More than half a million letters sent out by conservative Vygaudas Ušackas to the Lithuanian people, asking whether it is worth for him to run for president this coming spring.
This and other actions by the politician with the nominations of candidates to Lithuanian president nearing are increasingly raising waves in the Conservative party.
The party's presidium has received a formal appeal to review "the question of V. Ušackas" at the presidium and oversight committee.
Party members are discontent that the future presidential candidate, travelling around the country's municipalities, is ignoring local branches and rather meets with others, even political opponents. Suspicions are also raised by V. Ušackas' participation in certain closed events, where supposedly financial support for the upcoming elections is sought.
The TS-LKD presidium was asked to review whether through his actions, V. Ušackas is not breaching the party approved candidate nomination regulations and the party's rules itself, whether he is not employing the Conservative party's resources to raise his own ratings.
"In the end, whether Mr. Ušackas is not playing a double or even triple game and whether the Conservative party is not hostage to such a game," TS-LKD Mažeikiai region branch chairwoman Lina Rimkienė told Delfi, having signed the appeal which was submitted to TS-LKD management this week.
V. Ušackas himself does not deny he has assembled a team of volunteers and is actively travelling around the country's municipalities, however when asked about certain meetings of his, he told the Delfi journalist to "not open Pandora's box."
Branch chairwoman not allowed into meeting
L. Rimkienė, who is a member of the TS-LKD presidium, admitted to Delfi that she authored the appeal to the party's management over Ušackas and assured that she decided on doing so after in late July, when V. Ušackas was visiting Mažeikiai, L. Rimkienė was not allowed to attend an official dinner with local businessmen and politicians.
"I was explained that supposedly certain major local businessmen do not want me to attend. So let me ask then – what is more important to Mr. Ušackas – the local party branch of major businessmen, even political opponents? On the other hand, we have the Vytis squads Ušackas is creating in the regions; I would call them Vytis brigades. What sort of entity is that, who does or will it serve and what role will it play in the elections? Are these already Ušackas' electoral headquarters in the regions? Then why are there none from the party he represents in there?" L. Rimkienė questioned.
She states that after the aforementioned lunch, a private meeting was held in which she also participated and V. Ušackas directly stated that he would participate in the elections even if he does not win the party's primaries for the TS-LKD candidate in the presidential elections. "That he will participate one way or another shows that the party does not matter to him," L. Rimkienė says.
She says that she also sent the appeal to Ušackas himself and received a response on Wednesday. In his letter to L. Rimkienė and the party, the politician does not deny he is assembling Vytis squads as the heralds of his "Winning Lithuania" vision and volunteers in the process.
He states that prohibiting the entry of L. Rimkienė was a decision by local businesses and he was just a guest at the event, invited by Mažeikiai businessmen. He does not answer on whether he will participate in the elections even if he fails to obtain party support – apparently he has yet to choose, whether he will participate at all.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, TS-LKD party and presidium chairman confirmed to Delfi that an appeal regarding Ušackas was received and will be discussed in an early September presidium meeting.
"Some of the questions being posed are serious and if they were confirmed, the question could arise, whether Mr. Ušackas could at all expect the party's support in the elections if he were to win the party's primaries," G. Landsbergis said.
V. Ušackas himself says, "The electoral campaign has begun and what is happening is happening."
United Europe event in Lithuania
However, the case in Mažeikiai is not the only that raised questions about Ušackas' behaviour, whose and what game he is playing in this political Lithuanian presidential campaign, an influential Conservative party representative, who wished to remain anonymous, says.
According to this politician, by seeking potential support among businesses, Ušackas is likely seeking alternatives in case he is met with failure in the Conservative party primaries.
Ušackas has hinted to Delfi that he intends to run for president even if he fails to obtain party support. "I will seek to be a candidate for all Lithuanian citizens," V. Ušackas stated, avoiding directly answering the question of whether he will run for president even if he does not obtain TS-LKD support.
This June, a round table discussion by the leaders of the United Europe association was held in Trakai, Užutrakis Manor and V. Ušackas was among its participants.
"Do not open the Pandora's Box, which the Lithuanian news media and political opponents seek to use to pump disinformation through slander and lies," former diplomat and Conservative party member Vygaudas Ušackas reacted to a Delfi question about the event's organisers and participants.
The politician, who has spoken about his candidacy for Lithuanian president a number of times, when asked what the event participants spoke of behind closed doors, sought to end the conversation, leaving even more intrigue – what was the group of influential men and women from across Europe doing in Trakai?
United Europe is the name of a non-profit association, which was founded by the former European Council chairman, former Austrian State Chancellor and Austrian People's Party chairman Wolfgang Schüssel and Jurgen Grossman, a representative of Germany's metal industry and former head of the largest German energy supplier RWE.
