Exclusive interview of the lecturer Institute of International Relations and Political Science (Vilnius University) Mr. Vytis Jurkonis.
1 - How would You describe current Lithuanian-Russian relations?
It is what it is, but generally it reflects the state of affairs in the neighbourhood of Russia. Kremlin is painting most of the things only in black and white – either you have a certain loyalty or you are a (alleged) external threat. Loyalties are merited with different kind of subsidies and support with occasional intimidation, meanwhile the ‘alleged enemies’ experience a higher level of aggression and provocations ranging from propaganda and information war to energy blackmail, penetration of corrupt practices and even military intervention.
Lithuania given this limited framework has very little space for maneuvering and prefers to work in multilateral formats though even international obligations are sometimes not an obstacle for the authorities in Russia. Despite all of that, Russia remains to be among the biggest trade partners of Lithuania, the bilateral investments do exist, but the potential and especially diversity of the interaction is much bigger than that. People to people contacts in particular could be an incredible catalyst, but unfortunately instead of cultivating civil society, Kremlin prefers to push it underground or even eliminate it.
2 What can be expected from the oncoming NATO Summit in Brussels?
NATO is certainly not the place for unexpected surprises, so I tend to suggest that in general it’s going to be "a little bit more of the same".
However, EU has to clearly show and deliver to the burden sharing to ensure the continuing support of the US. Moreover, full implementation of the Warsaw decisions strengthening deterrence and defence posture, which includes NATO Command Structure adaptation and reinforcement, etc. Finally, the South should not be forgotten either to preserve the 360 degree approach, including cooperation with the EU.
While there's no need to convince anyone of the aggressive character of Kremlin anymore, the variety / spectrum of threats remains to be an issue of discussion. Military trainings Zapad had been closely monitored and nothing had changed especially after the publication of the German Bild revealed military trainings Zapad had simulated a war against NATO. However, voices to find some sort of dialogue without getting into the business as usual are also heard.
But, to be completely honest, NATO is a much broader organisation than a question of Russia. First and foremost, it is a defensive alliance and thus it is much more about internal capacities, calibration of all the members of alliance despite the differences in political climate in the member states, etc. From this perspective it’s an ongoing and never ending process reacting to a variety of external threats as well as possible emerging internal challenges.
3 How do You assess President Trump's proposal to transfer negotiations about Ukraine from Minsk to Astana?
It wasn't Trump who suggested it, but Nazarbayev during his recent visit to the US. It's typical Kazakhstani multivectorism similarly to the Astana process on Syria. Kazakhstan wants to demonstrate their status and thus legitimacy in the international sphere (which feeds in to their domestic legitimacy) and their alleged neutrality between the West and Russia.
It’s bad news for Belarus, who is playing a similar card, but content wise, nothing much is going to change, because one way or another, its not about the negotiation skills of Belarus or Kazakhstan, but much more about political will of people in the Kremlin.