Mr. Speaker of the Reconstituent Seimas,
Mr. Director of the Eastern Europe Studies Center,
Dear Participants of the Conference,
We have gathered here to speak about Lithuania and the changing nature of international politics. We need to acknowledge that the international environment is changing fast: rapid developments are transforming the world into a multipolar space, new global powers are emerging which do not feel very enthusiastic about the international rules established after World War Two.
In the face of international turbulences, small states always face an increased threat of survival and disregard of their voice – at times, a cry of despair. But our history teaches us that at moments like these, when the world order and international system start shifting and even falling, small countries should not only adapt and observe. They must respond in a dynamic way.
The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples – as written in the United Nations Charter – has not faded away in the 21st century. It continues to be the fundamental principle and value in building a solid foundation for world order and peace.
Stasys Lozoraitis – the chief of Lithuanian diplomacy of very many years whom we honor and commemorate today – defended our right to national existence at a time of critical changes in the international system. During the hard and difficult years of Soviet occupation, he ensured the continuity of the State of Lithuania and its living memory.
Today, Lithuania’s highest authorities have the ultimate task of safeguarding national independence, security and welfare. In response to the emerging shifts in the international environment, we need to stand united and demonstrate sound judgement.
Today’s complex external challenges demand our attention and active steps. The international rules-based world order is being undermined before our very eyes, tensions are created, and insecurity is increased by new economic hegemonies. Some countries are unilaterally trampling on the principle of multilateralism. And this is happening not only in Syria, Mali or other far-away places, but quite close to Lithuania: military and hybrid conflicts posing a direct threat to our security continue in eastern neighborhood. We are greatly concerned about the violation of human rights, the threat of international terrorism and the unpredictable consequences of climate change.
On the other hand, the existing situation reminds us once again that Lithuania’s security primarily depends on a strong transatlantic bond forged by common experience, values and interests. We see no reason for these long-standing links between Europe and America to lose weight. We fully realize that Europe cannot maintain its unity and security without U.S. engagement. European unity can supplement transatlantic unity, but it can never replace it. No initiative that divides NATO or makes it less strong can bring more security to Europe.
With increasingly louder talk about the need to strengthen European defenses separately from America, I always recall the words of a U.S. President, which are inscribed on the Vilnius Town Hall: “Anyone who would make an enemy of Lithuania would have made an enemy of America too.” Only a true and deeply committed friend could have said it. These words reflect the very essence and strength of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
This commitment to collective defense resonates even louder and clearer when our allies are training on the Lithuanian soil. Together with the German-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence force, the American troops are a reminder to those who are disposed against us that we are not and will never be alone.
For Lithuania, investment in defense is not just a whim – it is an existential necessity created by a security environment where Russia continues to upgrade its military forces, reinforce their readiness and mobility, and engage in aggressive rhetoric and hostile actions. Our country has no other choice but to take its security very seriously. Lithuania has already met the benchmark of spending two percent of GDP on defense. I am confident that we will reach 2.5 percent by 2030.
We should not deceive ourselves by speaking optimistically about our biggest neighbor. The West should finally learn the lessons of Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has recently started to question the occupation of the Baltic States in 1940, even though 30 years ago the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union acknowledged and denounced the secret protocols included in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact as illegitimate. All previous self-deceiving attempts to look the Russian leaders in the eye yielded no results. With its back to democracy, human rights and the principles of peaceful coexistence, Russia continues to be an immediate, long-term threat to the security of not only Lithuania, but also the entire Euro-Atlantic space.
We obviously cannot make the decision for others to return to the rules-based world order. Neither can we make Russia do it. What we can and must, however, is to respect our own decisions: not to legitimatize Russia’s illegal actions, to hold it accountable for the things it does and to safeguard the cornerstone of our existence as independent nation. Stabilization and normalization of relations cannot go against common values. Sanctions must stay in place until there is a fundamental change in Russia’s behavior.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we focus on the security of Lithuania in view of regional threats, we should not forget about our interests in the European Union. It is vitally important to work effectively in the Community and to align European and national agendas. There can be no room for any doubt about Lithuania’s clear-cut EU policies.
Lithuania’s long-term aspirations have not changed. We need an economically strong and politically stable European Union with policies aimed at creating prosperity and wellbeing for all citizens across member states. This past summer, the European Council agreed on a new strategic agenda for the European Union. Lithuania’s key priorities are directed towards an innovative, inclusive and secure Europe. We need to focus on issues of concern to the people and support major EU initiatives: innovation, climate change, the single market, hybrid threats, neighborhood policy, and border protection. I will personally place special emphasis on innovation and climate change.
