For the first time, Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anušauskas has made not just a mistake but a serious one. Influential conservatives say that if prosecutors, following an appeal by Agnė Širinskienė, decide to open a pre-trial investigation into the disclosure of restricted information, that alone would be enough to consider whether the Minister should resign, Eglė Samoškaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.
After the meeting of the Council for the Defence of the State, Minister Anušauskas revealed that Lithuania was going to send a letter of intent to the German government regarding the purchase of Leopard tanks, and President Gitanas Nausėda stated that this was information classified as “Limited Use”. If true, its disclosure could constitute a crime.
“Politically speaking, it’s up to the prosecution. Usually, there is a stage when the material is assessed, and it is decided whether to open a pre-trial investigation. The opening of a pre-trial investigation does not mean that suspicions, let alone charges, would be brought, but the very fact that there would be evidence that an act requiring legal responsibility may have been committed and that a pre-trial investigation would be opened, well, it seems to me that there would then be a question of his resignation – if the government and the party trust him,” a conservative, who is being kept under wraps for reasons of confidentiality, told the tv3.lt portal.
“It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding here, or, to put it popularly, a bubble. Because a letter has been sent regarding the future protocol of intent, and it is no secret. Why is it a secret that I am going to write a letter?” the patriarch of the conservatives, Vytautas Landsbergis, took a completely different view but refrained from commenting further.
“I think they will protect him. I don’t think he has worked hard enough to be removed. The President is just using the opportunity to make a fuss because Anušauskas is popular, so it’s good to give him a little bit of a pat on the back,” said another member of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
He announced the suppliers and what the army advises
When the President convened the National Defence Council on 24 July, most of the communication was about the connection of Lithuania’s electricity system to the continental European grid, as well as the long-term military support plan for Ukraine, while the purchase of tanks for the Lithuanian army was not mentioned at all by the representatives of the Presidential Office. However, the Minister of National Defence, A. Anušauskas, indicated that Lithuania will send a letter of intent to Germany to join the coalition of countries ordering Leopard tanks.
“For the time being, we will send a letter of intent to Germany to join the coalition of countries ordering Leopard tanks – we want to have the opportunity to clarify issues that are important to us, as it is still too early to talk about quantities, amounts and other details,” the Minister wrote on Facebook.
On 25 July, in response to criticism by Liberals Movement’s Raimundas Lopata, the Minister even explained in detail that offers from German, US and South Korean manufacturers had been received and that the Lithuanian Army had evaluated German Leopard, American Abrams and Korean Black Panther tanks. According to Anušauskas, the Lithuanian Armed Forces assessed that the Leopard tanks were the most suitable for our country’s needs as if giving the impression that Lithuania had not yet made up its mind, although it was then stated that there was no final decision, as the letter of intent allowed for more information.
“This is a very large acquisition, probably the largest in the history of our national defence. This means that several governments will be working on it, and the Parliament will take the decision. The first thing to do was to inform the Parliament, which was only done yesterday, and to make sure the opposition was informed because they will need to continue this work. Well, and in general, traditionally, no one has ever talked about such acquisitions, especially as they are still only intentions. It is a very delicate issue. There is no way that such half-decisions can be released into the public domain. Not to mention the fact that we currently have an information war with Russia and Belarus, which are watching everything closely. I think that is very unprofessional. It is even more unprofessional to defend oneself, as the Minister is doing now. Because the more he defends himself, the more he says all sorts of things,” Gediminas Kirkilas, former Prime Minister and former Minister of National Defence, told tv3.lt.
According to the politician, NATO partners are also monitoring the information field and may avoid sharing secret information in the future if they think that ministers in Lithuania are unable to keep secrets. “I think the minister should have admitted the mistake, said that it would not happen again, and not explained that there was no mistake because there is a mistake”, the former Social Democrat added.
Anušauskas himself stands his ground: “I have to tell you straight out: the law is on my side,” the Minister told Lietuvos rytas TV and interrupted the conversation.
The Ministry of National Defence, headed by Anušauskas, also tried to defend its Minister, saying that “the information published in the Facebook post by Minister Arvydas Anušauskas does not have the characteristics of classified information set out in the detailed list of classified information related to the activities of the National Defence System”.
Conservative: “It is a fact that he talked to himself”
An influential conservative who discussed the situation with the portal said that the prosecutors’ conclusion on whether a pre-trial investigation would be opened for possible disclosure of a state secret or an official secret was still pending. If a pre-trial investigation were to be opened, Anušauskas’ ability to remain in office could be in jeopardy, as this would essentially mean that the prosecutors are looking into a possible crime. If not, then it will simply be suggested that President Nausėda may have gotten carried away because the presidential elections are approaching.
“If the prosecutor’s office says that there are no indications and does not open a pre-trial investigation after making an initial assessment, then it is left to the President to make a politically charged assessment and comment. Then it is possible to interpret why Nausėda took such a position, whether it has to do with the elections or something else”, the politician said.
According to the interlocutor, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė will probably await the prosecutors’ decision and, pending this, will treat the situation in a similar way to party chairman Gabrielius Landsbergis: that it is better to provide less information on such delicate issues.
