By Paul Goble
In mid-November 1916, Kadet leader Pavel Milyukov posed a question which is increasingly being heard in countries today. Confronted with government policies that represent a betrayal of national interests and even a surrender to enemies, Milyukov and those who follow him now asked “is this stupidity or is this treason?”
Now it is the turn of the Lithuanians. In an essay for the Grani portal today, Grigory and Marina Tregubov call attention to the emergence of a deep and very public split in the Lithuanian government over how best to deal with the aggressive Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin (graniru.org/Politics/World/Europe/m.266759.html).
Earlier this week, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called for the renewal of work by the Lithuanian-Russian intergovernmental commission, which has not met since October 2011. Skvernelis said that the lack of dialogue with the Russian side “harms the interests of the state and its citizens.”
President Dalia Grybauskaitė immediately responded, calling his remarks “irresponsible.” Contacts with friendly countries are always a good thing, but Russia routinely violates international law, has invaded its neighbors, and is conducting “a military, information and cyber attack towards others.”
“It would be naïve to think,” she said, “that economic relations with this country are possible and separate from politics [because] Russia has always used its energy, trade and other instruments to exert pressure and influence on other countries. [Lithuania’s] experience only confirms this,” the Lithuanian leader said. Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius supported her.
Skvernelis responded by saying that he “completely shares the position of the president on sanctions, the situation in the Donbass, the annexation of Crimea and ‘the aggressive rhetoric’ of Moscow.” But, he continued, “to have political contacts at lower levels is something that we are obligated to maintain.”
The Tregubovs asked Žygimantas Pavilionis, a Conservative member of the Lithuanian parliament, former ambassador to Washington and one of the initiators of the Lithuanian Magnitsky Law to explain what is going on in Vilnius.
In Vilnius, he explained, there is something called “’the Lithuanian consensus,’” a position that all the parties, right, left and center agree to; and that consensus dictates that “it is impossible to renew a dialogue with Russia on the former basis until Moscow fulfills certain conditions,” including withdrawal from Crimea and other oblasts of Ukraine.
“As long as Russia doesn’t observe the principles of international law,” Pavilionis said,,, “we cannot renew normal dialogue with her. Skvernelis violated that consensus and has now been called up short by the president and foreign minister who under the constitution are responsible for foreign affairs.
It is likely that the prime minister was focusing on domestic elections and sought to distract attention from his own failure to implement promised reforms. “In essence,” Pavilionis said, “his policy is entirely populist, and populists always seek new scandals” to distract attention from problems and attract attention to themselves.
According to the deputy, “this was a very stupid step,” one that will be rejected by all parties in the parliament. And then, he continued, “the prime minister will understand that he has committed a mistake and simply wasn’t able to ‘widely remain silent’ at the right time.” In short, the Lithuanian consensus will hold.
And that consensus will involve not only refraining from talking to Russia until Russia shows it can be a responsible interlocutor but also stepping up the pressure on Moscow by expanding the Magnitsky List and continuing to serve as a refuge for those Russians forced to flee from repression.
“At one time,” Pavilionis said, “many Lithuanians were forced to leave Lithuania. And we still remember this time. We understand how serious this question is for people who want to live in a free country,” and we want to support those in Russia who want it to be a free and law-abiding state.
“This question in fact is very important,” the former ambassador said. “I myself saw Soviet tanks around the TV tower in Vilnius. My friends died there. And I understand how in Russia, which was then still in the Soviet Union, people came out in large demonstrations” against the Kremlin’s policies.
“Russians ethnic and not struggled for our freedom,” Pavilionis said. “You rescued us then. Now, the time has come and we must show you our solidarity not only in words but in our actions.”