Is Lithuania‘s Eastern Policy Effective?

By Dr. Arūnas Molis

The recently criticized Lithuania‘s diplomacy could remind that in principle it was its initiative to join the EU efforts in order to stop increasing the number of states not respecting the territorial integrity of Georgia, to start the dialogue between the EU and Belarus, to enhance the political development of the Eastern Partnership and to accelerate the financial and political assistance to Moldova. However, in the six Eastern EU neighbors the political and economic situation is nearly the worst from the time of declaring their independence.The economic downturn in these countries might end in the state bankruptcy. Although the corruption is prospering in these countries, the Kremlin, while flexibly applying economic and political aid measures, in principle made the region the zone of its influence. But the majority of the EU Member States is not interested in the above region and is against the liberalization of the visa regime; therefore Lithuania‘s Eastern policy could not be referred to as effective.

Certainly, due to some objective reasons our Eastern policy could not be effective, but in order to influence democratic changes in Eastern neighbors we have to identify responsible institutions in Lithuania. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the Eastern Neighborhood Policy Department and the Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Department; the Ministry of Defense – the Partnership and Assistance Programs Department. Besides, several non-governmental organizations have also been working in the above field. The Parliament and national authorities  also have their opinion; the ministries of economy, energy and transport and communications are involved in the cooperation with Eastern neighbors. However, the institutions responsible for the coordination of joint Lithuania‘s Eastern policy activities, identification of priorities and allocation of funds are not yet specified.

Our diplomats are glad about the joint initiatives of Lithuania,Belarus and Ukraine, but what we could do alone or together with Poland in the Eastern neighboring countries is only a drop in the ocean of needs of these countries. Lithuania should attract more influential partners; it has to work in Brussels, Berlin and Paris in order to make the EU enhance its actions in the region.  Besides, we should also consider the geographical or functional distribution of tasks. Targeted actions toward a certain country or sector would make our ad hoc measures sustainable and useful not only for local opposition or entrepreneurs but also for the entire society.

Moreover, specific national interests should be related to the free market principles and development of democracy etc., but here we face a certain dilemma. Requirements of demographic reforms, transparency and values could hardly facilitate negotiations with Russia on the supply of energy resources, legal cooperation or other relevant issues. There are suggestions to follow the example of Berlin,Moscow or Minsk which seek nothing but „better“ entrepreneurship conditions for their undertakings. According to them, as long as large EU Members States are not concerned about „values and reforms“, we can forget unrealistic requirements. But in the long-term this tactics would disappoint both, us and our Eastern neighbors, and it might be too late to return to value requirements.

The intolerance to authoritarianism and corruption shall be demonstrated both in the relations with Russia and Belarus and with the „pro-Western“ Eastern countries (including the communication with their official authorities and opposition). This priority should be directly related to legal commitments of the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. We should require from the EU and Eastern Neighborhood countries the agreement not only on what the EU is going to give, but also on the responsible institutions and deadlines, and what these countries would be deprived of in case if they fail to fulfill their commitments. Lithuania should also ask Brussels to list the requirements for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia so as to make the EU open at least a small part of its market and start negotiations on membership of the above countries in the EU.  So far we didn’t set the above goals and took care only of the common border security, development of common cultural heritage etc. Moreover, if we are not able to pursue actual reforms, Lithuania‘s efforts would be nothing but the waste of time and money.

Lithuania‘s relations with Russia is another focal point. Aggressive rhetoric and ignorance of Moscow‘s interests provoke conflicts which we cannot afford. We have an extensive experience of communication with Moscow. It reminds us that submission to the Kremlin doesn’t mean the change of its approach and policy. Therefore, it is difficult to say on whether the absence of response to controversial statements of Russia‘s authorities would ensure stable export of milk, meat etc. to Russia. Will a fear of discussions and active policy ensure energy security and prevent from tightened border checks? On the contrary... Therefore, Lithuania shall not be afraid of active and timely actions both with respect to Russia and all Eastern Neighborhood countries. It would be even better if large EU Member States realized that this is a more progressive approach than indulgence.