This is the first visit by this Ukrainian head of state in Lithuania and the first bilateral meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda. Both heads of state were elected at around the same time and they are both newcomers to politics. That said, specialists believe that this will not be a roadblock in Lithuanian-Ukrainian relations. The path of Lithuanian-Ukrainian relations is old and stable, even if minor misunderstandings do occur from time to time, Jūratė Važgauskaitė wrote in TV3.lt
The Lithuanian and Ukrainian leaders will have much to discuss in Vilnius. From Vilnius, V. Zelensky will head straight to Paris, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. V. Zelensky has described Ukrainian-Russian relations as very difficult and G. Nausėda will probably be able to find out about the final preparations, discuss what V. Zelensky will place on the negotiations table.
According to specialists, despite the change in president, Lithuanian-Ukrainian relations have not shifted. While personalities are important in politics, the overall political line is more so.
Important to know, what Ukraine wants?
Political scientist Laurynas Jonavičius says that Lithuanian-Ukrainian relations are based on how Lithuania wants a Western-oriented Ukraine in its neighbourhood and is intensively working on this matter. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s interest is to have an ally and supporter within Western structures, who could help “push” Ukraine’s interests and encourage cooperation.
“In this respect, there’s no change because the interests remain. What could be a problem in the context of Ukraine drawing closer to the West could be the essential tasks, which must be done on the Ukrainian side: reforms, combatting corruption, the rule of law, judicial independence. All we can do is offer encouragement, perhaps a little help in some areas, but overall – it is the Ukrainians’ issue. How successfully they can perform these reforms will depend on them. Thus, both the previous president and incumbent president’s goal, the task is to not allow the Ukrainians to forget, what reforms must be performed,” the political scientist said.
Another important aspect is relations with Russia. Both our and Ukraine’s relations with Russia are tense.
“Currently, there is the discussion in Lithuania whether V. Zelensky is correct in accepting the Steinmeier Formula and entering negotiations with Russia. More radical Lithuanians say that this should not be done, while the less radical believe that peace is better than war. Thus, there are nuances and questions. Yes, the Ukrainian president stated that he will seek to move toward an agreement. How successful he can be is a question though. The situation in Donbas is not controlled by the Ukrainians and to a large part not even by the Russians. There are many actors there with their own interests,” L. Jonavičius mused.
According to the political scientist, Russia likely is interested to de-escalate the conflict a little because a “frozen” conflict suffices for them to control the gravitation of Ukraine toward the West. Meanwhile, V. Zelensky, who won the elections with a pledge to achieve peace, also has to look at this from domestic political positions.
Thus, the question is whether Lithuania can and should make V. Zelensky adjust his political plans and what benefit such moves could make.
“Our president must decide how he wishes to act if we are talking about changes. In essence, there is significant continuity in policy with many ambiguities,” the political scientist said.
He explained that the essence of Ukraine’s progress is within Ukraine itself. Agreements with oligarchs, combatting corruption. Ukraine must do this time and time again. Lithuania has always said that it can help, but in order to do so, you must know, what the Ukrainians need.
“What is their plan? We cannot go there and say do this and that. You don’t go about things that way. During the meeting, it would be beneficial to query the Ukrainians on what they themselves want to do. Then we should see, how Lithuania can contribute to it,” L. Jonavičius explained.
He is convinced that personalities are important in politics but more decisive is the whole of relations.
No bad signs
“Of course, personalities are more important if they are from large, more influential countries. There’s also always structural matters. However strong our president may have been, but the weight of Lithuania as a country was not sufficient to form an agenda unilaterally. However you may look, eventually, everything hinges on how the French and Germans come to an agreement, what the role of the Americans will be and what those countries will want to do,” L. Jonavičius spoke.
