Ž. Pavilionis. About Vovochka the neighbour and the choice: the West or the Lithuanian Schroederism?

Žygimantas Pavilionis
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

Many of us have probably encountered or at least have heard of an undisciplined next-door-neighbour with a fondness for drinking. Let us call him Vovochka (the Russian equivalent of “Little Johnny”, a diminutive form of name Vladimir). Vovochka is often the one who regularly plays loud music, disposes of litter in the staircase of an apartment building, and the one who is often behind the disappearance of front door mats. When reproached, Vovochka would pop his eyes and tell you to buy a pair of ear plugs, accuse some passers-by in green track suits of the trash in the staircase and argue that the mat had always belonged to him. Then ultimately he would just lash out at you with a question like “Why are you being so very hostile to your neighbour? I mean, aren’t neighbours supposed to be friendly to one another?” He might very well end up offering to call on you with a bottle of something chilled.

What on earth is one to do about such a neighbour? First, one could adapt, i.e. buy a pair of ear plugs and pretend that other neighbours do not hear him, turn a blind eye on a befouled staircase and take no notice that your door mat has repeatedly disappeared. As if that were not enough, to show your gratitude. Second, one could call the police, or try to build unity among neighbours and make best efforts to discipline the troublesome neighbour. And third, one could Schroederise and play loud music together with the neighbour, join him for a drink, and then, after drinking, ask nicely whether he respected you or not. If he goes with a yes, then you could venture to ask him not to steal your mat ‘because it is kind of expensive’. In the end, when the midnight calls, acting on a proposal by Vovochka, you could invite other neighbours to join in the company and take a sip of a noble drink. Which option would you choose?

Paradoxically, such a real-life scenario applies to the Lithuanian foreign policy, too. We need to choose our own path and those to accompany us down the path: a free world based on a commitment to act with transparency and respect, or those who either have no rules at all or obey the rules that benefit them alone. However, over the last eleven years, according to the recent report by the Freedom House, countries are choosing to be non-democratic and the number of them has been dangerously rising. This raises the legitimate question how to ensure leadership of the free West in a world, where not only external enemies rise up against freedom and democracy but also internal forces, posing a threat to democracy, emerge domestically and try to influence voters in various ways.

Such was the prevailing mood last weekend, when the best foreign-policy strategists of the US met in a one-day gathering to discuss the vision of a better transatlantic world. Encouraged by the success of the Inaugural President Valdas Adamkus Conference, which was attended by some of those people, the organisers invited me, the only European, to attend the event on very simple grounds: for many years now, Lithuania has set an example of a dedicated and inspiring fight for freedom for the entire region. On 1 February this year, Carl Gershman, who was appointed long ago as President of the National Endowment for Democracy by the late US President Ronald Reagan, is coming to Lithuania to make a speech to support this argument. The meeting in Miami, however, was marked by a growing concern of the old friends of Lithuania over the future of the country, especially over the foreign and security policy guidelines. More frequent and consistent conformism demonstrated by various Lithuanian politicians and reflecting increasingly popular trends in the region and across Europe, may open the gate for the Kremlin and other Eastern dictatorships to the transatlantic area of freedom. Colleagues and friends in the West have noticed that what was previously timidly spoken about by politically marginalised individuals, supported by the Russian embassy in Vilnius, is now being vocally advocated from high rostrums by Lithuanian heavyweight politicians in Brussels and Vilnius.

The New Year’s call from Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis to resume contacts with Russia was received with a chorus of criticism, except, of course, for European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who has been long known for his consistent pro-Putin position. The European Commissioner is in a very interesting situation: his opinion corresponds neither to the official position of Lithuania nor, possibly, to that of the European Commission. Commissioner Andriukaitis must have forgotten that the five guiding principles for EU-Russia relations expressly identify full implementation of the Minsk agreements as the precondition for the revision of relations with Russia. Establishing closer ties with the Eastern Partnership countries, including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, constitute the second precondition for the EU-Russia dialogue. The third condition is greater EU cooperation in the areas of energy security, hybrid threats and strategic communication. Sadly, being an open supporter of the Kremlin, Mr Andriukaitis can brag only about his passionate defence of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and proposals to impose sanctions against the USA, which, fortunately, had the courage to be clear about the detrimental effect of Nord Stream 2, subsequently imposing appropriate sanctions. It barely needs mentioning that the nuclear power plant in Astravyets has been actively supported, among others, by Commissioner Andriukaitis. Supporting Russian dissidents and civil society is yet another principle for the resumption of EU-Russia dialogue. Unfortunately, the only active players in this field are the US, its NGOs in Lithuania, the current opposition and Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, who is criticised by Prime Minister Skvernelis.

The Commissioner and his friends in Lithuania are fond of the EU policy of “selective engagement” with Russia on issues of common interest to the EU. Jokes are made in the Brussels corridors that Mr Andriukaitis was eager to engage in such a dialogue with Moscow already at the time when no one else had thought of going there. For many Europeans, the zest of the Lithuanian Commissioner appeared rather strange, since it represented a departure from the traditional foreign policy of Lithuania. The bottom line is that Mr Andriukaitis remains one of the top EU officials, who has a long track record of consistently discrediting both Lithuania and the whole of the EU.

