Kęstutis Girnius. Skvernelis – a convenient idiot for the Kremlin?

Kęstutis Girnius
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

This question arose after listening to M. Laurinavičius and Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius‘ discussion on the talk show Dėmesio Centre.

The main piece of evidence presented is this note by the prime minister.

“I believe that both the United Kingdom, as the international experts should clear provide a final answer and put a full stop to this because there is currently a major likelihood that this was done by the Russian side, but a major likelihood is not a complete, one hundred percent confirmation of the fact.

I hope that the investigators, who are working on this case, will be able to present incontrovertible proof.”

According to Laurinavičius, who has immersed himself in the role of a prosecutor, it is unlikely the prime minister seriously doubts Russia is responsible.

However, “the mistake he is actually doing and unfortunately now at least for the third time is repeating a narrative, which benefits Russia.”

And if he is talking what benefits Russia, seemingly this would lead to the suggestion that he is one of the many useful idiot for the Kremlin, perhaps an unwitting tool.

I believe that Skvernelis‘ comments were partly due to the UK Military Research Centre, which upon uncovering that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok (Newcomer), admitted that it could not specify its exact origin.

The laboratory’s statement denied a categorical earlier statement by UK Foreign Minister B. Johnson to the German national broadcaster that the Porton Down laboratory has unambiguously found that the poison as made in Russia.

Furthermore, on March 22, the UK Foreign Ministry stated in a Twitter post that the Porton Down lab found that the material used in Salisbury was “certainly made in Russia.”

After the newest statement from the lab, the ministry quickly erased the Twitter post. Linkevičius is repeating that outdated and false information on Dėmesio Centre that supposedly “the lab, where the chemical weapon was manufactured has been uncovered.”

Is it Linkevičius or Skvernelis, who is repeating a narrative that benefits Russia?

After all, Moscow propaganda manufacturers will be able to claim that the Lithuanian foreign minister was spreading disinformation, repeating claims, which have already been denied. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons scientists are still studying the poison, thus it cannot be dismissed that they will also find, where it was manufactured.

There are still numerous questions regarding the poisoning of the Skripals. A number of analysts have wondered why Russia would seek to murder a relatively low significance spy with a week left to the Russian presidential elections and around a month prior to the world football cup, why its agents chose to use a material, which will be immediately recognised as part of the Russian arsenal.

It is believed that the poison was applied to the Skripal house’s front door, but how do you then explain that the shockingly poisonous nerve agent only acted three hours later and that the daughter survived and is recovering? There are numerous questions, which still need investigating.

On the other hand, despite the questions, it is hard to believe that Russia or Russians are not behind this.

All other explanations, such as this being a provocation by British or American intelligence, are even less credible.

I do not understand how Laurinavičius can claim that Skvernelis is repeating a narrative that benefits Russia. The prime minister only urged to perform an in depth investigation of the Skripal poisoning and, if possible, present undeniable evidence.

This is something every responsible and trust-seeking politician should demand. What is the alternative for expressing one’s opinion? Self-censorship?

Is it necessary to review each time whether your statements could be used or distorted by the Kremlin? In such a case, it would not be possible to state that Ukraine is one of the most corrupt states in the world, that the US invasion of Iraq was in breach of international law and that racial tensions are on the rise in the US. It would be impossible to claim that President Grybauskaitė over exaggerated, calling Russia a terrorist state and that Minister Linkevičius criticises Russia too often.

Is it at all possible to evaluate Lithuanian foreign policy to Russia with a critical eye? And if it isn’t, does it mean that it is flawless?

If the prime minister has to censor himself, should other politicians and common mortals not do the same? Finally, who will specify, which statements benefit the Kremlin and why should we think that those blessed to make such decisions have special insights and make no mistakes?

Even the most important domestic policy questions, such as questions of defence spending, would become taboo. Same for questions of democracy or an open society.

You would think that with increased NATO support we would feel more secure, would express ourselves more freely. Once, the communists explained that with the nearing of the proletariat’s victory, the capitalists and bourgeois nationalists’ increasing resistance will necessitate increased, not reduced repressions. Or, how it says in the song – Back in the U.S.S.R.?

Skvernelis is also decried for him apparently stating that Lithuanian propaganda is apparently not much different to Russian disinformation.

I am not familiar with these statements by Skvernelis and I do not know whether they are accurately conveyed. Lithuanian propaganda is not as broad and antagonistic as Russian, but there is much of it, too much.

There are ample examples. Take how it is claimed that Russia spends at least eight billion dollars a year for public relations, that the annual Russian propaganda budget reaches around 3.5 billion US dollars.

The numbers are completely unbelievable. Russia does not have this much money. The USA spends 750 million dollars on its propaganda stations, the BBC perhaps more than 500 million.

Several years ago it was claimed on an internet portal that in 2010, the plane which was carrying Polish President L. Kaczynski apparently successfully landed in Smolensk, but was then blown up and an amateur recording showed, how three men walked around the wreckage, finishing off the wounded with handguns.

The article was presented as regular news, without comments or exceptions. For a long time the LRT called the Ukrainian separatists “hitmen” and “terrorists.” And what did certain analysts write? It is almost impossible to utter a positive word about Russia even when statements were not weighed on their narrative benefit to the Kremlin.

No less concerning are the notions that there should be no opposition to defence spending over people’s welfare. It is necessary to avoid careless formulation, but necessary to discuss plans to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP consistently and in detail.

Perhaps it is truly necessary, perhaps without it, Lithuania would be left unarmed and under occupation, the welfare would vanish. However, a clear, undeniable truth must be emphasised.

The more defence spending there is, the less remains for social issues, pensions, teacher and doctor wages. I believe that Linkevičius and Laurinavičius will not deny that wages and pensions affect people’s welfare.

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