The organisation, whose membership features not only famous European and Scandinavian businessmen, politicians and analysts, but also large capital companies, investment funds and businesses, describes itself as a non-profit pro-Western organisation, whose goal is the creation of a competitive Europe for future generations.
The club of the wealthy and influential, as United Europe is sometimes called, sometimes is met with ambiguous reception, especially when talks turn to transatlantic relations.
This is because the organisation, whose positions can be found in public online, holds to the position that US domination in relations with European countries and the EU should be reduced, it does not shirk discussions about "rebooting" relations with Russia and such. Such discussions, especially in the statements by United Europe president W. Schüssel, can also be found in public news media, sometimes even controversial outlets such as Russia Today.
This spring it was announced that W. Schüssel has been invited to work at the oversight council of Russia's largest telecommunications company MTS. The company's controlling stock portfolio belongs to Russian billionair Vladimir Yevtushenkov.
United Europe, which organises member congresses two-three times a year held one of its meetings, the leader round table discussion on June 26 in Lithuania, Užutrakis.
According to Delfi information, Žilvinas Mecelis (now known as Zach Mecelis), who lives in London and recently became a full member of the organisation, and another Lithuanian Paulius Kunčinas, who control the financial brokerage company Covalis Capital, invited the influential investors and former high ranking European politicians to Lithuania. Zach Mecelis is a board member of United Europe.
Delfi contacts state that Ušackas' participation in this event could have been in order to form the impression of an important and influential person, with broad connections in various social circles not only in Lithuania, but also in Europe for Lithuanian businessmen, who were invited and from whom he likely expects support, including financial, for the upcoming presidential campaign.
Concealed minister Vaičiūnas visit
From the event photos it can be seen that it was also attended by the recently expelled from the Conservative party MP Mantas Adomėnas, "Farmer" Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas, businessmen and patrons Vladas Lašas, Viktoras Butkus, Z. Mecelis, P. Kunčinas and J. Grosmann.
By the way, minister Ž. Vaičiūnas' agenda for the day did not feature a meeting with influential representatives of a famous European association and with businessmen, who also are involved in energy projects. Instead, the minister's agenda was empty for the day.
With Delfi inquiring, why the minister concealed his participation in the meeting with business and political representatives and investors, his advisor Aurelija Vernickaitė stated that on the day, the minister was working with internal documents and the event in Užutrakis "was just a private dinner."
However, at least from the publically released information from United Europe, the minister participated as a representative of the Lithuanian cabinet and not as a private individual. In such a case, based on existing regulations, in order to avoid a clash of public and private interests, such meetings should be publically declared.
That "Farmer" minister Ž. Vaičiūnas participated in a private event, which other than conservative V. Ušackas also featured individuals interested in energy projects and investment is unlikely to be a coincidence. This politician has worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, also represented Lithuania in a diplomatic representation abroad during the tenure of Algirdas Butkevičius.
Officially, according to Delfi sources, the bill for the rent of the premises in Užutrakis was paid by the public relations company Fabula ir Partneriai, which is represented by Mykolas Katkus. The well-known event organiser confirmed that the company he represents organised an event commissioned by United Europe.
"We organise many events and this was one of them. Since it was a closed event, in respect of our clients, I cannot comment," M. Katkus said when asked, who among Lithuanian or foreign businessmen and politicians were also attending the event.
According to Delfi information, invites to the event were sent to other politicians as well – Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius and Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis among them, but they refused to participate.
Ušackas: don't open Pandora's Box
When asked by Delfi about the aforementioned event in Užutrakis and whether this does not allow interpretations that he is seeking support, including financial, for his upcoming electoral campaign, Ušackas was clearly irked. "This was a closed event [the organisation announced it on its web page], thus I must respect the organiser's opinion," V. Ušackas told Delfi. He stated that the organisation United Europe invited him to moderate the event in Trakai.
"I see no conspiracies here. The participants were politicians, businessmen and investors. In essence the discussion was related to the European Union, relations with the US, EU relations with Russia in the context of current political, economic and trade challenges," V. Ušackas said. He emphasised the word trade several times.
When asked whether the position taken by the president of United Europe at the Russian MTS may not lead to discussions and musings that Ušackas himself as a candidate to Lithuanian president is potentially seeking support among pro-Russian politicians or businessmen, the politician responded, "Do not open the Pandora's Box, which the Lithuanian news media and political opponents seek to use to pump disinformation through slander and lies. So I believe that I have answered all your questions and let us end with this."
When asked to specify, which political parties, NGOs or private individuals' support he would not accept under any circumstances for his electoral campaign, Ušackas told the journalist, "I've said what I wanted to say, let's not start a witch hunt."
Kubilius: I do not think Ušackas is pro-Russian
When asked to evaluate fellow party members' discontent with Ušackas' meetings with business representatives, TS-LKD Seimas group representative and former party chairman Andrius Kubilius stated he would not judge, how correctly or not the party member is acting.