Third option

In this context, I am no less surprised at an increasingly loud and particularly dangerous position referred to as Schroederism (let us recall Vovochka the neighbour, mentioned previously). Although Prime Minister’s position on Russia receives criticism, statements point to the emergence of a more dangerous perspective. There is a new reality, which in fact is proposed to be accepted: the West maintains relations with the Kremlin; the Minsk agreements will not be implemented anyway; we therefore have to define new interests and cooperate with the enemy and demonstrate our understanding. This seems to remind us of a situation with an alcoholic neighbour: instead of disciplining him, you go to your neighbour’s place for a night-long binge-drinking affair and expect something good out of it. In reality, however, you disillusion some of your orderly neighbours. The next morning you wake up only to feel a splitting headache and pulsating temples. Well, right, your neighbour is peaceful now, because he is asleep. But what will happen after he wakes up? You will once again have to go ‘partying’. This is how you will come to recognise the anti-social reality.

The same applies to foreign policy. Supporters of Scroederism promote anti-social reality, where the aggressor is treated as an indispensable reality, with whom cooperation is to be resumed. Many international politicians renowned for their pragmatic attitudes rather than a strong backbone apparently acted in a similar way following the occupation of Lithuania, which had not been recognised only by the USA and the Holy See. If we face the truth, however, the facts are as follows: in the 21st century, Russia for the first time after World War II invaded sovereign territories and changed the borders of Europe. Instead of defending the security of Ukraine and Georgia and that of our own, we are proposing to forget it. Putin (or Vovochka the neighbour) is stronger and has more on offer. Is this why he is right? Or is this why we have to bury the hatchet and put aside our differences, as if they were but a little matter? Shall we go ahead to his embrace? It goes without saying that this hidden support for the Kremlin represents perfidy and danger for Lithuania.

Let us get back to the sunny Miami, however. What do our friends in Washington say about that? Well they plainly and simply say that it is up to us to choose who we are with: a free world ready to take off for a new flight, or those who are trying to impose the old rules of the game on you. If you are willing to stand with us, then help us to consolidate our new leadership and become part of it. What might this leadership be like?

The new US Administration, marking its one-year anniversary in office, has already restored the red lines in many of the most dangerous parts of the world. Dictators, who had been acting freely for over a decade, are now afraid to come to light in fear of a good punch. Nevertheless, democracy, freedom and human rights have so far failed to become the backbone of US foreign policy. That was something that had always been agreed by the left and the right in Washington before Barack Obama’s administration came in. President Obama backed away from this agenda, and it is only though very strenuous and sustained diplomatic endeavours, in particular during Lithuania’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies, that we have managed to turn the previous administration and, in particular, Hillary Clinton back to this important foreign policy objective. Therefore, in Miami on January 21, we all agreed to make every effort to once again place democracy and freedom at the core of US foreign policy, so that non-democratic regimes no longer feel free and unrestricted, and so that they, rather than we, began to respond to our agendas.

Coincidentally, last Friday the Pentagon unveiled its new defence concept, clearly stating that inter-state cooperation of non-democratic regimes in destroying democracy across the world, rather than terrorism, was now the primary concern for US national security. I hope this will be the way for the new administration in Washington to restore consensus on essential values that make America great. At the beginning of his office, President Obama identified Russia and China as strategic friends, whereas the Trump administration called them strategic enemies. There is really a substantial difference between the two perceptions. However, it is not enough to eradicate Schroederism, the Russian virus that is destroying Europe, including Lithuania.

In fact, the EU and NATO enlargement was abandoned a decade ago only to pander to Russia. Therefore, we should revive the process. It was the appeasement of Russia rather than our enlargement policy that endorsed Kremlin’s aggression and occupation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories, which, as our Schroederists propose, should be forgotten. I am convinced that by the end of the second term in office, the Trump administration could very well welcome Georgia and Ukraine to NATO thus proving once again that it is NATO, rather than the aggression of the Kremlin or new networks of China, that is the only global defender of freedom, democracy and human dignity.

We will all have to continue strengthening the alliance from within by increasing military spending and military presence in places facing the greatest threat from Russia. I made it clear when I said in Miami that “US military presence in the Baltic States is insufficient. The German-led battalion is wonderful, but it alone is not enough”. We equally expect that the US will resume debate on free trade not only between the US and the UK, but also between the US and the rest of the EU.

It is necessary to restore the dominance of the West in information space and counter Russia’s lie-machine, which, in fact, has been developed under the analog to Hitler’s schemes to unite his own country at any cost and destroy other states. Such lie-machines are the most dangerous, since they not only kill bodies but also destroy souls and minds. The Scroederism that has emerged in Lithuania is the best evidence of this activity.

The USA may well fully realise the vision of the times of Carl Bildt to create the EU-US energy union, where energy resources are distributed in accordance with market laws rather than based on the principles of loyalty to the Kremlin, which, apparently, our Prime Minister is slowly getting to know being engaged in the kind of diplomacy between Warsaw and the Kremlin that only he can understand. I just want to remind to all new but inexperienced enthusiasts of the matter that Russian gas and oil are cheap only before elections. After destroying all other supply alternatives, they become way more expensive. Over nearly twenty eight years of independence of Lithuania, we have placed a similar noose around our neck for several times already.

We must therefore ask ourselves whether we have the courage to discipline our disturbing neighbour or whether we choose to be conformists and sometimes even lickspittles. Are we choosing the path towards the West or the Schroederisation?

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