Lithuania

1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Deep Concerns for Regional Security

The complicated geopolitical situation in the region, Russia’s aggressive policies in Ukraine and increased military incidents in the Baltic Sea region (mainly Russian military aircraft activities), as well as threatening narrative have complicated the relations and led to possibly the biggest crisis since 1991. The concern for security and defence issues reached its peak in 2014 when the government finally agreed to increase spending for security and defence by 2 percent. Another issue is Russia’s active information campaign that raises anxiety and puts information security and cyber security issues on the agenda.

Political elites, analysts, observers, and NGOs are highly concerned about future relations with Russia, taking into account current geopolitical issues. The perspectives are not optimistic and a long-term crisis is foreseen as long as the Kremlin’s position and aggressive policies remain the same. Although political elites and NGOs hope for positive changes, they agree that under current conditions it is rather unlikely. All in all, Lithuanian political elites (mostly the president) share a tough rhetoric towards Russia’s aggression and they reach internal political consensus as far as security and defence as well as cyber security issues are concerned.

Lithuanian media covers the issues of Russian policies with a high level of attention. However, Russian media sources dedicated to the Russian speaking minority in the Baltics represent a rather complicated case. Knowing the possibly propaganda-based nature of those sources, Lithuanian elites and NGOs have launched efforts to promote a more adequate information environment for the Russian minority in the region.

Analysts and researchers actively involve themselves in discussions and evaluations of the geopolitical processes in the region. Analysis-based reports on the developments of Russian policies are regularly presented by the analysts of a centre-right-wing eastern policy think-tank specializing in eastern region to a wider public. A high level of information in the public sphere regarding Russian policies demonstrates Lithuania’s in-depth concern about the developments in the region both at the political level and among the academia.

Support and Solidarity for Countries that Follow Through on Reforms

On the level of international politics, Lithuania expresses political support for further European integration of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has brought about even stronger ties between Lithuania and Ukraine. Lithuania’s political elites aim to convince other European leaders to ratify association agreements with the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, Lithuania strongly suggests that the EU should impose the principle of “conditionality” (which was once applied for Lithuania) and thus propose the EU membership perspective to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. In everyday political talks, the topic is still “hot” where the attention to the war in Ukraine activates the attention towards other Eastern Partnership countries. As for political elites, the representatives of the relevant political parties in the Government reach consensus and agree on the support for the European integration processes of the eastern European region. Members of the opposition, Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, express their support for European integration of Ukraine to an even greater extent during various support campaigns, not forgetting opposition leader Andrius Kubilius’ advising position in the Ukrainian Government.

In academic and mass media discourses, the processes in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) region are reflected in a rather similar manner. Media sources widely express anxiety about Russia’s policies towards EaP countries. Moreover, “frozen conflicts” have become an object of active discussions in public discourse. Russia’s efforts to involve EaP countries in information wars as well as other sorts of pressure are discussed to a large degree. What is more, regret about the passive position of Western countries on the European integration of Eastern Partners is evident. Opposite position, the so called “Russia is first” view is presented as a minor if not marginal position in the media sources.

Regarding academic discourse, political researchers evidently pay more attention to the topic than earlier, including young scientists and observers. Conferences and debates demonstrate not only a great interest in the processes in the respective region but also a strong analytical base. Yet Lithuanian analysts present a critical view of the Europeanization of the region. They draw attention to the existing internal problems of the respective countries. In order to implement the structural reforms successfully, a higher degree of political consensus is needed as well as the political will to fight the existing corruption practices.

All in all, Lithuania presents a high level of attention towards the whole region of the EaP countries. A clearly expressed message in the media and political discourses calls for the EU to pay more attention to the region as well.

Poor Results Emphasized

Lithuania has a comparatively recent experience of the EaP summits, as one of the key events of the Lithuanian presidency of the EU Council was the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013. The Vilnius Summit was perceived as a certain breakout point in the Eastern Partnership region, as the association agreements were signed with some of the partner countries along with the following events in Ukraine. Following on this, the Riga Summit of May 2015 was expected to be an integral continuation of the Vilnius Summit with further achievements. Yet the outcomes are viewed from two different perspectives. The so called “optimists” of the Riga Summit are satisfied with the fact that the Eastern Partnership was put on the European agenda. Despite the rather declarative nature of the summit papers, the “optimists” appreciate certain achievements such as visa-free regime prospects declared in the agreements. On the other hand, Lithuanian opposition party Homeland Union, which is traditionally quite concerned about foreign policy issues, expresses a rather pessimistic attitude and perceives the summit as an empty and boring discussion with limited value for the EaP region. According to “pessimists”, decreased interest of the EU leaders in the region and no indication for membership prospects for the respective countries represent the unwillingness of the EU to further integrate Eastern Partners. Nevertheless, political elite representatives draw attention to the fact that some EU countries are not enthusiastic about the enlargement processes and that this was also the case during the enlargement wave in 2004. However, knowing that the support and promotion of the European Partnership region is one of Lithuania’s European policy priorities, the Riga Summit was not as successful.

