Over and over again, we keep hearing the same imperative on Lithuania’s relations with Russia. Over and over again we are beckoned to remain friends and blamed for the lack of friendship.
In fact, the tune has not changed ever since the 16th century.
We lost the independence first forged in 1918, with the same tune in the background. A generation is still alive that remembers how our country disappeared from the political map of the world, even though we were as silent as the grave and as small as poppy seed as regards Stalin’s Kremlin.
Until the early morning of 15 June 1940, we tried to be friends and avoid mischief. We kept silence about the ultimatum. We lost our minister and director for security, in the hopes of keeping Russia happy. We failed, because Russia’s concept of friendship was different: one had to surrender to remain friends.
We might think learning the lessons of history and refraining from repeating mistakes in future would be enough. Unfortunately, not so.
It is difficult to learn from the past, when Saulius Skvernelis says that a different type of behaviour is enough for Lithuania to remain friends with Russia. People are apt to believe in fairy tales.
Several days after Prime Minister’s statement on friendship with Putin’s Russia, however, the Kremlin-managed website for the Baltic States responded in a straightforward manner: there were seven conditions to be met if Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia wanted the Kremlin to be on friendly terms with them.
Here are the conditions:
1. Rights of the Russian-speaking population (most applicable to Latvia and Estonia, but Lithuania has to show solidarity as well);
2. Unblocking of the Kaliningrad Region through visa-free movement through Lithuania;
3. Ending the anti-Russian hysteria;
5. De-politicisation of history (which would involve stopping from calling occupation by its true name and putting an end to the 13 January case);
6. Removal of Russophobes from government;
7. Neutrality, i.e. withdrawal of the allied forces and retreat from NATO.
In the run-up to the presidential elections, myths about happiness and prosperity conditioned by our changed behaviour vis-à-vis modern-day Kremlin will get even more vociferous.
However, we can surprise ourselves and the Kremlin.
We can agree that we need to learn to live without Russia as long as it does not change. Simply disregard it. I would give my sincere and wholehearted support to an agreement between political party leaders and presidential candidates to this effect.
The debate on friendship is futile. The Kremlin needs such a debate only to spread internal division in Lithuania and to dominate our political agenda. I can see some potential candidates already on the hook.
This does not mean that we should reject reality. Certainly not: Russia still remains a security challenge. However, let us address the matter without the paralysing atonement.
It is high time we pooled our efforts in the run-up to the presidential elections as a solid nation free from Russia. It is high time we concentrated on issues that matter more than the useless sorrow for the lack of a mystical friendship with Russia in its present status quo, I would point out.
As I shall attempt to demonstrate, we would do best if we learned to live without Russia. We have attained a lot by having broken free from the Kremlin’s influence that had been a destructive force for centuries. Let us continue on our West-bound track.
Evidently enough, Russia is not a guarantee of our prosperity and security. Quite the contrary, all threats and woes to Russia’s neighbours always come from Russia itself.
The guarantee of our safe and consistent economic development neither lies in Russia, nor the Russian banks, nor Russia’s energy resources.
Quite the contrary. We have made a significant breakthrough by doing away with the banks like Snoras and Ūkio bankas, internationally famous for corruption. They were the ticking bombs of hybrid warfare. Have a look at the scandals in Latvia today. We have attained a lot by scrapping our energy dependency on Russia. Any attempts to steer the economy towards Russia are a very risky endeavour, because this market is the Kremlin’s political tool used against the neighbouring countries, in particular as far as energy is concerned.
Such figures in our politics as Rolandas Paksas, Viktor Uspaskich, Vladimir Romanov, and Artūras Skardžius have demonstrated that Kremlin allows some to generate very large sums in exchange for a certain role in Lithuanian political landscape.
The true role played in Lithuanian political life by Visvaldas Matijošaitis, owner of the permit to operate a profitable plant in Kaliningrad, remains to be seen.
Ramūnas Karbauskis‘ role can only be neglected by those unwilling to see the truth. Viatcheslav Kantor, an oligarch in Putin’s environment, is certainly in a position to choose a fertiliser business partner in Lithuania and make deliberate choices. Mr Kantor’s partner has so far acted in good faith by initiating a referendum against NATO, expelling the US-owned Chevron, trying to put up Lithuania against the EU during the referendum on land sale, trying to lower the threshold in referendums, and blocking the construction of the Visaginas nuclear power plant by opening the path to Russia-backed Astravyets NPP.
Now he is doing his utmost to wreak even more disappointment in Lithuania. He took over the affairs of the Lithuanian Radio and Television, but Rūta Yanutene‘s style and content befits him and his team very well. In the near future, I think we will see attempts to undermine the political system that took us so much effort to create. The Russian markets bring benefits in the short-term, but are politically binding and extremely dangerous. A diversified economy in Lithuania is the key precondition if we want to try our luck in Russia.
I believe that the renewal of the debate on friendship with Russia is one of the key narratives of the Kremlin. There is a huge number of Kremlin’s spies active in here. They are all well acquainted with the public sentiment. They target the 50 % of Lithuania’s nationals who still believe that good conduct on the part of Lithuania is enough to forge a friendship with Russia.
We need to act in quite an opposite way to counteract the Kremlin’s narrative. In fact, we should stop believing Kremlin’s fairy tales about russophobes and no longer misinform our citizens. There is so much more to be done.
Let us spare no time on monkey business. We will be best positioned to help Russia and our own country if we help Ukraine. Only a successful Ukraine may produce an eye-opening effect on Russians and stop the further expansion of a new aggressive empire. A dialogue with Russia is only possible through instruments of our membership of NATO and the EU. United we stand, divided we fall.