“It is a fact that he was unnecessarily tight-lipped. Politically, one can say that the Minister did not prepare a position and that he executed the political process in a bad and unprofessional way. If there has been such a charade that the President and the members of the National Security and Defence Committee are reacting, then the political process is, at the very least, out of control. But whether the party should immediately recall him, fire him and create a bigger political crisis because of that, I doubt it”, the politician said.
According to him, if the same thing were to continue, there would be a risk of discrediting the format of the Council for the Defence of the State, which includes the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Seimas, the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of the Armed Forces.
“Politically speaking, his biggest pitfall may be the prosecutor’s office, and his biggest saviour is his rating,” the conservative said, stressing that it would be disingenuous for the party to move the chair of its own Minister just because of the President’s criticism in the absence of an assessment by the prosecutor’s office.
A. Anušauskas is the most popular Minister in this government. “According to Vilmorus data, in July, 50% of respondents had a positive opinion of the Minister, while 21.4% had a negative opinion.
“If we look at him as a minister-politician who is supposed to reassure the public, the masses, then this public confidence shows that he is doing a good job of political psychotherapy,” said an interlocutor from the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
“But if we look at it in terms of policy-making, in terms of thought leadership, it’s not that he is shaping doctrine in his own field like Arvydas Sekmokas did in his time in the energy sector. You can like him, you can dislike him, but he has made a difference, he has left his mark, he has found one way, and he has reworked it in a different way – this is the third energy package and the terminal. In this sense, it is not that Anušauskas has made a breakthrough, that he has constructed a new idea, or that he has been at the forefront of such ideas (which would perhaps be an expectation in wartime). He is reminiscent of Justinas Marcinkevičius’s white chronicler: he transcribes, writes and reviews everything, but sometimes there is too much of an observer role. One would like to see more of a leadership role. This is my personal opinion”, the conservative said.
He became a minister after Kasčiūnas was blocked
It may be recalled that Anušauskas became Minister of National Defence because the President’s Office blocked the candidacy of the current chairman of the National Security and Defence Committee, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, politicians say.
But at the end of 2020, Anušauskas looked like a solid candidate – his only drawback seemed to be his lack of knowledge of the English language, although the politician promised to correct this. Unfortunately, as the Minister’s presentation to the US think tank Atlantic Council in May shows, he is unable to read a pre-prepared text in English. And although Anušauskas then excused himself in the Seimas as being very tired, he kept glancing at the paper for a few sentences in English when replying to Širinskienė.
“L. Kasčiūnas was blocked by G. Nausėda. And Arvydas was an experienced member of the Seimas, already in his fourth term, a former chairman of the committee, which looked solid. His CV, his political experience, his solidity, having been chairman of the Political Committee, chairman of the Oversight Committee, and head of the Exiles’ Community Council, all came into play. But it was the experience in the Committee on National Security and Defence that worked the most,” recalls the representative of the Homeland Union of Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
Other conservatives working in the field of defence policy were not able to take up their positions because the former Minister of National Defence Rasa Juknevičienė left for the European Parliament, while Arvydas Pocius and Valdas Rakutis lacked political experience.
This is not the first time they have found themselves in strange situations
This is not the first time that Minister of National Defence Anušauskas has found himself in strange situations and then denied the problem. The only thing is that the previous cases were not serious and were more indicative of the politician’s personality – unwillingness to admit mistakes – than of the fact that they were detrimental to his direct work.
For example, when the Minister visited Ukraine with President Nausėda in July 2022, Anušauskas posted photos of Nausėda and Volodymyr Zelensky hugging in real time on the social network. The Minister was asked to hide the photos, which he did, but when the tv3.lt portal published an article about it, Anušauskas rushed to deny it, accused the journalist of the article, and deleted the message he had written on Messenger. At the time, Russian forces and various groups were hunting down Mr Zelensky because his stay in the country was partly responsible for the fact that the political system did not collapse and that the country was united in defending itself against the occupiers.
“This is unacceptable because it is directly related to the safety of the people on those premises. After all, we are talking about a country that is at war and that sets its own security rules. We, as guests, are doing things that endanger the lives of the people there, including the presidents,” President Nausėda recalled in an interview with the Delfi portal.
Another case was when Anušauskas shared on social media that a Lithuanian citizen, Valerijus Polkovnikovas, a drone instructor, had died in Ukraine allegedly from injuries sustained in the war. Friends had announced a fundraiser, but it later turned out that the Lithuanian citizen died in hospital for completely different reasons. Anushauskas deleted the message and explained strangely: “I never keep that information for more than half an hour or an hour”.
The politician has also been criticised when he and his wife, Lina Anušauskienė, gave interviews and posed for the glamour magazine L’Officiel Hommes, where the prices and brands of the clothes they wore were listed. This was essentially brand advertising integrated into the content. Another time, A. Anušauskas’ wife told a TV programme how her husband had first revealed to her that Russia would indeed attack Ukraine before the war had even started but that there was no violation of the law because it was publicly announced by the US intelligence services and written about in various publications.