Observers and analysts also tend to emphasize the poor results of the Riga Summit. On the other hand, there were no big expectations before the event: it was already clear the outcomes would not be promising (namely no EU perspective at the moment), especially knowing two factors. Firstly, the limited interest of many EU member states in the EaP region. Secondly, struggles in internal reforms of the countries of the respective region.

NATO Remains the Key to European Defence

The idea of common European troops is considered rather hypothetical. In Lithuanian views, NATO remains the key player in security and defence matters. Moreover, the rather weak EU position on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and resistance to impose sanctions demonstrate that it is not a political union and could hardly agree on common foreign policy lines. The common view in Lithuania is rather to strengthen the role of NATO and cooperation within the Euro-Atlantic line than to build new entities within the EU. The need of the EU army is barely discussed in the media and does not gain much attention from researchers. Yet the security and defence issues in the context of Euro-Atlantic relations are of much greater interest. Under circumstances of increased external threats and changing geopolitical conditions, Lithuania has raised (though after long postponement) its budget spending on defence and security. All in all, NATO is viewed as a key strategic player to secure the region whereas the EU and its structures’ role in defence matters are perceived as minor.

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2. EU Enlargement

Public Opinion Supportive of Wider ‘Europeanization’

A high level of attention to the eastern neighbourhood region is well represented in opinion polls in Lithuania. Not only political elites but also the wider public is highly concerned about the processes in Ukraine for several reasons. Firstly, a sense of brotherhood with Ukraine is part of Lithuanian national identity due to strong historical ties, shared Soviet bloc experience and, in its aftermath, a common will to westernize. Lithuania’s successful integration process enables its citizens to understand what obstacles Ukrainians face in the current situation and their struggle for democratization is well known. In order to share experience and promote reforms in Ukraine, political elites and NGOs have created various platforms of support and cooperation. Forums, seminars, training events, and other formats of cooperation for both politicians and civil society are frequent. Yet the existing problems in the EaP countries, such as struggling structural reforms, corruption, lack of political consensus, and transparency, are also reflected in the Lithuanian media and analytical reports.

Despite a high level of involvement in the support programmes for the countries in the respective region, the prospects of fast and smooth reforms are taken with some reservations. The position of Brussels to refrain from enlargement in the near future is also well known. Nevertheless, Lithuanian public opinion is positive towards Europeanization of the EaP countries. The events in Ukraine broadened the understanding of complicated geopolitical situation in the EaP region, where the struggle between the “West” and the “East” exists.

Support in Principal, but with Attention in the East

The EU membership prospects of Turkey are rarely debated in the Lithuanian public sphere or among political elites. The official position of the government is to support further negotiations between the EU and Turkey, yet this does not entail more in-depth discussions. However, some representatives of the Liberals or Homeland Union highly support Turkey’s European integration, arguing that widespread European values shall contribute to a stronger Union and democracy promotion in wider regions.

Lithuanian media pays minor attention to the issues of Turkey or Western Balkan countries’ membership, with the exception of election results or several salient internal policy issues of the respective countries. Although not strongly opposed, the potential EU membership of Western Balkan countries’ is hardly debated among political elites. These tendencies could be explained by the current focus on the EaP countries and mainly Ukraine. The enlargement question is more often raised while discussing the situation in the EaP region as it meets Lithuanian foreign policy priorities.

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This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘Eastern Neighbours and Russia: Close links with EU citizens’ (ENURC) in collaboration with TEPSA (Trans European Policy Studies Association). The project focuses on developing EU citizens’ understanding of the topic of the Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia and aims at encouraging their interest and involvement in this policy which has an impact on their daily lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is mapping out the discourses on these issues in European policies all over Europe. Research institutes from all 28 member states are invited to give overviews on the discourses in their respective countries.

This survey was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire that has been elaborated in March 2015. Most of the reports were delivered in June 2015. This issue and all previous issues are available on the recently relaunched EU-28 Watch website: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives significant funding from the Otto Wolff-Foundation, Cologne, in the framework of the ‘Dialog Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and financial support from the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.