2007-02-28 10:26:00
Embassy Vilnius
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DE RUEHVL #0142/01 0591026
R 281026Z FEB 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 000142 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2017

104 D. 06 VILNIUS 526 E. 06 VILNIUS 526

Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Rebecca Dunham for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2017

104 D. 06 VILNIUS 526 E. 06 VILNIUS 526

Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Rebecca Dunham for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d

1. (C) Summary. Lithuania's relationship with Russia
continues to affect Lithuania's foreign policy and much of
its domestic politics. Fifteen years after independence,
Lithuania is still a teenager, struggling -- sometimes rashly
-- to demonstrate its independence. Nevertheless, most
Lithuanians recognize the need to work positively with their
former occupier, on whom they remain dependent for energy
supplies and much else. End Summary.

Russian threat lurks in the Lithuanian mind

2. (C) Most Lithuanians still feel threatened by Russia, even
if they are "Russia's favorite Baltic neighbor" (ref A).
Outspoken Russia critic and former President Vytautas
Landsbergis speaks for many when he traces crime, corruption,
populism, and all bad things back to Russia. Lithuanians are
still bitter, he told us, about Russia's refusal to
acknowledge that Lithuania did not join the Soviet Union
freely. The head of the MFA's Russia Department agreed that
this historical question remains the greatest bilateral issue
between the two countries. "The fact that the old KGB came
into power and refused to recognize us as a successor state
(of interwar Lithuania)," he said, is a "danger to our very
essence" that is "not going to change with this Kremlin."

3. (SBU) The public broadly agrees. On January 16,
Parliament overwhelmingly, albeit unrealistically, passed a
resolution urging Russia to start consultations with
Lithuania about compensation for the Soviet occupation, a
reiteration of a 2000 law requiring the GOL to seek redress
for LTL 80 billion (approximately USD 30.7 billion) in
damages during Soviet rule. A November 2006 poll found that
46 percent of Lithuanians had an unfavorable or very
unfavorable view of Russia, and only 5 percent a very
favorable view. Thirty-nine percent of Lithuanians named
Russia as the greatest threat to Lithuania.

From Russia with love

4. (C) Perceived Russian affronts aggravate Lithuania's
concerns. The Minister of Defense repeatedly raises the

September 2005 crash of a Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft in
Lithuania as primary justification for a renewed NATO Baltic
Air Policing Mission. While acknowledging that there is a
public relations element to keeping the air-policing mission
in place, the Defense Ministry rejects the notion that there
is not also a threat-based rationale. "Without air
policing," an undersecretary told us, "Russia will just send
its fighter jets across our territory and all we'll be able
to do is send a diplomatic note."

5. (C) The closing of the Druzhba ("friendship") oil pipeline
in July 2006, ostensibly for repairs, is cited as exhibit
number one that Russia uses energy supplies to influence
Lithuania's domestic affairs. Russian platitudes
notwithstanding, no Lithuanian interlocutor has expressed any
doubt that that the cutoff was an attempt to thwart the sale
of Lithuania's Maziekiu Nafta oil refinery to the Polish
Company PKN Orlen. Head of the MFA's Economic Security
Department even read to us from an intelligence document that
had predicted a retaliatory cut-off several weeks before the
pipeline "accident". FM Vaitiekunas described the situation
for the Ambassador this way: "Under the USSR, we had the
barrel of a gun pointed toward us. Now, we have the barrel
of a pipeline pointed toward us."

Domestic meddling

6. (C) The oft-made claim that Russian special services
meddle in Lithuania's domestic political affairs finds a
broad audience here. Alexandras Matonis, a reputable local
journalist, complained to us of "an information war waged
every day, every hour, where Russian services try to
discredit the west and influence our domestic politics, pay
to place articles in papers, and fund our politicians."
Ex-president Landsbergis made the same argument, saying that
Russian "specialists" backed the three "populist attacks" on
Lithuania by financing and advising former speaker of the
parliament Paulauskas (son of a KGB Colonel),former
President Paksas (impeached amid suspicions of connections to
Russian mafia) and former Economy Minister and Labor Party
Leader Uspaskich (old Gazprom man now on the lam in Russia -
Ref E).

