Lithuania cannot act effectively on its own in foreign affairs, so it must always seek allies. This could be said of the European Union’s Eastern policy, which, for Lithuania, means significant efforts to restrain the spread of Kremlin influence into independent states., Eglė Samoškaitė wrote in TV3.lt.
However, foreign policy expert Albinas Januška notes that President Gitanas Nausėda, who is responsible for foreign policy alongside the cabinet, is sometimes unable to act alongside allies and make use of favourable opportunities. He pointed to two cases, which he believes are illustrative of foreign policy mistakes.
“The Lithuanian and Polish presidents were invited to Tbilisi to mark the commemoration of the independence of Georgia. But, as we know, the atmosphere is heated over there; the country is divided, only beginning its path toward the European Union. So instead of coming out with joint Lithuanian-Polish initiatives and efforts to boost democracy, our president postponed the visit to a later time, not going with the Polish president,” A. Januška recounts.
“Or I can mention an upcoming case. Poland, one of the most important foreign policy comrades in Eastern policy, pushes the Three Seas Initiative as a regional leader. It is a truly important initiative. In early July, the presidents and prime ministers of at least ten countries are gathering in Bulgaria for this. The only president to not be present is the Lithuanian president. He will be talking online. This is an example of poor politics when it is imagined that talking online is comparable to a visit to the country and interacting with the heads of state and prime ministers of those countries,” the expert added. (The president Nausėda eventually went to the gathering in Bulgaria in person – the Lithuania Tribune)
The Three Seas Initiative is a political cooperation platform at the state leader level, which includes 12 European Union member states spread between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black seas.
A. Januška spoke about the European Union’s Eastern Partnership policy in the conference on conservative thought Nauji Vėjai [New Winds]. He is a signatory of the Act of Independence, held various posts in the Foreign Ministry, worked as a national security advisor for President Valdas Adamkus during his first term.
Two states of key importance to the Kremlin’s chauvinism
Speaking about the future of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership policy, A. Januška was more inclined to call it the European Eastern Policy because Belarus recently withdrew from the Eastern Partnership Programme, but we cannot cease discussions on this country as it is too important for Lithuania.
The Eastern Partnership Programme was conceived as a cooperation mechanism with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The goal is to encourage democratic reforms in these countries through cooperation and thus expand the security space in the East. However, from among these countries, it was Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova that progressed the furthest, signing association and free trade agreements, which fundamentally brings them closer to E.U. membership in the future. Meanwhile, Belarus has entirely left the programme.
According to A. Januška, the European Union lacks a unified outlook on Eastern policy – for some, these are simply external territories that need some care, while for others, these are future E.U. member states. Lacking a unified outlook, there’s also no unified action.
However, he also concedes that cooperation with the European Union is appealing to most Eastern neighbours. So, the European Union has excellent opportunities to assist the Eastern neighbours to transform and draw closer to European standards.
“The European Union seeks stability and democracy alongside its borders. Therefore, if a state is democratic, then the rule is that it seeks to become a member of the European Union,” the expert believes.
A. Januška notes that the European Union is investing a great deal into the partnership states’ reforms, but if we are to look at Armenia, Moldova or even Ukraine, it is hard to say that there has been very clear progress. The Kremlin’s actions also act as an obstacle because Russia seeks to prevent the post-Soviet states from drawing closer to the E.U.
“The Eurasian Customs Union was even created for this purpose. Those who become members of this union cannot integrate with the E.U. The Kremlin views the former post-Soviet space cooperating and integrating with the European Union from the perspective of the USSR collapsing being bad, turning everything into a geopolitical competition. In their eyes, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. To this end, they use all possible measures, including military intervention, frozen conflicts and interference with democratic processes,” A. Januška believes.
However, the European Union cannot answer with the same methods and furthermore, it cannot defend the independence and territories of its Eastern neighbours.
“However, there are two countries – Ukraine and Belarus – which are particularly important to the Kremlin’s chauvinism because, as they say, it, these are brotherly Slavic nations. On the other hand, these countries have remained separate from Moscow as a part of the GDL’s heritage and to this day, there have been centuries of a continuing, and let’s hope never to reach fruition, the process of assimilating those countries into the greater Russian nation,” A. Januška believes.
The foreign policy expert describes the competition between the Kremlin and Europe over the Eastern neighbours as a civilisational struggle or even war. Still, the E.U., or more precisely its member states, is sometimes struck by fits of desiring dialogue with Russia, complicating this struggle. Such fits happen more often when Russian services are needed elsewhere, such as Afghanistan, when acting against Iran or China.
According to A. Januška, typically, the Ukrainians and Belarusian lose European Union attention because of our inability to act effectively. He believes that as of late, foreign policy has turned into the commentary of various processes for the domestic market in Lithuania, rather than real actions and pursuit of a clear result. A. Januška describes symbolic diplomacy, bilateral visits and various lavish ceremonies as hollow and found G. Nausėda lacking in rational activities in this regard. For example, he pointed out the president’s decision not to visit Georgia alongside the Polish head of state and the plans to not participate physically in Bulgaria for the Three Seas initiative.
However, A. Januška says that there are also good examples of when Lithuania acted in a coalition, not alone. For example, recently, the Lithuanian president, alongside the other Baltic States and Poland, managed to block the possibility of a premature and poorly prepared dialogue with Russia. On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of dialogue with Moscow.
As another example of successful action, A. Januška pointed out a visit by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and his colleagues from Austria and Romania to the Caucasus region where they sought to restore the European Union’s name balance after the Armenian-Azeri conflict. He also spoke to the Georgian opposition and ruling bloc so that the country wouldn’t abandon the association and free trade agreements.
“I believe that it was a new or rather returning matter, which existed previously,” A. Januška believes.
A. Januška also praised Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Žygimantas Pavilionis, who brought together the chairpersons of foreign affairs committees across European parliaments after the forced landing in Minsk of a flight to Vilnius for a unified position in demanding sanctions against the Belarusian regime.
The expert stands by the position that in the intermediate-term, the main goal for Lithuanian foreign policy should be Ukrainian membership in the E.U. and NATO, perhaps also including Georgia, Moldova and an independent democratic Belarus.
“However, this process in Belarus will not be quick, and it appears today that everything is developing not in Ukrainian, but the Venezuelan scenario. As you know, the Venezuelan dictator remains despite being isolated and stood against the USA and E.U. Meanwhile, democracy in Belarus could fundamentally change Lithuanian geopolitics, and it is worth fighting for,” the expert believes.