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  In the wings of the political games arena. Interview with Ambassador of Lithuania to NATO Linas Linkevičius

Liudas Zakarevičius
2006 04 07

Baltic and Russian Affairs Expert Paul Goubl stressed that the Baltic countries are feeling a constantly increasing pressure from Moscow especially in terms of security and shaping of foreign policy. In your opinion, what possible threats Russia poses to Lithuania?

One could talk about many aspects but I would like to mention just a few current and the most obvious facts: one of them has not been yet assessed in Lithuania – the issue of energy safety. It is only a matter of time when we in Lithuania experience the same scenario of Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia. If that happened, I do not believe we would be ready for that. If some time ago one could threaten with military interference, nowadays it is enough to "turn the taps off" in the middle of the winter and that suffice to damage the sovereignty of the state and to make the government step down.  Russia does not acknowledge publicly using energy as a weapon, however it is so obvious. Also, another issue, which does not receive sufficient attention – media invasion. Let us take the Russian media which very successfully spreads Russian culture (not only culture but also ideology).  In the long run this even influences the mentality. This fact has to be given due care. We should not forget that Russia would always try to split Euro-Atlantic unity and weaken the Alliance. This is obvious even today. Earlier we witnessed the formation of an informal Russian, French and German strategic block when those countries started cooperating with each other closer than with traditional allies. I would like to emphasize that Russia indirectly but powerfully influences Lithuania by weakening the Alliance and dividing the Euro Atlantic unity.

It is also obvious that after Lithuania‘s accession to the European Union and NATO, the secret services became more active. This process is of course not directed towards the improvement of the situation. I could go on, but it is obvious that there are many threats.

Would it be right to draw a conclusion that Russia‘s attitude to Lithuania as a member of NATO and the EU has not changed fundamentally?   

It has not changed fundamentally, however it became more positive in some ways. In 2002 when it became obvious that Lithuania would join NATO, Russia became more attentive and respectful towards us. If some time ago it would ignore Lithuania, the year 2002 could be identified as the time when Lithuania started receiving high-level guests (as an example, Russian Defence Minister Sergej Ivanov paid a visit to Lithuania).

If we were not appreciated and even suppressed and very little respected before 2002, then out of a sudden our opinion became important, since were became members of one big and important unit.

Being a part of a big union, we have possibilities to act and to use our opportunities. However, we haven‘t done that yet.

 You mentioned 2002 as some turning point. 2002 were special in the history of NATO as well: the NATO-Russia Council was established. Many political scientists say that in the NATO-Russia Council as well as in the Alliance itself Russia gains more and more weight. Could you comment on this, please, and express your personal opinion.

It is great that Russia communicates. However, I always try to find the reasons for that... I doubt that this is due to the fact that NATO and Russia share the same values and the same goals. It is clear that Russia wants to come closer to decision-making processes in the Alliance and aims that the Alliance coordinated all actions with Russia. The future will tell us, the present trends are very obvious, though.

The NATO-Russia Council is a positive step, though any dialog might be viewed as a positive move, however content wise this Council is not doing a lot.

Could you speak about Russia in NATO and Russia-NATO Council in let‘s say 10 years?

It is quite difficult to do so. Many say that this time in NATO’s existence is the turning point; however, it is like that in a way each year. Sometime ago Kosovo campaign was the turning point, whereas now we are saying the same about the operation in Afghanistan.

Will the Alliance manage to mobilise itself for the collective action, collective planning and collective participation in operations, will the Alliance manage to generate NATO fast response forces? No one knows that yet.  

Therefore, our goal (that of Lithuania and of the whole Alliance) is to strengthen the collective spring.  

On the other hand, it is very difficult to predict Russian situation. It is absolutely unclear what is the economic situation going to be like in Russia. The prices of oil are skyrocketing at the moment and we know that oil constitutes for the majority of Russia’s income, this country has a huge potential to "stand strong on its feet", and if this trend is to continue, Russia will become a strong nation. Authoritarian trends are quite visible in this country, though, it is difficult to tell anything about Russia‘s ambitions. Russia still hopes to regain the status of the super country which it lost. If that happens, the dialog obviously will become impossible.  

Would you evaluate the strengthening of the country’s weaponry as an attempt to regain the status of the "super country"? 

This is just my assumption. One should not deny this judging from Russia’s current behaviour. A good example is the promotion of Sergej Ivanov as a Vice Prime Minister by empowering him to rule over the military industry and everything what is related to weaponry. The aim of this step is to mobilize the country‘s resources; on the other hand the space forces receive such an attention! Russia allocates a lot of recourses for that and the aims are clear – to ensure a proper status in the world and to regain the super country status, the voice of which is heard. 

