Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė on March 17 attended a European Council meeting which focused on the EU’s Annual Growth Survey and the progress of member states in implementing the European Commission’s economic and social recommendations for 2015. One can not deny that the problems a number of EU countries caused by anti-Russian sanctions.
While EU governments extended asset freezes and travel bans on Russians and Russian companies, it should be said that there is less consensus on whether to prolong more far-reaching sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense and energy sectors from July. For example, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary are among the EU states most skeptical about the sanctions. Moscow has imposed its own tit-for-tat sanctions against many EU food imports.
Italy and Hungary said there could be no automatic extension of the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, the most public sign yet of fraying unity on how to deal with Moscow.
As for Lithuania despite the weakening of its economic position in the European Union, Lithuania continues to strictly adhere to the opinion of the need of anti-Russian sanctions. Though many Lithuanians, who once exported heavily to Russia, want to see markets reopen. Political views continue confronting economic benefits. Is it a right or wrong choice of the government? This will be confirmed or disproved only in the cause of time. But now economic and political situation in Lithuania is a matter of EU concern.
After the meeting, Dalia Grybauskaitė had to acknowledge the disappointing conclusions of the European Commission. According to the EC, Lithuania made virtually no progress in 2015, it was called limited.
It was stated also that some little progress was achieved only in easing tax burden, reforming pension and health care systems and seeking to ensure that education meets the needs of the labor market. However, there are still many economic and social problems which need to be addressed immediately.
“The observations on reforms which face difficulties and are not carried out have been recurrent over the past several years. This is a very strong call to make more progress,” the President said.
It is hoped that this time the President will hear the call and will really make needed steps to improve the situation in the country. The European Union is not the place where you only speak, support the common views on international summits but do nothing. The prosperity of the organization depends on each member state’s prosperity. No one will argue that if one of 28 members becomes weaker, it will pose a threat to the organization itself. And vice versa if a country is self-sufficient and strong, its voice would be prominent and heard in the organization.
Let’s take the United Kingdom. It should be said that London has reached the tremendous success in political negotiations with other EU member states and has secured the most favorable conditions of membership in the organization only due to its strong economic and political positions.
It is obvious that such areas in Lithuania as the pension reform, fiscal discipline and stability, improvement in tax collection, and the liberalization of the labor market need immediate action from the President and the Government. It is time to stop political games and exercises in eloquence.
According to the Lithuania Country Report of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index 2016, Lithuania tops the EU in the number of incarcerated persons per 100,000 member s of the population) and intolerance to sexual and ethnic minorities. For example, persons belonging to Lithuania’s ethnic Polish minority are obliged to use the Lithuanian spelling of their names in official documents, which some find discriminatory. A solution has still not been found despite the fact that in 2012-2014 the Polish Electoral Action party participated in the center-left ruling coalition.
Some business groups continue to have disproportionate access to policy-making, notably in the energy and development sectors, which tend to dominate municipal politics. The number and nature of corruption scandals over the past decade, which mostly occurred at the municipal level and involved local politicians being bought off by business interests, are evidence of this influence.
Another sizable challenge is Lithuania’s negative demographic outlook. The working age population is shrinking rapidly and will be soon threaten growth. Population decline is due to negative demographic developments but is aggravated by net emigration and, in the context of the EU, low life expectancy and high morbidity rates.
In other words the Lithuanian government has a lot to do and should face the challenges, paying attention not only to foreign affairs but to internal policies as well. Only when Lithuania becomes strong and prosperous, the EU will consider it as a full member and not a burden for the organization.
Now is the best time for Lithuania to adjust or change its politics. Unfortunately, the idea of Unity of the EU is not justified in all spheres. Some member states have chosen their own way of further developing without leaving the EU. May be Lithuania should also find its own way in the EU taking into account its economic situation.
Did Russia Really Win in the 2008 August War?
Eleven years have passed since the short Georgian-Russian war started on August 7-8 in 2008. As every discussion on who started the war generally is, the Georgian-Russian one too is about finding moral grounds for military actions which both sides took at the time.
Morality in geopolitics, and the Georgian-Russian conflict is indeed caused by pure geopolitical calculations, is at most times a superfluous thing. All these years the Russians have been trying to convince the world and the public inside the country that the Russian military moves actions and subsequent recognition of the independence of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions were the only possible and correct actions to be taken. The Georgians also have their dilemmas: some marginal political figures still believe that it was the Georgian government that was most to blame for the catastrophe of 2008. Though close geographically, these diverging narratives and the constant need to prove one’s own truth says a lot about how far apart Georgia and Russia have grown in the past decade.
11 years since the war and it is still unclear what Russia has gained from its military and diplomatic actions since 2008. True, military build-up in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region limited Tbilisi’s ability to become an EU/NATO member state. Moreover, Russian intervention into Georgia in 2008 also showed the West how far Moscow can go if a strategic decision is made to draw Georgia into the alliances. At the time (August-September 2008) those seemed to be long-term (strategic) victories for Moscow. In international relations and geopolitical calculations, you can stop a country from attaining the aims harmful to you, but in the long run you will be unable to reverse the process by forceful actions alone: you have to provide a counter-policy to turn an unfriendly state into an amenable neighbor.