He said that in our work with Ukraine, we gain visibility. Ukraine is a question that Lithuania has focused on and where Lithuania sees itself as an expert. Of course, in this regard, it should be measured, just how accepted such a position is and how it is perceived in other states, but this is a part of our identity. We work with our Eastern partners because we view it as important to ourselves, we would like to be received and perceived as experts.
Former Lithuanian Ambassador to Ukraine Petras Vaitiekūnas says that there are no signs that our policy toward Ukraine will change.
“Our policy toward Ukraine is a strategic defence of Lithuania. As for personalities, everything depends on those people’s understanding and activity, how much insight and initiative they bring. I believe that both sides have initiative,” the former ambassador said, admitting that Ukraine’s policies did change after V. Zelensky’s election.
Peace in Ukraine
“The president declared peace in Ukraine as the key goal. Of course, peace also depends on Vladimir Putin, he has the key to it. V. Zelensky’s pursuit of peace has brought us to a point where armed forces are being withdrawn and human lives are saved and this is excellent. However schematically correct politics must be, it mustn’t be inhuman. People await peace, prisoner exchanges. I believe that by saying that he expects a prisoner exchange from the Normandy Format, V. Zelensky is displaying his humanist position. Though of course, he is taking a major risk,” P. Vaitiekūnas said.
According to him, sooner or later, demands will be made to V. Zelensky for the betterment of life. Peace depends on the Kremlin, but V. Zelensky has to respond to the expectations of people, who want peace, but not discounts. Thus, he is in a complicated position.
The former ambassador notes that everything Lithuanian institutions do in Ukraine is in defence of Lithuania’s interests.
“We did not know when Russia will stop when it will end its aggression. Perhaps it will stop in Ukraine, but perhaps it will seek to continue expanding the borders of its empire, thus we must be prepared. […] Lithuania should and could take up such initiatives as the Vilnius Group. Perhaps now Lithuania together with Poland could initiate something in creating coalitions in the European Union and NATO,” the former ambassador to Ukraine said, conceding that our resources are limited, while our initiatives outgrow our economic and financial power.
“We cannot bring much help to Ukraine in the material sense, but we can bring much help in terms of experience,” P. Vaitiekūnas mused.
Small, but important
Political scientist Linas Kojala explains that V. Zelensky is a new president, who is actively getting into the rhythm of domestic and foreign politics.
“Perhaps the fact that he is visiting Vilnius right before the meeting with the Russian, French and German leaders is even a sort of positive because Lithuania will be able to directly hear, what V. Zelensky thinks of the nearing negotiations, what he is prepared to table and what he expects from the Russian side in regard to Donbas,” L. Kojala mused.
He explained that our being a small country does not mean that we can only play a small role.
“In this case, we will see continuing efforts from the Lithuanian side to aid Ukraine in deepening integration. Nevertheless, it is Ukraine, who will have to do its homework and prove that its efforts are based intangible results,” the political scientist said, noting that the strategic purpose of Lithuania’s friendship with Ukraine is rather simple – the safer the neighbourhood, the more stable it is, the safer Lithuania will be.
“Ukraine, which is currently one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, which is at war, which does not hold control on 13% of its territory, its betterment and growth is favourable to us, especially because it is a vast market and if it becomes more open and stronger, this would benefit Lithuanian business. There are various interests, it is not without reason that Lithuania has viewed the Eastern Partnership countries for years as a strategic direction,” L. Kojala explained.
The tv3.lt news portal reminds that in the Lithuanian-Ukrainian Presidential Council meeting held on November 27, the two countries’ leaders will discuss bilateral political and economic relations, security and defence matters, questions of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration, cooperation in energy, innovation, transport and social policy.
There is also to be much focus on reforms being enacted in Ukraine, the practical implementation of Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, there will also be discussions of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme, Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO.
There are plans during the presidential council to sign a presidential declaration on inter-institutional cooperation in cyber-security, electronic recognition and electronic operation reliability assurance in domestic service markets. The bilateral Presidential Council has been organised for twelve years now.