Partnership with Poland should be Lithuania’s key foreign policy priority, says former ambassador to US

Žygimantas Pavilionis
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

– You turned from diplomatic work to political battles. How would you evaluate Lithuania’s current foreign policy goals? What can you offer?

– I am convinced that the return of a strategic partnership with Poland is today’s fundamental foreign policy priority, which would, in the future, become an instrument that would bring positive effects both to our nation’s domestic policies and to the creation of new EU guidelines.

– Is the creation of new political guidelines in much of the EU being used to criticise Poland’s current government? Does that mean that you would try to counter-weigh Berlin’s influence on the EU?

– By criticising Poland, the West’s leaders are once again demonstrating their double standards – though we joined the EU and NATO more than 10 years ago, every attempt on Central Europe’s part to stand up for itself is often criticised.

Before the dawn of our independence, we were criticised by the highest levels for seeking our independence. About a decade ago, we were criticised along with Poland for standing against Nord Stream 1 (the same story is now repeating itself with Nord Stream 2) and for raising energy security questions, which, after Poland and Lithuania’s common fight, were acknowledged in the Lisbon treaty.

In 2006, we were once again criticised for standing with Warsaw against the EU’s economic integration with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which had already buried democracy. In 2008 – for asking to grant NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia and for refusing to renew the EU’s relationship with Russia, which had occupied Georgia (though, in the context of the later events in Crimea and Ukraine, it appeared, as always, that we were right). In 2009, we were guilty for opposing the already-failed US policy of a diplomatic reset with Russia.

We aren’t second-rate and we won’t be. I believe that, together with our like-minded partners, not only will we make the EU larger, we will also make it more democratic and will make our regional voice more important. However, to do this, we can’t be afraid to straighten our backs in the region.

– How would a change in our relationship with Poland affect Lithuania’s domestic politics?

– If Lithuania would do its homework, which we ourselves need, I think we could essentially discuss strategic nuclear energy issues with Poland.

– After Lithuania rejected the idea of a nuclear power plant with a referendum?

– Let’s say, though I disagree, that Lithuania were to refuse to build a nuclear power plant in Visaginas. In that case, Rosatom builds a nuclear power plant in Belarus, several tens of kilometers from Vilnius, several times closer to Vilnius than Visaginas. Those who rejected the idea of building a Lithuanian nuclear power plant in Visaginas encouraged Rosatom to build a power plant in Belarus, but closer to Vilnius. There are no borders that will hold unsecure atoms.

– Does that mean that there wouldn’t be a nuclear power plant in Belarus if we built our own power plant in Visaginas?

– I am sure that that would have been the case if Hitachi was already building its nuclear power plant in Lithuania. I think that there is only one way to stop the construction of Rosatom’s power plant of questionable safety in Belarus, and that is by agreeing with Poland and Hitachi to build a secure and efficient nuclear power plant in Lithuania. At that point, the construction of a power plant in Belarus would lose any energy-based or economic purpose.

Give me another way to stop the nuclear power plant, which former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich named as a potential instrument for wiping Lithuania from the face of the Earth. The choice is clear. Besides, the construction of a nuclear power plant through a strategic partnership with Poland would ensure the creation of another, more powerful electrical power bridge with Poland, which would allow the Baltic states to synchronise their frequencies with the EU.

– Why do you think public discussions of the nuclear power plant have died down in Lithuania?

– The shortsightedness of Lithuania’s politicians and a lack of political will could be the reason. And, of course, Russia’s influence.

– Was the fact that the Christian Democrat-Conservative government, over four years of governance, failed to begin construction and managed to destroy the LEO project before that also have to do with shortsightedness and Russian influence?

– We must understand that Russia tries to influence us 24 hours a day. That’s why we all have to unite and fight for our freedom not just ahead of the elections, but every day.

Energy security, national defence, education, and the reduction of exclusion or the economy of happiness, where every Lithuanian family could feel calm, safe and totally supported by the state when giving birth to more than three or four children, all require the long-term unity of all of our state’s most important political forces.

We need to stop blaming one another and focusing on short-term election projects. Let’s look at the future of our country and of children, and unite in their name. To paraphrase Kazys Pakštas, we live in such a dangerous place that we cannot be satisfied with half-measures.

The Astravyets issue is not just a way to halt the synchronisation of the Baltic states’ power grids with the West, it is also a way to maintain political influence in the country, maybe even prepare it for another occupation. If we believe in our freedom, we will win this fight for electricity, the same as we did for gas.

– I’d like to remind you of the so-called Russian containment plan created by the Homeland Union. Will Lithuania continue to try to contain Russia?

– Of course, Lithuania won’t do that alone, so that’s why I’m talking about a strategic partnership with Poland, with which we would be able to form a strong coalition of nations supporting the development of the EU and NATO. The United Kingdom and the Baltic, Northern, Central European and Black Sea nations are our natural allies, not to mention the US, which will be different in 2016, and closer to us.

It’s also possible to persuade other EU nations, starting with Germany and France, that we need a new and different policy towards Russia at EU level. The greatest punishment for Vladimir Putin‘s ventures would be Ukrainian membership in the EU or NATO. I am sure that it will happen. The question is whether Lithuania will participate in that.

– There are those that believe that Russia would fall apart and present an even greater threat without Putin.

– Perhaps that might be a great fear for a Russian chauvinist, but why should we be worried about them? History has taught us that when there are problems in Moscow, more and more independence appears in the region.

Someone in the Kremlin is still crying over the crumbling of the Soviet empire and is still disappointed that other nations and countries were given their freedom, they want to take that freedom away again. The EU and US shouldn’t allow Putin’s imperialists to recreate that prison, even its name has been changed to the Eurasian Union that well-known leaders in Brussels and Western Europe have been hurrying to praise, missing a great opportunity to stay silent.

In this context, Lithuania and Poland have a reason to be skeptical of new relationships with Vladimir Putin, whatever context they might appear in – Syria, the Eurasian Union or Nord Stream 2, the EU or NATO, where a politically correct majority has expressed a desire to forgive Putin. It seems that this is why Warsaw is being undeservedly criticised by liberals and leftists both in the West and in Lithuania.

– Is the EU capable of serious foreign policy?

– Yes, the EU’s life and future isn’t complicated. Everyone’s talking about the immigration crisis and the fear of terror. But there’s one more thing that scares me – the threat of Britain leaving the EU is still here. I think that, in this case, Lithuania, as a strategic partner of other EU states, would have something to offer.

If a strong EU is in our interest, we must search for compromises with the British and make them. Without the British, expanding the EU and NATO will be difficult – they are our natural allies, and without them, we wouldn’t have any membership in all of the elite clubs we currently enjoy.

– Listening to you speak about how much Lithuania can do raises both hope and skepticism. Aren’t we too small for big foreign policy ambitions? Will we again seek to become regional leaders as we once were?

– Of course, if Lithuania’s foreign policy continues to be dominated by political commentary rather than real actions, Lithuania will remain politically small, left on the edge of European politics with all of the consequences that this would bring. Forming, directing, and fixing EU policies can only be done in coalitions of states or alliances. That’s what we need to do to ensure that our voices and interests are clearly reflected.

Can Vilnius become the centre of a region between Warsaw, Riga and Minsk? How might the Grand Duchy of Lithuania‘s (LDK) historical dimensions affect Lithuania’s foreign policy? These are ideas worthy of broader discussion. In my personal opinion, we in Lithuania have not yet fully become aware of our identity, or, as St. John Paul II called it, the identity of Jagiellonian Vilnius. It is more than a regional centre – it is our mission in the region, thanks to which we can change not just our region, but all of Europe.

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