Discussion are under way across European capitals and institutions about the Conference on the Future of Europe. Brexit has demonstrated that there is a strong need for dialogue between politicians and citizens to better respond to public expectations. Therefore, the debate on the future of Europe should focus more on things that are essential, not the EU’s institutional framework.
The new ambitious agenda must be supported by adequate financing. It is important to point out that the new EU budget proposals to slash cohesion policy funds are not acceptable to Lithuania. They will hinder structural reforms and create a “two-speed Europe” model. I fully understand Lithuanian farmers who are frustrated about the undelivered promise to reduce the agro payment gap between member states – which creates an unlevel competitive field.
Lithuania’s commitment to shift to a climate neutral economy also strongly depends on the next EU budget. Our country is determined to discard the outdated polluting economic model by 2050. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia point out that transformations of this scale require sustainable financing which must be envisaged in the multiannual financial framework. The same rules must apply to all member states, including access to the Just Transition Fund.
For Lithuania to meet its commitments in 2030, additional measures may require as much as 14 billion euros, of which almost 10 billion euros will have to be allocated from the state budget. This is a high price that we will not be able to pay all by ourselves. On the other hand, we realize that adapting to and neutralizing climate change creates many new opportunities which we would like to realize by turning expenditure into investment.
At this point, we rely on EU solidarity and support to our other long-term commitments: to ensure adequate and continuous funding for the decommissioning of the Ignalina nuclear power plant and the implementation of the special Kaliningrad transit programme.
We also expect EU solidarity regarding the Belarusian nuclear power plant, currently under construction in Ostrovets. It has become a security problem not only for Lithuania, but for the whole of the European Union. The European Commission should ensure that critical international recommendations on stress tests are implemented before the Ostrovets nuclear power plant is launched. The EU needs to be actively engaged in monitoring this process. We will work to include nuclear safety in the EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities, which is currently in the make. No electricity from the unsafe nuclear power plant in Ostrovets will enter the Lithuanian market. Its access to the European markets should be also deterred at the EU level.
From a broader Eastern Partnership perspective, we need to acknowledge that Belarus poses a distinctive challenge to us. I hold the position that Lithuania’s up-to-now foreign policy to isolate Belarus has not worked. However, it does not mean that we are ready for an artificial warming-up of the relationship. Whatever happens, we will be on the alert to see that the red lines we have set down are not crossed.
We would like to receive some good human rights news from Belarus. A moratorium on the death penalty would be a positive development not only at the bilateral level, but also at the multilateral level. We have serious concerns about the diplomatic efforts made for further Belarus-Russia integration. We believe that maintaining Belarusian sovereignty is more relevant than ever.
The recent reburial ceremony for the participants of the 1863 uprising – dear to all Lithuanians – which was recently held in Vilnius will stay in our hearts for many years to come. Taking part were thousands of Belarusian opposition supporters. The Vice Premier of Belarus also came to attend the ceremony. It was not an easy decision for the official Minsk to make, and it was not welcomed by the Kremlin.
Despite the difficulties we encounter at the eastern border of Lithuania, Eastern Partnership continues to be high on our foreign policy agenda. We need a space of stability built on democratic values in our immediate neighborhood. I therefore stand for Eastern Partnership aimed at the acceleration of reforms in associated countries and their more rapid integration with the Community market. We can and must offer selective sectoral integration and visa free travel to non-associated countries – as soon as the required conditions are fulfilled.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When we discuss ongoing changes in the international space, we cannot leave out China’s growing power. China seeks to change the existing international order and tailor it for its own needs. Therefore, together with our Euro-Atlantic partners, we need to work on a common response.
Still, Lithuania does not see any obstacles for developing a constructive dialogue and bilateral economic ties with China, if they are not used to increase political tension. The relationship with China must be built on mutual respect for human rights and the rules-based international order. It cannot work against our national security and the common interests of the European Union.
The Lithuania-China dilemma very clearly illustrates the challenges that the Lithuanian foreign policy faces today. We must promote respect for democracy and human rights at the moral level and assess the shifting balance of international powers in realistic terms. We must remain ourselves and we must also work actively on the international stage to reach favorable decisions for Lithuania. We cannot afford the luxury of standing on the sidelines as passive onlookers.
Many countries around the world confront similar challenges and dilemmas. But not all of them suffered grievous injustice in the 20th century. Not all of them observe – at very close range – blatant disrespect for key international agreements and attempts to re-introduce the law of might.
We cannot remain silent in view of detrimental developments. We will not condone to aggression or trade in universal values. Hard-taught lessons of history are on our side. The truth that Stasys Lozoraitis protected so passionately is on our side. Compared to the challenges he had to face, we are in a much better position. We need to pursue a proactive foreign policy based on national interests and shared values.
Thank you for your attention.
Last updated 2019.12.12 16:02Back