Saulius Skvernelis, who’s also a presidential candidate in Lithuania, keeps repeating that Lithuania is “the only state in the EU that has no political contacts” with Russia. As he introduced his campaign team on March 13, the politician also said that Lithuania has no relationship with Belarus either. It is untrue.
“Today we have no positive signals from Russia to make any contacts, there are no positive signals from that country, and the ball is Russia’s court now. Today I truly see no possibilities to talk about the top political level, but I see another important thing when it comes to Russia and Belarus, and that is the protection of our state interests. We really wouldn’t like to see the extremes that we once had. One day we see hugs with the president of Belarus, handshakes with Putin, and the other day we become the only state in the European Union that has no political contacts with these countries”, said the Lithuanian Prime minister, who is also running for president (the second round of the presidential election will be held on May 26, the same weekend as the European elections).
Skvernelis: “This was information that was provided to me.”
When asked by 15min the next day about the sources he referred to when he said that his country has no political contacts with Belarus and Russia, the Prime Minister was brief: “Information that was provided to me. Official information.” As he talked about contacts with Russia in January 2018, Skvernelis specified that he meant direct political contacts, for example, between vice-ministers. At that time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that there was no favourable background for political cooperation, however, they added that practical cooperation with Russia in the areas that are of importance to Lithuania continues. The Ministry said that in 2017 the following was achieved:
- the final Lithuania-Russia border demarcation documents were signed by the ambassadors at large of both countries, the vice-minister of foreign affairs Darius Skusevičius also took part in the ceremony;
- negotiations on the immovable property of the diplomatic missions were conducted;
- economic cooperation between Lithuanian and Russia continued to grow, simplified transit system was in operation;
- the number of tourists from Russia grew, as well as the number of visas issued to the citizens of the Russian Federation.
- an expedition “Mission Siberia” was accomplished;
- Lithuania expressed support to the civil society of Russia, meetings of Vilnius Russia Forum took place on a regular basis;
- projects of EU Cross Border Cooperation programme (that covers cooperation of border regions) were ongoing;
- cooperation in the area of culture took place;
- the Speaker of Seimas Viktoras Pranckietis met the Russian ambassador to Lithuania Alexander Udaltsov on January 9.
- the vice-minister of foreign affairs Skusevičius met Alexander Udaltsov in February;
- the minister of culture Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson received the Russian ambassador in December;
- Group for Inter-Parliamentary Relations with Lithuania was established at the State Duma of Russia.
Political Scientist: Meeting with Ambassador is Diplomatic Contact.
One cannot claim that Lithuania has absolutely no contacts with Russia, said assoc. prof. Dovilė Jakniūnaitė from the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of Vilnius University in January 2018 to 15min. She agreed that there had been no top-level meetings between Russian and Lithuanian representatives since 2009, however, she added that meetings between politicians and the Russian ambassador should be considered as diplomatic contacts.
As they provided information to 15min about the Lithuanian-Russian relationship in 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that the evolution of this relationship resembled the tendencies of the previous years. “We continue to see positive trends in practical areas (trade, tourism, cultural exchange, etc.), however, Russia continued to be engaged in aggressive politics towards not only Ukraine and other neighbours, but also towards the Western countries”, the Ministry replied. They singled out a new stage of the Cross-Border Cooperation programme as a positive example of practical cooperation, as well as smooth work by Lithuanian and Russian institutions during the football World Cup 2018 that was held in Russia. “4 matches were held in Kaliningrad and quite a number of fans went to and from these matches through the territory of Lithuania. Good early preparation and communication with the Russian institutions helped us avoid any bigger incidents”, says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Russia Assumed Unfriendly Posture
According to the Ministry, cross-border relationship was dark-clouded by both general international context (ongoing occupation of Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine, Kerch incident, Salisbury incidents) and “unconstructive actions of Russia towards Lithuania”. The Ministry maintains that Russia has taken an openly unfriendly posture.
“The narrative that is derogating the statehood of Lithuania is being spread (Soviet occupation is being denied), proceedings against the judges and prosecutors of the “January the 13th” case were initiated, every effort was made in order to compromise the Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan movement and its leaders. Another fact is that no permit was given for the expedition “Mission Siberia”, whose participants visit and clean the graveyards of the exile, to enter Russia. This public initiative was artificially linked to the state interest of Russia to take care of Soviet heritage objects in Lithuania”, stresses the Ministry in its reply. According to the Ministry, Lithuania has a vested interest in having friendly neighbours, and in relationship with Russia that is based on mutual respect and equality. “However, good intentions of only one party, i.e. Lithuania, are not enough to ensure progress of this relationship”, the Ministry added.
Cooperation with Belarus on Ministers Level:
When asked to evaluate the relationship with another neighbour, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that the inter-institutional cooperation between Lithuania and Belarus is intensive, talks are held on the level of ministers and vice-ministers.
- “Relevant issues are discussed on the level of ministers, vice-ministers and other levels. One of the most recent examples could be the visit of the transport and communications minister of Belarus Aleksei Avramenko to Lithuania”, the ministry indicated. It also emphasized that:
- active bilateral cooperation is taking place in economic formats, i.e. Lithuania-Belarus economic (business) and transport forums are held every year, as well as meetings between tourism sector representatives;
- the longest Belarus-EU border is that of the border with Lithuania, and this fact determines active cooperation between border and customs officers of both countries;
- meetings of joint consultancy committee of the Lithuanian and Belorussian education and science ministries take place every year;
- municipalities are also active in terms of cooperation: a number of cooperation agreements were signed between Lithuanian and Belorussian cities;
- Belarus, as well as other Eastern Partnership countries, is one of the top-priority countries in the context of development cooperation of Lithuania.
Besides, the Prime Minister Skvernelis initiated the relationship with Belarus himself as he proposed to the Prime Minister Syarhey Rumas to consider the possibility of developing the gas power plant instead of the nuclear power plant in Astrav.
Belarus has not yet submitted a formal reply regarding this issue; however, the head of Nuclear Energy Department at the Ministry of Energy of Belarus Vassily Poluchovich said to tut.by that Belarus sees no point in implementing Skvernelis’ proposal.
15min judgment is that the Prime Minister Skvernelis told a lie when he claimed that Lithuania has no political contacts with Russia and Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs singled out specific cases of practical cooperation with Russia. Active relationship is fostered with Belarus on the level of ministers and vice-ministers. The initiative of the Prime Minister himself only proves it.