Lithuania should be cautious about improving ties with Belarus

Petras Vaida, BC, Vilnius, 08.07.2010

A working visit of Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius to Belarus drew the attention of the global society, which was not unexpected since the West views the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko regime with suspicion; therefore, the Lithuanian Prime Minister's trip to Minsk is also a political signal to Belarus of the entire EU, LETA/The Lithuania Tribune reports, referring to Lithuania's leading daily Lietuvos Rytas.

Lietuvos Rytas noted that at the same time, Kubilius's visit also reflects the changes in the Lithuanian foreign policy that are declared by President Dalia Grybauskaite. She uses every opportunity to emphasize that she works to ensure our Lithuania's pragmatic interests abroad, but the president is afraid to even mention defence of democratic values in the post-Soviet sphere, writes LETA/ELTA.

Opposition representatives told Kubilius that repression in Belarus did not go away, only their form was changed.

Yet, Lietuvos Rytas noted, that even the formal softening of the regime allows the West to justify the decision to abandon the policy of isolating Minsk.

It was symbolic that Kubilius traveled to Minsk when the natural gas war between Russia and Belarus was not completely over yet.

Moscow demanded immediate payment of a 200 million dollar debt for natural gas, which had formed because Minsk had been paying less than the contract provided. Moscow also reduced natural gas supply even by two thirds.

The fight was between Moscow and Minsk, but there was a real chance for Lithuania, which receives natural gas only via Belarus, to become a victim of this war, because in response to Russia's decision to reduce the natural gas flow to Belarus, Lukashenko order to significantly reduce the Russian natural gas transit to EU countries.

Poland also receives natural gas via Belarus, but the Poles also have an alternative supply route via Ukraine. Lithuania would have been a hostage of the natural gas war between Moscow and Minsk.

The natural gas war between Russia and Ukraine that took place in the winter of 2008 produced huge losses in Central Europe, even though Brussels and the most influential EU countries rushed to alleviate the situation.

The paper thinks that larger damage was avoided, but the conflict between Minsk and Moscow once again reminded us how important it is for Lithuania to ensure alternative energy supply sources as soon as possible and for the EU - with actions, not words, to ensure energy security of the Baltic states, which are called an energy island.

From this aspect, Vilnius and Minsk have many common interests. Lukashenko, who recently has been increasingly fighting with Moscow and who has been looking for a counterbalance to Moscow in the West, today may be more interested in good relations with Lithuania than our country is.

It looks like by starting another natural gas war, Moscow merely wanted to discipline Lukashenko, because he has not agreed to sign the customs union agreement with Russia and Kazakhstan, has not recognized the "independence" of separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and has sheltered Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the ousted Kyrgyz president.

Therefore, even if not all, then at least some proposals put before Lithuania by Lukashenko (cooperating in the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal, selling electricity, importing Venezuelan oil to Belarus via Klaipeda port) can also be regarded seriously, although, with some cautiousness. Lithuania should take advantage of the new opportunities; it is necessary to take care of current economic interests in Belarus, but to do this by forgetting human rights and other democratic values would be a short-sighted policy, Lietuvos Rytas concludes its editorial column on June 30.


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