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Lithuania - Russia Relations

Lithuania's relations with Russia were normalised with the signing of the Agreement on the Foundations of Inter-State Relations on 29 July 1991. This was followed by the signature of a border agreement with Russia on 24 October 1997, an important step forward in their relations. Lithuania was the first former Soviet republic to conclude such an agreement. The Lithuanian Parliament ratified the agreement in October 1999 and the Duma (Russian Parliament) ratified the agreement in 2003. In May 2003 Lithuania and Russia signed a re-admission agreement.

Lithuanias foreign policy is largely informed by what it perceives as an expansionist Russia. Lithuania's Russian minority is small: around 6 percent of the population. Russia is Lithuania's number one trade partner, but only 13 percent of Lithuanians name Russia as an important political and economic partner. Lithuania's membership in the EU demands considerable time from all branches of government and leads to a Brussels-focused perspective. It strongly advocates NATO and EU enlargement and increased political and economic engagement with what the EU calls its Eastern Neighborhood. Lithuania maintains foreign relations with 98 countries through a network of 42 embassies and 35 honorary consuls. It has seven diplomatic missions to international organizations and one special mission to Afghanistan.

On 16 January 2007, Parliament overwhelmingly, albeit unrealistically, passed a resolution urging Russia to start consultations with Lithuania about compensation for the Soviet occupation, a reiteration of a 2000 law requiring the Government to seek redress for LTL 80 billion (approximately USD 30.7 billion) in damages during Soviet rule. A November 2006 poll found that 46 percent of Lithuanians had an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of Russia, and only 5 percent a very favorable view. Thirty-nine percent of Lithuanians named Russia as the greatest threat to Lithuania.

Russia and Lithuania have stable agreements on the easy, necessary things: border crossing, cargo insurance, rail tariffs and transit fees to Kaliningrad, and so on. Progress in new areas has proven elusive, even outside the troublesome energy sector. The closing of the Druzhba ("friendship") oil pipeline in July 2006, ostensibly for repairs, is cited as exhibit number one that Russia uses energy supplies to influence Lithuania's domestic affairs. Russian platitudes notwithstanding, no Lithuanian expressed any doubt that that the cutoff was an attempt to thwart the sale of Lithuania's Maziekiu Nafta oil refinery to the Polish Company PKN Orlen. Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (a Chernobyl-style Soviet-era facility) will close on December 31, 2009, under the terms of its EU accession agreement. Since Lithuania closed its old Chernobyl style nuclear plant in 2009, the country has paid hefty prices for imported natural gas from Russia.

By 2010 relations with Belarus and Russia were functional and necessary but there was not a lot of energy to push relations further than where they are now. Fear of Russian intentions have increased since the 2008 invasion of Georgia as has frostier rhetoric from Moscow. The perceived Russian threat motivates Lithuania's concerns about ensuring air policing beyond 2014 and ensuring adequate plans are in place to defend Lithuania. Lithuania is not "loudly negative" about the Lithuania-Russia relationship but neither is there much enthusiasm to push it further. Lithuanians do not appreciate Russian media attempts to portray the Baltic states as "hysterical" and a burden to both the EU and NATO.

Lithuania-Russian relations are complicated, and historically have been characterized by occupation and intimidations. In 1990, Lithuania became the first republic to proclaim independence from the Soviet Union. Today Lithuania's relations with Russia remain difficult. Even average Lithuanians were deeply concerned about Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008, but there are clearly mixed feelings about whether the best path is to engage Russia or try to isolate it. The Prime Minister, President, and FM Usackas followed a policy in tune with the Obaman Administration's "reset" with Russia, seeking cooperation in areas of mutual interest and practical solutions to bilateral concerns where possible. President Dalia Grybauskaite noticeably dialed back the anti-Russia rhetoric that was a staple of her predecessor, Valdas Adamkus.

Theories of Russian interference in domestic politics are hard to prove but plausible, given Russia's large intelligence presence in Lithuania, the flexible ethics of Lithuania's political leaders, and the ease of planting stories in Lithuania's undisciplined media. What is certain is that allegations of Russian backing continue to be the blunt weapon of choice among political rivals (along with outing rivals as former KGB officers or reservists).

Lithuanian officials have become increasingly concerned about what they see as growing Russian influence on Lithuanian politics and media. With strong support from Moscow, Lithuania's first openly "pro-Russia" political party was established by a former Lithuanian prime minister in early December 2009. Businessmen with Russian ties have bought ownership stakes in several major Lithuanian media outlets in the past few years. In addition, Russian TV channels are widely available and watched by Lithuanians, most of whom speak and understand the Russian language well. The Seimas (Parliament) National Security Committee Chair Arvydas Anusauskas had strong and well-informed views on Russian influence on the local media.

Lithuania has supported Russian interests with respect to the Kaliningrad region, including an exception to keep the current Kaliningrad transit regime in place once Lithuania joined the Schengen zone. Lithuania was the most sympathetic country within the EU to Russia's desire for a regime that allows transit of Lithuania with documents other than a Schengen visa. Lithuania annoys many of its European partners with its positions on EU-Russia relations.

Lithuania is considering ending its long-term gas agreements with Gazprom after its liquefied natural gas import terminal starts up at the end of this year, Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite said 03 January 2014. Access to cheaper gas via the terminal will help shake off Russia's political and economic pressure and bring the Baltic nation "real independence from Gazprom," he said. Gazprom is Lithuania's sole gas supplier. The import terminal will be a floating station leased from a Norwegian company.

On 20 March 2014 in Berlin, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius and the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed events in Ukraine and stressed the importance of a unified, clear and strong response of the international community and, first of all, the European Union. The aggression of the Russian Federation poses a threat to the entire post-war system. The situation in Ukraine continues to be critical. We need to impose targeted sanctions against concrete Russian officials who have determined these decisions, L.Linkevicius said.

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Page last modified: 24-09-2017 18:53:24 ZULU