Put all of this into the Russian case. More than a decade has passed since 2008, only a few not-so-important states recognized Georgia’s territories as independent entities. The Georgian public is overwhelmingly anti-Russian, the last hopes of a grand geopolitical bargain – the return of the territories in exchange for reversing EU/NATO aspirations – have disappeared among the Georgian public, and support for western institutions so far has only increased.
In the end, though Moscow waged a reasonably costly war in 2008, took and still experiences a diplomatic burden for its moves against the West, and has yet to attain its grand geopolitical goal of reversing Georgia’s pro-western course. Politicians in Moscow, at least strategists behind the scenes, all understand that Georgia’s persistence, which seems naive today, might turn into serious business if Russia’s geopolitical positions worsen elsewhere in Eurasia.
Indeed, there are signs that Russian influence is set to diminish further in the former Soviet space as the country’s economy is unlikely to be attractive to the neighboring states. Imagine a scenario where Russian internal problems (Putin’s upcoming succession, economic downturns, China’s rise, stronger Ukraine, etc.) weigh ever stronger upon the Russian decision-makers in the 2020s, then Georgia’s western aspirations might become more concrete – it will be easier for the West to make a strategic decision to draw Tbilisi into EU/NATO.
Overall, Russia definitely gained significant results in 2008, but in the long run it did not change the strategic picture in the South Caucasus, though it did produce a grand design for geopolitical domination in north Eurasia: years after the war, Moscow initiated its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to draw its neighbors into one economic space – a prerequisite for building a world power. Ideally, it should have attracted Russia’s major neighbors and it would have served the people of the former Soviet space economically. But Moscow failed to get Ukraine and other states involved: without Kiev, the EEU, if not dead, is at least a marginal project. This means that Russian policies towards Georgia and the wider South Caucasus remain the same as before 2008 – keeping foreign powers out of the region, while failing to provide an alternative vision for Tbilisi.
Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today
Lithuania’s new chief of defence has no chance
Lithuania’s new chief of defence, Major General Valdemaras Rupsys calls himself a realist though it seems as if he is a fatalist with no hope to change anything in the national armed forces.
In a detailed interview with BNS Valdemaras Rupsys demonstrates his inability and even lack of hope to modify national military system. He distinctly reveals his plans.
Major General Valdemaras Rupsys says he will seek to accelerate new armored vehicle and artillery system purchases if the country’s defense spending makes this possible.
The key words here are “if the country’s defense spending makes this possible”. The matter is Lithuania itself can rely only on foreign financing and help to strengthen its defence. Thus, he informs that a number of Boxer IFVs are currently being delivered to Lithuania. Renamed “Vilkas”, or “wolf” in Lithuanian, the vehicles will be provided only to two battalions of the Iron Wolf mechanized infantry brigade, in Rukla and Alytus. It should be noted that Mechanized Infantry Brigade “Iron Wolf” is the core unit of the Lithuanian Army and forms the country’s contribution to NATO collective defence. But even this unit will not be provided with all necessary vehicles and equipment.
The brigade’s other two battalions, in Rukla and Panevezys, will continue to use old M113 armored personnel carriers, with plans to replace them with more advanced vehicles by 2030. No budget money – no vehicles!
Major General Valdemaras Rupsys admits that the only thing he can definitely do – to speak to the authorities. “We’ll definitely have to speak to the ministry about whether there are possibilities to replace their platform earlier than planned,” the general told in an interview. “Plans call for doing so in around 2030 but everything depends on financial resources. There won’t be any drastic decisions to replace the acquisitions that we are already planning now,” he added.
When he answers to the question if the Iron Wolf brigade needs tanks he is very flexible and says that “being aware of our means and financial capacity, I don’t dream about tanks right now. We don’t have such plans.
Another question is if he dreams about fighter jets in the Lithuanian army. And he again says – “No, I don’t today. I am a realist and don’t dream about things we cannot have.”
The worst thing is his full satisfaction with the existing situation. He will not even try to change things. In terms of conscription system he shifts the responsibility on the political leadership, on the whole, which should decide on that. And then what is his responsibility? Does Lithuania need such a chief of defence who decides nothing from the very beginning?
Obviously, Lithuania has no money, but according to Major General Valdemaras Rupsys Lithuania even lacks of ambitious either to be a strong country. Possibly, this aim could be reached at the expense of others. At least he is honest.
Polonia: Poland’s diaspora policy
In 2007, the Polish authorities for the first time adopted a government program to promote cooperation with the Polish diaspora (Polonia) and Poles abroad. In 2002, they introduced May 2 as Day of Polonia and Poles Abroad.
