Last Saturday Rasa Juknevičienė was elected the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. She believes that Ukraine and Georgia have only begun on the path of seeking NATO membership, even if their entry to the bloc would be a sort of aid to Russia itself. Progress is also obstructed by the large state’s actions, which are also felt in Lithuania. According to the MP, all political parties should seek joint agreement to restrain Russian financial flows, which also influence politicians. This was the topic of discussion on the talk show Dėmesio Centre featuring the politician, lrt.lt writes.
R. Juknevičienė is the first female, first Lithuanian and first representative of the new NATO members to hold such a post. She explains that the main goals she set for her presidency remain the same as during her time as assembly vice president, focusing on issues of security in Eastern Europe, which have now become a discussion point in the assembly itself. “We are now experts in it – up to 2014, when Crimea was annexed, many listened to us, but who knows if many believed. Today we no longer need to say much because, for example, the British and others say it much stricter.
The politician emphasises that it is important to not solely focus on issues of your own, if aid from the Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, French and so on is to be expected, one must ensure close relations with the other member states’ parliaments and make an effort to gain a good understanding of their views. R. Juknevičienė points out how on the eve of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, successful talks were held with the French delegation, “For the first time throughout my participation in international security policy have we had such a detailed and open conversation with the country’s parliamentarians, who were greatly interested in Russian activity in our region.”
When queried regarding talks surfacing in Lithuania of the need to limit the number of terms an MP can be re-elected for and how this links to her, as a veteran member of the NATO assembly, being elected as assembly president, the MP emphasises that the parliamentary diplomacy is very much important and indeed personal connections have an influence, with work proceeding beyond just plenary meetings and committee hearings. “If people hear about you, about Lithuania, they value your abilities and then you can represent Lithuania in such a position,” she states.
In terms of continued NATO expansion, R. Juknevičienė states she continues to believe in the prospect for it, but as she points out, this is not a short-term process and despite all the hopelessness and disappointment, in the end, Ukraine refused prospects for NATO membership several times before.
“Formally Viktor Yanukovych had refused it. Now they have once more returned to the path of membership. I tell them that we waited for an invitation for 12 years after declaring independence and now they have only just begun with the Maidan revolution, what we started in 1990 – the path of European reform. Nothing akin had occurred before. Thus patience, patience and once again, patience. The same for the Georgians – many such changes happened there after two elections in a row, but of course, you can’t hide it – the Russian factor influences the expansion of NATO membership,” the politician said.
Through its occupation of Georgian and Ukrainian territory, Russia has seemingly created an impossible to resolve challenge in the two states’ path to enter NATO. R. Juknevičienė points out, however, that the Georgians themselves have proposed a solution – NATO presence and guarantees would not extend to the temporarily occupied regions. The end result will depend on the major NATO members, she says, particularly the USA, which contributes 70% of NATO capacities. “If the perception appears in the US and several other states that this way we would also help Russia: if NATO managed to make such important decisions, it would decrease that unstable grey zone around Russia. It would also benefit the states, which are seeking membership, as it would NATO because there would be no prospects for the expansion of the Russian empire. Unfortunately, currently there is no such agreement, instead there is an appearing talk that we should not irritate Russia. As such, it is our job to prove that the greatest irritant to Russia is that empty security area,” the new president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly stated.
Regarding the newly released report on threats to Lithuanian national security, R. Juknevičienė finds that it presents no new threats, particularly considering that the National Security and Defence Committee of the Seimas, of which R. Juknevičienė is a member, is regularly updated with such information and had received the report earlier in a different format. She notes that the report has become more respectable and does not bring up fringe figures, who appeared as if a smokescreen earlier, diverting attention from more relevant figures. The politician points out how the report emphasises the importance of the 2019 elections, particularly the presidential ones, where, according to the report, Russia will go all out because the elections will have a key influence on Lithuania’s geopolitical direction.
While she is unsure whether the current Lithuanian stance irritates the Kremlin to any particular extent, R. Juknevičienė points out that what Russia needs is a more favourable individual in NATO and at the common table of the EU, which they could employ to antagonise the Baltic States, break apart the EU and NATO in order to achieve its goals. She emphasises that her party, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, have already tabled proposals to counter such efforts by Russia and that it is specifically her party that has faced the most significant Russian attacks ever since the time of Sąjūdis. “It is a constant attack. We have experience and we are prepared to work with the other political powers, the prime minister, the Seimas speaker, if they wish, also with our president so that we could come to terms as to what to do,” the politician said.
In terms of such initiatives she explains there is need to analyse the situation in the West, pass certain legislation and review, whether Russian attempts at influencing the elections are understood the same across the political spectrum.
“I have seen a number of such operations, for example the referendum on the Visaginas nuclear power plant. You would probably need a whole series to explain, just how subtly Russia acted to prevent the power plant’s construction in Lithuania. When we investigated the story of Mindaugas Bastys, all these intelligence matters surfaced very clearly, how they were done, how the goal was pursued. The first proposal is to limit the financial flow from Russia toward politics. If we earlier had the black bookkeeping format – Rolandas Paksas, Viktor Uspaskich, now we have the official format,” R. Juknevičienė said.
When queried, whether she means Ramūnas Karbauskis’ sale of fertiliser and agricultural business, she confirms that is the case, pointing out that she cannot be convinced that what is being done is simply business and that she is unsure whether if such a day came, if such individuals earning significant incomes from Russia would stand on the side of Lithuania or not. The politician points out Ramūnas Karbauskis‘ participation concerning the NATO accession referendum, statements against the EU, chasing out Chevron and organising the referendum on land sales to foreigners.
“Russia and Belarus reward with business, which we can see in the story of Artūras Skardžius. Vladimir Putin’s entourage member Vyacheslav Kantor is highly valued in the oligarch hierarchy. The fertiliser Rostselmash, which is suspected to have financed the Crimean annexation in 2014, was V. Putin’s monetary tool in other countries. How naïve must you be to not understand that it is a massive question mark next to such highly positioned politicians. If it is not an issue, R. Karbauskis should have relinquished the business immediately upon becoming a member of Seimas and the leader of such a prominent party because it will also be questioned,” R. Juknevičienė said.