Following the government’s decision to lower the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, Ambassador to Moscow Eitvydas Bajarūnas returned to Lithuania this week. He said that Russian hatred of Western citizens is now at an all-time high and that the sanctions, although several times stronger than those imposed in 2014, have not yet had a significant impact, lrytas.lt wrote.
“There is a downside to these sanctions. They are long-term. If a person comes to a shop in Moscow, which I did until last Sunday, there are enough products in it. At one point, there was some kind of sugar psychosis, but it ended quickly. The only thing is that people cannot access their saved currencies, but that is 5%.
The biggest effect, I think, is that the sanctions have a psychological effect. They feel that the country is closed, there are no sports games, and all the sports federations have suspended Russia.
As far as the pocket effect is concerned, there are rising prices. Therefore, I think that they will put the Russian economy into a rather negative spiral in the future. But at the moment, the sanctions are not being felt,” Bajarūnas said on the “Lietuvos rytas” TV programme “New Day”.
The mood is changing
The former Lithuanian Ambassador to Moscow says he will not return to work. In recent weeks, he described his work in Russia as stressful and rather unusual but incomparably calmer compared to representing Lithuania in Ukraine.
“When you compare our situation in Moscow with our situation in Kyiv, we have certainly had a fairly calm life. But, of course, there were political tensions, which affected our work. As a result, I have spent more time these weeks coordinating with colleagues in the EU and like-minded democracies.
The Embassy has not ceased its functions. As you know, in addition to its political and economic functions, which have shrunk to assisting Lithuanian companies leaving Russia, the Embassy also has consular functions, including assistance to Lithuanian citizens and the issuance of visas, which we do on a limited basis, as Lithuania and the other countries of the European Union have suspended the issuance of Schengen visas.
Lithuania also runs a somewhat simplified transit programme for Kaliningrad, which we have not yet cancelled. Therefore, during this month of the war, I had to lead the Embassy in somewhat unusual conditions, but we did the best we could,” said Bajarūnas.
He estimated that around 400 foreign diplomats had left Russia so far. The former Ambassador urged all Lithuanians who have so far remained in Ukraine to leave the country that started the war, as hostility towards foreigners, especially those from Western countries, is growing daily.
“As far as the attitude towards foreigners is concerned, unlike last autumn, when I had the opportunity, albeit limited, to travel around the country, visit the Lithuanian community in Siberia, etc., the last month here has been limited to Moscow and its centre.
I cannot say about the mood of the Russian population as a whole, but as far as we can see, both in the polls on television and in my own experience, tensions and hostility towards foreigners are rising. This is a consequence of both the war and the propaganda that has been carried out for years. However, all the hostility has finally burst like a pustule.
The hatred towards the West has reached its apogee,” Bajarūnas explained.
Ukrainians are finding it difficult to break free from Russia
The former Ambassador to Moscow stressed that it is particularly difficult for Ukrainians in Russia who have lived here since birth or have come here to work.
“Imagine you are a Ukrainian, and there is a war against your country. Of course, your first feeling is to leave Russia. And there are limited possibilities to leave. If you take the eastern border of Russia, that is, Ukraine, where there are hostilities, then Belarus, which, as far as I know, has quite limited the exit of Ukrainian citizens.
That leaves the Baltic States and Finland, which is why we have a large number of Ukrainians coming to our Embassy and, as far as I know, other Western embassies. Unfortunately, another negative factor is that Ukraine and Russia have severed their diplomatic relations and closed their embassies, so if you are a Ukrainian citizen, you simply have nowhere to turn”.
Bajarūnas, who returned to Lithuania a few days ago, said that he would recommend both his colleagues in Lithuania and the EU to pay attention to the fate of Ukrainians trapped in Russia.
“If I were a Ukrainian, I would feel uncomfortable in this country,” added the former Lithuanian Ambassador to Moscow.
He urges caution in polls
One of the reasons for this is the support of a large part of the public for Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, Bajarūnas urged to be critical of the results of publicly released polls, which show Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings skyrocketing after the war began.
“I think it is difficult to talk about free research in a country like Russia. Imagine you are a Russian citizen, and you get a phone call asking you if you support Putin. It’s clear that you either don’t answer or you answer yes. Polls only partly reflect the mood.
The major agencies talk about the 70% support, but at the same time, it is later clarified that there are many refusals. Out of 300 000 calls, 25 000 refuse to talk. This shows the great fear of the people”, he believes.