"Most likely he has his strategy as a candidate that he needs to draw a wide variety of voters, thus I am not going to neither judge, nor condemn, nor present some sort of musings. I have not reviewed the appeal, nor have I heard his [Ušackas'] arguments," A. Kubilius said.
According to A. Kubilius, he sees nothing peculiar in such meetings because "other candidates are probably doing the same." As an example, the politician pointed out another Conservative member, MP Žygimantas Pavilionis' organisation of the President Valdas Adamkus conference in Vilnius and economist Gitanas Nausėda's meetings in the regions.
"So it was reported that Gitanas Nausėda is also travelling and explaining economics, while Prime Minister Skvernelis is talking about how he will regulate prices, that everything is normal... While the electoral campaign has yet to begin, but all the potential candidates, they understand their task, what they must do and they are doing so," A. Kubilius said.
In the currently ongoing Conservative internal candidate nominations, according to Delfi sources, the most support from branches has been for MP Ingrida Šimonytė. Among the candidate nominees, there also is V. Ušackas, Ž. Pavilionis and economist Gitanas Nausėda.
V. Ušackas, Ž. Pavilionis have publically declared that they will seek to become the Conservative party's candidates to run for president, while G. Nausėda and I. Šimonytė have yet to publically make their decisions known.
When asked how he rates Ušackas' chances of winning the Conservative primaries, A. Kubilius stated that "democracy will win." As for whether political opponents may interpret Ušackas' participation in the company of the observer board of a group, whose president is a Russian oligarch, the veteran conservative said, "Sometimes I still hear that Vygaudas Ušackas is some sort of pro-Russian candidate, but I certainly do not think so. He has much experience – was an ambassador in Afghanistan, Moscow, held many other positions. That he organises some events and participates in them, I make no critical observations from that. When in Lithuania we try to make some sort of categorical conclusions from one or other episode like this that he is very pro-Russian, it discredits the discussion itself – what position we must hold in regards to Russia. I would like to urge experts, the news media and politicians themselves to not make the topic of Russia into a cheap instrument of settling scores."
Concerning the participants of the Užutrakis meeting, A. Kubilius stated that he knows all the aforementioned individuals well and views them as "very bright people." When queried about the discussion topics for the event that Ušackas himself specified, A. Kubilius stated that, "Presidential candidates must be those, who can talk on such matters and talk seriously." The veteran politician also noted, "In such discussions, Ušackas and Pavilionis look a hundred times better than our "beloved" Prime Minister Skvernelis."
Rimkienė: we want clarity
Having poured oil into the Conservative primaries, TS-LKD Mažeikiai branch chairwoman Lina Rimkienė told Delfi she has no regrets.
"I am neither condemn, nor excuse Mr. Ušackas. I simply, as a member of the party, wish for clarity before deciding, which nominee to vote for – to know, how important to Mr. Ušackas is the support of local branches and whether there are no behind the scenes agreements, especially over financial support and such. After all, the printing and sending of half a million letters must have cost a significant amount.
Hence, it is normal for me, as a member of the party, to raise the question – will it not turn out later that some business through some structure or association paid for all of it and then the party will be smeared. This is simply a desire to obtain answers now and not when, God forbid, scandals went public. These are very simple and clear questions, however from Mr. Ušackas' answers I see that he is avoiding answering, bringing the discussion into generic commentary," the TS-LKD Mažeikiai branch chairwoman told Delfi.
V. Ušackas himself, when speaking of his initiative to ask the Lithuanian people, whether it is worth for him to run in the coming presidential elections, stated that both the initiative and its financing are completely transparent and that he has nothing to hide.
"Contracts were made with companies, more than half a million letters were printed and they are now being distributed," he stated.
Even the politician himself was unable to answer, how many letters exactly were printed and distributed, apparently this will be found out soon, when distribution across Lithuania is concluded, but when asked by Delfi, how much it cost and who paid, he assured that it is all his "personal funds and the initiative of volunteer helpers."
According to V. Ušackas, the printing works were done by the printing house Kopa, while distribution is done through the distribution agency Verslo Spaudos Centras.
"There will be between five and six hundred thousand of those letters, I cannot yet say the exact number. It will be specified when we receive the bills to pay. It should be around fifteen thousand euro for the services," V. Ušackas told Delfi.
The politician stated that this would be his personal funds. "If the Central Electoral Commission sees fit to declare these funds as campaign expenses, I will do so," V. Ušackas told Delfi.
He did not hide that this step, letters to the Lithuanian people, was not coordinated with the party board. Also, he noted, the visits and meetings in Lithuanian municipalities were also not coordinated with party representatives because "to most of them, I am invited rather than organising."
"I am invited by both non-governmental and business organisations. I am attending at their invitation, thus it would be unpleasant that I would set the conditions for the meetings, rather than the organisers," V. Ušackas said.