Opinion: In defence of Lithuania's foreign policy in 2014(2)
I am not a fan of the social-democratic tradition of foreign policy, especially when it comes to perpetually unsuccessful attempts of the Lithuanian left to "turn a new page in relations with Russia" and base their policies towards Poland on promises about name spelling. I dare say, however, that Dovilė Jakniūnaitė's criticism of Lithuania's foreign policy in 2014 is unfounded.
First, the political analyst criticizes turns of rhetoric and statements made by the president and other political leaders regarding Russia. Certainly, these statements can be criticized and subjected to further scrutiny, but is it fair to say: "Congratulations, we've found even more vivid phrases to criticize Russia, what's next?" It is strange that such a question is formulated by one of the top constructivist theory experts in Lithuania. It has long been proven that, in contemporary international relations, what counts is not just control over political, economic or military resources of power, but also ability to prevent others from imposing accounts of events favourable to them. This is why words and vocabulary are just as important. In this case, it is not intended for domestic use, but rather for the international arena.
Describing Russia as a terrorism-supporting state means that Lithuania is taking on the role of a "safeguard" and staving off the plans of Russia's "friends" in Europe to ease sanctions and return to "business as usual". Lithuania has drawn another line limiting Russia's chances of suddenly metamorphosing from a terrorism-supporting country, which escalates crisis in Donbas, to a "mediator" in the Ukraine conflict.
Ms. Jakniūnaitė uses postulates of classical pacifism to emphasise that "fear-mongering has become a widely used tool to justify foreign policy", while militarist rhetoric permeates the public discourse. All this, according to the political analyst, is used to control the public in Lithuania. I would like to remind her that it was exactly the public opinion, which has grasped the Russian threat last year, that pressured the Lithuanian government into finally raising defence funding and giving up its dependence on the United States. Only six months ago, we were second to last in terms of defence spending among NATO nations, ahead only of Luxembourg, a country facing no geopolitical threats. This shows that it is the society that took control of the government, not vice versa. Even those red-kolkhoz-manager types in parliament who used to bawl "stop threatening us with the Kremlin", are now forced to vote in favour of raising defence budget.
The political analyst goes further, however, to claim that the militaristic rhetoric "makes us part of the body of the state rather than people for whom the state is merely a means to an end of living our lives". There are many people who wish to live their lives in Ukraine's Donbas. They wanted to live their lives wherever was easier for them, did not cherish their Ukrainian identity, did not defend their land and therefore are forced to live in chaos, to be governed by local criminals and Russia's proxies. I would like to ask this: how many more occupations and years of bloody repression does Lithuania have to go through so we can finally grasp that, in the current geopolitical climate, we will only enjoy our personal freedoms if we cherish and protect our independent state?
But let us return to Lithuania's foreign policy in 2014 - what were its successes and failures?
Last year, we reclaimed major gas pipelines from a Gazprom-controlled company, we have an operational LNG terminal which has eased our dependence on a sole gas supplier. This would have hardly been possible without a consistent energy security policy. The breaking point happened back in 2008, when despite pressures from various interest groups, we embarked on a course of "complete separation" in the gas industry. Eventually, if we look at Europe's new energy security strategy project, we find many points that are favourable to Lithuania. This shows that we have learnt the lesson of how to translate national interests into the EU's strategic documents.
Another development is that Russia has imposed sanctions on us, but we (except some economy sectors) hardly feel the consequences. Nor do we see those big business lobbying groups that used to tell us to review relations with the Kremlin and refrain from "angering the bear". Less energy dependence has also freed our businesses and limited the Kremlin's influence in Lithuania's domestic politics.
Another important victory is having NATO return to its roots. Decisions made in the Wales Summit have strengthened our defensibility - we can now say we are a full-fledged member of NATO - and also showed that Article Five is more than just a "paper" declaration.
Finally, we can pride ourselves on the fact that, today, Germany - the most important EU country - has closer relationship with Lithuania than with Russia. One can confidently state that, last year, Berlin quit the Kremlin's geopolitical games once and for all.
Lithuanian institutions - and especially various society groups (from extreme right to left) - have contributed with their initiatives and support to Ukraine's fight for freedom to building a strong European nation in Europe. And that is an achievement.
Laurynas Kasčiūnas is lecturer at the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University.