Interview with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius
The Clarion: Many in Georgian civil society are concerned that the recent confrontations between the government and the opposition, as well as the controversial court rulings regarding Rustavi2, demonstrate the Georgian government’s drift into uncharted waters, both politically and legally. Do you share this sense of urgency? What would be your advice for getting back on track?
Minister Linkevičius: It is important for Georgia to find the political will to accumulate the resources of the Euro-Atlantic forces, and deliver results promptly. You should not waste too much time, resources and power on internal fights.
If the signals from Georgia are not positive, this might create wrong impression in Europe. We witness some very good progress on a visa-free regime. It should not be spoiled with some internal political battles. Or, take media freedom. The ability to express views alternative to those of the government is a must in democratic societies. We are talking about these issues with our Georgian colleagues. We encourage and hope that Georgia stays on track and achieves what is necessary on its European path.
We are also trying to help by very practical means. We can share our know-how because we have an experience of a very successful European integration, which is very recent.
Q: You have remarked recently that Europe is not immune to Russia’s information war. The European media’s gloom about EU weakness and irrelevance seems to amplify the confusion and fear that Russia’s state-funded media is peddling. What makes you hopeful about Europe’s – and the European Union’s – future? How should Europe’s narrative of hope sound?
Europe should have an assertive information posture, not a defensive one. We should be pro-active and create a positive narrative. We should not wait for disinformation to be spread and then to defend ourselves, to deny lies.
Now we’re starting to understand and realize the influence of Russian information war. It tries to influence societies not only in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, but also in Russia itself. On the other hand, we have to take into account the impact of Russian propaganda on Western European states, because their resilience is also crucial.
We know that the Russian propaganda machine is very well financed. It uses offensive tactics. At times it has nothing to do with the spread of information, but with the spread of lies; and lies cannot be considered as an alternative point of view.
However, encouraging censorship or some restrictions [on broadcasting] is not the way the democratic societies should react to such challenges. We are talking about the need for the European Union and the whole international community to focus on having more alternative sources of information, especially for the Russian-speaking population. We are also talking about the need to counter and deny the lies of propaganda.
There is no single recipe for success, however. In Georgia, and in Estonia, for example, the approaches will differ. Quality of information, offering timely and accessible information is the key. In this regard I very much commend the initiative of Radio Free Europe to launch a half-an-hour daily programme, “Current Time”: it presents alternative views to Russian speaking audiences.
Q: In your recent interview with Delfi you spoke about Belarus and the chances for normalization of its policies with the EU. Armenia and Belarus are clearly exploring the possibility of balancing between the Russian and EU interests. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are hamstrung by internal conflicts and also seek various degrees of accommodation with Russia. Do you think we will simply witness a re-birth of “buffer states” who try to be equidistant from Russia and the EU? How would that approach affect the pace of those countries’ internal reforms?
“Buffer” has a very negative meaning for me, because it refers to something of an abnormal situation. Same as “bridge”- no one lives on the bridge; but under the bridge is even more dangerous.
Armenia and Belarus have a different orientation than other EU Eastern Partners. Belarusians were from the onset very willing to create better relations with Russia, and join the Customs Union. However, Armenia changed its path by 180 degrees on the eve of the Vilnius summit at the end of 2013.
But when Armenia changed its vector, Europe didn’t dramatize it, we acknowledged this decision as a reality. Europe tried to suggest other forms of cooperation on the basis of this new reality. We did not send “little green men” to Armenia to force to change its decision.
After Vilnius and Riga Summits, the EU further developed the strategy of individual approach towards our partners. I want to highlight that we focus not on dividing lines, but on atmosphere of openness and cooperation, on the right of the freedom of choice. The people in these countries decide by themselves on how deep and how far they want to go in their relations with the EU.
Lithuania’s position is that if a country is willing to have more integration, then the EU shall be responsive and reciprocate its actions.
Q: Can one actually make the EU and Russia cooperation compatible in the present climate? Can an EU-Russian partnership be realistic, considering the current priorities of the regime?
Unfortunately, now we don’t see a real partnership between the EU and Russia. We should acknowledge this fact. Considering the current priorities, and the current practical moves, I do not see the EU-Russia partnership as possible.
Our colleagues in Russia should first get rid of the philosophy of a zero sum game, where somebody’s win is a loss to your partner, and vice versa. If mistrust prevails, if there is a lack of confidence, then we will not have desirable results.
First of all, there is a need to change attitudes. If to remember the computer analogy in the “reset” efforts by the United States - today a reset is not enough. Sometimes one should change software.
Q: We see Lithuania taking steps to get more connected to its neighbors – via rail links, gas pipelines… What is your objective in doing so, and what is your advice to Georgia, where energy security has been much discussed recently, in connection to government’s consultations with Gazprom?
We advise Georgia to be more ambitious, to understand that integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions is important. As the Georgians have already made the decision, there is a need for actions and results now.
Sometimes achieving results takes us on a long journey. Being a member of the EU and NATO for more than 10 years, Lithuania has just started to implement very important strategic projects with regard to energy independence.
For a long time Lithuania was dependent on a single source of energy. In this case, you really cannot be 100% free, as you can be blackmailed. So when we built the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in our seaport of Klaipeda, it was considered a breakthrough, a revolution not only for Lithuania but for the whole region, where competitive energy market started to emerge.
Our LNG terminal had an immediate impact on prices. Equally important, by the end of this year we will have electricity links with Sweden and Poland. A link with Sweden- NordBalt –through Lithuania links Sweden with another Baltic States, too. Lithuania also has plans to build gas connection with Poland.
So, we are dramatically improving the energy security situation in our region. In this regard we can also share our experience with Georgia.