The strategic objectives of this program for 2015-2020 include support for the development of Polish language and culture among Poles abroad, strengthening Polish national identity among representatives of Polonia, contributing to the popularity of Polonian organizations abroad and the return of Poles living abroad to their homeland, establishing economic, scientific and cultural contacts between Poland and Polonia .
The Polish Foreign Ministry estimates the number of members of the Polish diaspora, including ethnic Poles and people of Polish descent, at 18-20 million, one third of them were born in Poland. Polonia and the Poles rank the sixth if we compare the proportion of members of the diaspora abroad with the population of the country of origin. 18% of tourists visiting Poland are members of Polish organizations abroad and ethnic Poles.
The largest Polish diasporas are in the USA (9.6 million according to 2012 reports), in Germany (1.5 million) and Canada (1 million). Poles are also living in France and the United Kingdom (0.8 million in each), the Netherlands (0.2 million), Ireland and Italy (0.15 million in each), the Czech Republic (0.12 million), Sweden and Norway ( 0.11 million in either), Belgium (0.1 million). In countries such as Austria, Spain, Denmark, and Iceland, members of the Polish diasporas number less than 100 thousand people.
According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, more than 1 million Poles and people of Polish descent live in post-Soviet countries. According to the ministry, these estimates are not accurate – for one, in Belarus, the most “Polish” republic of the former USSR, the number of Poles and people of Polish origin could amount to up to 1 million (official reports estimate the number of Poles living in Belarus at 295 thousand).
Lithuania comes second by the number of Poles residing there – (250 thousand), the third is Ukraine (144 thousand), then Russia (47 thousand), Latvia (46 thousand) and Kazakhstan (34 thousand) – the fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Polonia is conditionally divided by the Polish Foreign Ministry into ten functionality-based geographical groups: 1. Lithuania 2. Belarus 3. Ukraine 4. Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic 5. Western European countries (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.). 6. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand 7. Other European countries 8. Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia 9. Brazil, Argentina 10.Other countries of the world.
This division was carried out on the functional, rather than numerical basis and there is no universal approach as to how to categorize Poles living abroad – each of the above mentioned countries sets its own requirements for working with Polonia. People who have Polish roots but do not speak Polish and who reside in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil are regarded as Polish diaspora by Warsaw. In this case, there is a need to popularize Polish informational and ideological products for Polonia in these countries in the language of the country of residence with emphasis on the economic and cultural components and projects for the study of the Polish language.
The latter bears particular importance. In Brazil, for one, there are more than a dozen Polish language courses. People who go there are provided with social benefits and all the necessary documents – student ID passes for students, work certificates for teaching staff (teachers get discounts 33% to 49% on public and rail transport in Poland, etc.), certificates of Polish schools for distance learning, etc.
Given the presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland’s policy, it is not surprising that Russia, the republics of the Caucasus, and countries of Central Asia are among those that Warsaw accuses of breaching the rights of ethnic minorities, including Poles, which is not true. Working with Polonia in these regions carries a clear ideological touch, as historical grievances prevail over culture and economy. By intentionally inciting conflict, concocting accusations of violating the rights of ethnic minorities,Warsaw equips itself with ideological tools to justify its aggressive Eastern policy towards Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
In particular, there are noticeable attempts by Warsaw to force Polish organizations in Russia to participate in anti-Russian propaganda campaigns, especially regarding retrospective assessments of Russian-Polish and Soviet-Polish relations. Polish diplomacy cites the unsuccessful Polish uprisings of the 18th-19th centuries, exiled and repressed Poles of the tsarist and Stalinist times, return of Poland’s western lands to Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus following the Red Army’s Polish campaign in 1939, etc.
The Polish Institute of National Memory (PINP), being an exclusively ideological structure, is on the list of state institutions and ministries that are responsible for cooperating with Polonia. A projecttitled “The Next Stop is History” has been launched in order to promote the historical and ideological heritage of Poland. Implemented within the framework of the Polish diaspora program of the Department of National Education of PINP in several countries at once (conferences, exhibitions, symposia, film screenings, lectures, military sports games), the project has no geographical restrictions and is conducted with the participation of certified teachers.
Let us focus on some characteristic features of the Polish diaspora policy:
– the prevalence of economic aspects while establishing cooperation with ethnic Poles living in the USA, EU and South America;
– a powerful propagandistic and political emphasis and a minimal presence of economy while dealing with Polonia in countries of the former USSR;
– abandoning tactics of interaction with Polonia which presuppose acting through Polonian organizations only and which have proved ineffective;
– coverage by social, cultural and other projects of the largest possible number of ethnic Poles, in the first place, those who are not members of diaspora organizations;
– absence of heavy vertical hierarchy in disapora organizations in favor of horizontal links and shuttle diplomacy;
– contribute to the formation of a protest and opposition-minded stratum amongst the young in countries of the former USSR (Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine) with further placement of its representatives in local government structures, the media and other socially important projects.
Summing up, we can say that Warsaw’s diaspora politics abroad are focused on strengthening its positions in the Western community and pursuing unilateral and controversial goals in the eastern direction. From our partner International Affairs
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