rig already this year and one more after a few years.

As such, on January 1, 2018, a decree by V. Putin came into force and in Lithuania, “the prime minister spoke up about the need to improve relations with Russia at the very start of January. A few days later, he announced that the Polish prime minister is visiting. His counterpart. He visited. From the press conference, it became clear that one of the Polish interests is oil. In other terms, one of the Poles’ companies, specifically Lotos, chances to drill for oil in the Baltic Sea territory belonging to Lithuania. In Lithuanian territorial waters,” professor Raimundas Lopata reminds.

It turns out oil is such a unifying factor. It has resolved many issues. How? Very simply.

March 11 Act of Independence signatory, jurist Česlavas Okinčicas is celebrating how the relations between Lithuania and Poland and vice versa are thawing. A conflict with Orlen was resolved and now Orlen is merging with another Polish company Lotos, would want to deal with oil drilling in Lithuanian territorial waters. Only very little is needed according to Č. Okinčicas – a few pieces of legislation and geological surveys. As a signatory, he believes it would be excellent if the Poles took up this business because otherwise it could be that Russia, intensively drilling in the Baltic Sea near the Lithuanian border, would also pump Lithuanian oil.

I ask Č. Okinčicas, whether this joint Lithuanian-Polish project requires renewed relations with Russia in his opinion. The jurist says he sees no room for Russia in it at all.

But perhaps he is not calculating because he is a signatory. Meanwhile businessmen, according to R. Lopata, calculate differently.

“The Poles have proposed to pump, let’s call it Lithuanian oil. It may just be they offered the Lithuanian side to form a joint workgroup and arguing based on eventual ecological threats, seek to obtain information on what the Russians know about oil in the Baltic Sea in general. In other terms, could it not be that the current oil that the Russians are pumping at the D6 platform 5km away from the Lithuanian border, is not Lithuanian?” R. Lopata mused.

Surveying where there is a profitable oil field is one thing. Surveying areas that wouldn’t be is something completely different.

The professor says that it is not certain, when the Russians discovered the oil fields in the Baltic, which they are now intensively pumping and intend to continue to develop through Lukoil. Is the data fresh, recent or is it based on surveying from the Soviet era? Member of Seimas Gediminas Kirkilas, who recently signed under a coalition deal with Ramūnas Karbauskis, also recalls that Russia “lost” the Soviet data on the Baltic Sea, when negotiations on a maritime border were held between Lithuania and Latvia. And apparently they are presenting information selectively to antagonise the neighbours.

“In this context it may be that the prime minister is talking with the hopes of receiving the information the Poles need from Russia,” R. Lopata says.

He notes also that the information flows regarding this weeks’ meeting between S. Skvernelis and the Lithuanian diplomats on Russia and other Eastern countries also featured talks about Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad specifically.

Indeed, it could be one of the versions, which provide content for S. Skvernelis’ talks about Russia.

But politics is never limited to one vector.

If what R. Lopata is arguing is true and not only he believes that the Polish oil companies may be interested in information from Russian institutions and perhaps Russia would want to cooperate on this question for political points and softened Lithuanian political unity in regard to Russia, then this vector is closely linked with S. Skvernelis’ pursuit of independence.

That the prime minister is seeking a jumping off point and as much independence from the “Farmers” and R. Karbauskis is obvious not just from hearsay, but also from actions.

You believe that Bronius Markauskas became a real challenge to Prime Minister Skvernelis? This is a variant, where there are limits and it can go either way. And have you heard that the “Farmers” are rather discontent, to put it lightly, with S. Skvernelis’ tax reform? And you probably hear how the prime minister always emphasises that he is not dependent on anyone. He will apparently not yield to either the Seimas group or the president. And perhaps one could suspect that failing to dismiss B. Markauskas in the first try, S. Skvernelis seriously worried that with constant repetition from the president, all the opposition parties, big and small, media reports day after day, how he is not independent, he would quickly be left with the label of Karbauskis’ pawn, which he could not remove any time soon.

And this is just B. Markauskas. After all, life and politics does not end with him.

Things may not be all that dramatic, perhaps we need not hyperbolize the tensions between S. Skvernelis and R. Karbauskis, but S. Skvernelis has a plan B. And his plan B is to reduce dependence on the “Farmers”. If S. Skvernelis is successful, then the new minister of agriculture or just the candidate to the post will not be the “Farmers‘”, but from Skvernelis’ opera. A non-partisan professional.

And in the regions – non-partisan professionals with their movements. Such as his buddy Tomas Pačėsas, former basketball player and now – Alytus city councilman, who became the head of the movement Už Lietuvą in early April. T. Pačėsas is modest, does not call himself a politician, does not want to talk why the movement is needed, what it seeks, apparently those more experienced should talk, he was invited to the movement by former social democrat Ričardas Malinauskas and former conservative Artūras Margiris. T. Pačėsas, as he himself puts it, is only learning from his mentors.

However, T. Pačėsas is the prime minister’s buddy, even if he calls it an insinuation in phone calls. T. Pačėsas organised the then campaigning S. Skvernelis’ meeting with the head of the Polish ruling party Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and mediated during the successful resolution of the source of Poland’s headaches and anger toward Lithuania, the Orlen Lietuva conflict with Lietuvos Geležinkeliai over tariffs.

There are talks that T. Pačėsas has interacted with the prime minister regarding the Polish oil companies, even though T. Pačėsas does not admit he represents them and that he talks to the country’s prime minister in their name. However, the movement is there and it has never happened that oil companies would lack money for loyal intermediaries. What else does Lithuanian politics need? Oh yes, talks about good relations with Russia.

Perhaps it really is just one of the versions, but Naisių Vasara was also a joke once.

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