Initially, Lithuanians were ignored as too small and insignificant to matter, but now Lithuania, who actively supports Ukraine’s efforts to defend its independence, is in the center of attention of the Kremlin.
Lithuania has become one of the fifteen members of the UNSC in the beginning of this year. However, this status is granted to our country along with ten other countries for only two years; moreover, we do not have the veto right enjoyed by five permanent members: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia.
Nevertheless, albeit tiny, Lithuania is an active participant in international issues, debate, holding the Ukrainian question as priority: Over the nine months of work at the UNSC, Lithuania initiated seven meetings to discuss the situation in Ukraine, held a meeting and one informal consultation; moreover, it is one of the authors of several resolutions that have been adopted.
However, such active work has become a target of Russia that is trying to present Lithuania to the international community as a destructive force. For example, Russian Permanent Representative in the UN Vitaly Churkin criticized Lithuanian politicians who traveled to Ukraine to support peaceful protesters, saying they were the source of conflict. Opinions in the UNSC clashed when Russia tried to “push trhough” a press release, accusing, wrongly, Ukraine of non-compliance with the cease-fire, deliberately concealing the pro-Russian separatist responsibility and interference with international investigation of the Malaysian plane crash.
Russia has singled out Lithuania many times as the one indulging “the clientele in Kiev”, it even said Vilnius should take responsibility for the bloodshed in the south-east of Ukraine, although there is plenty of evidence of continuing movement of Russian arms and troops across the Ukrainian border. Moreover, Lithuania and the United States were accused of attempting to derail the controversial Russian humanitarian mission approved by the UNSC. It is clear that the humanitarian aid was arranged unilaterally, without coordinating it with the Ukrainian government or the Red Cross, ignoring a multitude of questions about the content of the aid and serious violations of international law.
These battles will be intensified when the UN General Assembly starts. There is no doubt that the Kremlin will continue to present countries like Lithuania as instigators of the conflict, while directing attention away from the universally-recognized international law violations in Russia. Indeed, Russia performed a military intervention in Crimea and its annexation in violation of principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act of the OSCE, as well as Budapest Memorandum of 1994, under which the United States and the United Kingdom guaranteed security and inviolability of Ukraine’s borders in return for Kiev handing over Soviet nuclear arsenal, and Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia on the Black Sea Fleet base conditions of 31 May 1997.
But lies come out eventually: Russia denied initially that the so-called “little green men” were its soldiers, but later President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Russian forces were in Crimea.
The Crimean “referendum”, which was Russia’s justification for annexing the peninsula, was performed in conditions of occupation and was therefore illegal. In March, the UN Security Council tried to pass a resolution expressing its support to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for non-recognition of the ‘referendum’ results.
Thirteen 13 members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution submitted by Lithuania, the United States and other 40 countries, one member abstained, but it was vetoed by Russia; the resolution was not adopted. Decisions in the Council are adopted if at least 9 out of 15 members vote in favour and none of the permanent members veto them. However, this resolution was adopted on 27 March. 100 members of the UN General Assembly voted in favour, 11 voted against, 58 abstained.
Russia often justifies its actions in Ukraine by the desire to protect the local Russian-speaking population, which is allegedly discriminated against and persecuted by the new Ukrainian government. However, the UN report on the human rights situation in Ukraine refutes clearly the argument of Russia. In practice, however, the UN study has only a symbolic meaning – the findings were supported by all members of the UN Security Council, with the exception of Russia, so it was not accepted.
These and other Russian violations of international law are clear and specific, so Lithuania’s efforts are effective and necessary, coming from a country close to the site of the conflict and most conscientious about Russian aggression. The UNSC results show that Lithuania has gained considerable confidence and political weight in the international community, which is certainly important – it is said today that the Western powers seek and consult with Lithuania on the future position of the Ukrainian question.
On that account, Russia intensifies information warfare and tries to divert attention and justify its actions in Ukraine, to present Lithuania as Russo-phobic.
It was an effective tactic a few years ago when Vilnius’ uncompromising positions towards Russia were often seen as excessive and unreasonable, but not now, when the Kremlin’s aggression is obvious to the entire world.
The fundamental purpose of Russian actions is to prevent Ukraine from independent integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and to keep it in the zone of Moscow’s influence, so the real disruptive force in the UNSC is Russia itself – the state that is not interested in peace and stability in the region and backs its aims with military might. It should be noted that since the establishment of the UN Security Council in 1946, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) is the country that exercised its veto right more than any other country, 130 times, while the United States used it 83 times, the UK, 32, China, 10, and France, 18.
We can be sure that Russia will continue to overindulge in its veto right, but, by doing so, it only strengthens the arguments and positions of Lithuania.
Simonas Klimanskis and Linas Kojala are analysts with the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre
Translated by Lotus Translation