One more hot issue: when will the issue of Kaliningrad’s demilitarisation be solved? Is the current trend positive?

Some 7 years ago Russia spoke about Kaliningrad as of some military forepost, whereas now it is not the main goal, since the army is pulled-out (not all of it, but up to a level, which is not dangerous). I would prioritise social problems. Therefore, I emphasize all the time that Kaliningrad to us – is a possibility to demonstrate that because of the enlargement of the European Union and NATO and Lithuania‘s accession to both of these organisations the life for the people in Kaliningrad is definitely not going to become worse, more investments are going to be attracted there. This is not going to happen by itself but if we try hard – we will be able to influence people who live there, their mentality and to prove to the world once again that the enlargement processes are only positive.  

President Saakađvili declared that the recent bombing in Oshetia is Russia’s sabotage act. How would you evaluate this?

I would say that this event proved once again that energy is a very powerful weapon and that if you have a monopoly of energy in your hands, you may manipulate the country’s interests, influence the government and the possible elections. Let us not forget that the time for elections is approaching in Ukraine. Nobody knows what the influence of this gas war was. 

What about Georgia’s integration to NATO. Euro integration Minister Georgij Baramidze stated that the country is implementing an individual partnership with NATO plan and in 2008 it will be practically ready to join the Alliance. Is it for real that Georgia might soon become a member of the Alliance?

Georgia has many problems, especially in terms of the defence reform. It is obvious that there is high corruption level and there is no balance between the government structures. The country has also achieved a lot: there is a political agreement and the support of the society. They are on the right track. We will see how they are going to use their potential, how they are going to solve regional conflicts with Oshetia and Abchazia. Also, many are worried whether these conflicts are not going to be dealt with by military force. With such instability the country is not very likely to be invited to join NATO.

Another issue – the withdrawal of the Russian army. It is difficult to say whether it is really implemented, it seems that we cannot complain too much about it. It is important that Georgians will have to prove that they are making a real progress in the areas they were so criticized.

Could you compare Georgian and Ukrainian possibilities to join the Alliance, the more so that in Ukraine only 12% of the polled state that they would like to be in NATO?

 They say themselves that these figures are bigger, however the difference in this case is against Ukraine. Judging from the qualitative dialog with NATO, they have more, Ukraine has a special partnership – NATO – Ukraine Commission. Ukraine is showing quite a progress in terms of reforms, they expect to receive the membership action plan in the near future. However if we compare Georgia and Ukraine, I would give a priority to Ukraine.

We should not forget the interests of such countries as Azerbaijan and Turkey. They also play an important role, not by stopping Georgia, but we should not forget other countries, which have not made a decision yet.

We should not forget the "forgotten" countries of the Vilnius Ten group: Croatia, Macedonia and Albania.  Croatia does not see many obstacles, but they have problems with the public support. Maybe what they lack is the motivation and participation as well as the contribution of their capabilities to common efforts.  

Could we say that Russia in some ways is trying to slow down the integration of Ukraine and Georgia?   

Russia wants to slow down the enlargement in general. On every occasion Russia makes a statement that it does not understand the enlargement as such. Maybe then it is natural that when it notices the enlargement possibilities, it tries to slow them down. As an example, could be Russia‘s influence in Padniestr (Ukraine) where President Smirnov has a diplomatic Russian passport, where all the government is directly influenced by Russia, though there are no direct links with it by land. This is not the source of stability in the region. When we have a source of instability, it is difficult for the neighbouring countries to think about NATO prospects.

The facts say that the enlargement would influence Russia negatively, since Russia is not interested in the enlargement. 

The last question – when could we expect Lithuania to join the CFE treaty? Is it possible that Russia withdraws its army from Georgia and Moldova?

In 1999 at the Istanbul conference Lithuania declared its wish to join the CFE treaty. However this is only possible when the Treaty is ready and ratified. As we see this is not the case at the moment and no one knows when this is to happen. Russia is even considering seceding from the Treaty since it considers the pressure to commit to the Istanbul commitments the halt of the ratification process. The ice is already broken in Georgia, but it is still too early to decide anything. The trends are positive. As for the withdrawal of the army from Moldova, the situation is standstill. When the ratification is finished Lithuania will consider its accession. However, it is important not to undermine the security. We should not forget that we were not members to the Treaty, so the "ceiling" of our provided weaponry is zero. Some of our opponents would wish them to stay like that. But any normal country should have a reasonable limit on its capabilities and those negotiations are still waiting for us. They should not end positively at any price. I would not dare to forecast that Lithuania could only become a CFE member but there are chances that it would, Lithuania is not denying that itself.

However, I do not think that this Treaty will be ratified and if so when this is going to happen. It is very difficult to forecast.

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