By George East
January 13, 2016

Prominent British journalist Edward Lucas believes Lithuania is “right” to persevere with its anti-Kremlin stance, despite other EU member states showing signs of defrosting their relations with Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into Syria.

Lucas’ comments come after Vytenis Andriukaitis — an EU Commissioner for health and food safety and a former chairman of Lithuania’s parliament — lambasted his own country’s foreign policy in an interview with Lietuvos Rytas.

Dismissing the country’s foreign policy as “pathetic,” Andriukaitis honed in on President Dalia Grybauskaite, accusing her of not being aligned with the rest of the EU as the West looks for all possible partners in search of a peaceful solution to the ongoing war in Syria and the defeat of the Islamic State.

“The European Union is pursuing a common defence and external relations policy, everyone is trying to work together, whereas the Lithuanian president falls out of line,” Andriukaitis told the Lithuanian daily.
Andriukaitis urged for open-mindedness to the idea of cooperating with Russia in the war in Syria, even if Lithuania is still keen to keep up the pressure on Russia over its interventions in Ukraine.

While the EU recently voted to extend its sanctions on Russia, a number of member states showed reluctance. Adding to the hesitation was a growing exasperation with Germany for supporting sanctions on one hand but pressing ahead on the other with Nord Stream 2, a second gas pipeline linking Germany directly to Russia’s supplies.

When The Baltic Times contacted the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Lithuanian President’s office regarding Andriukaitis’ remarks, both declined to comment.

Lucas, a Senior Vice-President at the Center for European Analysis and a long-time observer of Baltic politics, questioned whether Andriukaitis was in an appropriate position to make these remarks.

“I think Churchill had a very good dictum, that when you’re abroad, you should never criticise your hosts or your country,” he told The Baltic Times by phone. “I think it’s always dangerous for Commissioners in Brussels to get involved in the details of their own country’s politics — particularly as Andriukaitis is the Health Commissioner, where he is already having some difficulty in making an impact.”

“If anyone is going to criticise Lithuanian foreign policy, I would leave it to either Donald Tusk, or one of the vice-presidents who might have a view on this,” he added.

Lucas, who is a well known critic of the Kremlin,  also noted that Lithuania, alongside other front line states, has a stronger track record than states in Western Europe when it comes to anticipating the nature of Russia’s resurgence.

“We all need to take the front-line states really seriously,” he said. “If we’d have paid more attention to what the Baltic States were saying in the 1990s, we might not be in such a mess as we are now — they understood the problem with Russia, they understood the problem with Putin, they understood the problem with NATO, they understood the problem with energy.”

“All of these things they understood earlier than the rest of Europe.”

Despite his support for Lithuania’s anti-Kremlin stance, Lucas suggested that President Grybauskaite’s choice of words could be “a bit of a problem” — a reference to when the Lithuanian head of state described Russia as a “terrorist state” in Nov. 2014. “Once you state that, there’s no real going back,” he said.

“However, I can absolutely see why President Grybauskaite did that: Russia assassinates people abroad, it stokes conflict in its neighbourhood, but once you state that, there’s no real going back. I think that probably the best course for Lithuania is to try and make EU policy as tough as possible, rather than getting too far out in front of the EU rhetorically.

“But as I say, when Baltic leaders talk about Russia, my line is to listen attentively and respectfully.”
Regarding bilateral dialogue between the EU and the Kremlin in the battle against ISIS, Lucas described the discussions as “pointless and reprehensible.”

“The fundamental reason we have the conflict in Syria is the brutality and inflexibility of the Assad regime, and one of the main supporters and stokers of that regime and that brutality and inflexibility has been Russia,” he explained.

“I think the idea of cooperating with Russia in Syria is pointless and reprehensible.

“I think we should be saying to the Russians that we have a lot of things we can do to make life very difficult for you and we’re likely to do all of them.

“Your only chance that we might not do them is if you get on the phone to your repulsive proxy Assad, and tell him to get to the negotiations table sharpish.”