VILNIUS 00000142 002 OF 003

7. (C) Theories of Russian interference in domestic politics
are hard to prove but plausible, given Russia's large
intelligence presence in Lithuania (Ref C),the flexible
ethics of Lithuania's political leaders, and the ease of
planting stories in Lithuania's undisciplined media. What is
certain is that allegations of Russian backing continue to be
the blunt weapon of choice among political rivals (along with
outing rivals as former KGB officers or reservists--see refs

No Stockholm Syndrome here

8. (C) If Russia is backing political parties, it's not clear
that they are getting much for it. To succeed, Lithuania's
populist parties must appeal to a much broader segment of the
population than the narrow base of pro-Russian constituents.
Lithuania's Russian minority is small: around 6 percent of
the population. Russia is Lithuania's number one trade
partner, but only 13 percent of Lithuanians name Russia as an
important political and economic partner. MPs reject the
idea that populist voters are nostalgic for the Soviet-era.
"Of course there's nostalgia," another Conservative MP, Rasa
Jukneviciene, told us. "Many people are old now and they are
nostalgic for when they were young, but not for Russian

GOL strives for better relations

9. (C) Safely in the EU and NATO, with no serious pro-Russian
political contingent within its borders, the GOL can afford
to pursue more pragmatic and constructive relations with
Russia even if politicians and the public hold some
anti-Russian views. Still dependent on Russia for oil and
gas supplies and for Lithuania's most important trade
relationship, the GOL knows this is the path it must at least
try to take. In 2006, FM Vaitiekunas left for Russia to
participate in the bi-annual GOL-GOR intergovernmental
Cooperative Commission (chaired on Russia's side by Transport
Minister Levitin) with a list of 22 ways that Lithuania and
Russia could improve their relationship. The MFA also
invited Russian FM Lavrov to a border demarcation ceremony in
Lithuania this spring, although it still isn't clear if
Lavrov will accept.

10. (C) But Russia-Lithuania relations have a "glass
ceiling," MFA's Russia Department Head Arunas Vinciunas told
us. "On those things we absolutely need Russian cooperation
for, like border demarcation, we have it," he explained.
Russia and Lithuania have stable agreements on the easy,
necessary things: border crossing, cargo insurance, rail
tariffs and transit fees to Kaliningrad, and so on. Progress
in new areas is proving elusive, even outside the troublesome
energy sector. Of the minister's 22 proposals, Russia was
cool even to what Vinciunas called "one of the easy things,"
an agreement to allow yachting in the Curonian Lagoon between
Kaliningrad and Lithuania. A 2005 agreement called "2K,"
which would equalize access to the ports of Klaipeda and
Kaliningrad, has stalled.

11. (C) Engagement on the big issues is even harder.
According to Vinciunas, Russia refuses substantive bilateral
talk on energy security, insisting that environmental
concerns alone hold up repair of the Druzhba pipeline.
Vinciunas called it a "good sign" that Russian Deputy FM
Titov was willing to meet MFA Undersecretary Talat-Kelpsa in
early 2007. "We don't have the highest level dialogue, but
we have political contacts," he said. "I believe that
Lithuania-Russia relations are as good as they can get," he
added, not positively.

EU tempers Lithuania

12. (C) Where bilateral Russia-Lithuania relations fail to
deliver progress or even dialogue, Lithuania looks to shape
EU-Russia policy in its favor. It is in EU structures that
Lithuania's policy brew of confrontation and pragmatism often
plays out.

13. (C) Most often, and despite its reputation, Lithuania has
ultimately not blocked Russian interests in EU structures.
Most importantly, Lithuania continues to support Russian
interests with respect to the Kaliningrad region, including
an exception to keep the current Kaliningrad transit regime
in place once Lithuania joins the Schengen zone. Lithuania
has been the most sympathetic country within the EU to
Russia's desire for a regime that allows transit of Lithuania
with documents other than a Schengen visa.

14. (C) Lithuania's reticence to block Russian interests may
be changing, however. Political Director Zygimantis

VILNIUS 00000142 003 OF 003

Pavilionis told Ambassador that Poland's obstruction of the
EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) is the
only thing that finally drew Western Europe's attention to
Poland's concerns about Russia's ban on imports of Polish
meat. Pavilionis said that Lithuania has learned a lesson
from the Poles. Angry that the German Presidency has not
paid attention to the cut-off of the Druzhba pipeline to
Lithuania, Pavilionis told the Ambassador that Lithuania may
rejoin Poland in blocking a mandate for the PCA.

15. (C) Lithuania annoys many of its European partners with
its positions on EU-Russia relations, Russia Department Head
Vinciunas told us. Talking about the contentious EU-Putin
summit at Lahti, the Ambassador from (then-EU Council
president) Finland agreed, saying Lithuania needs to talk
about things besides Russia. Lithuania's Foreign Minister
and President raise energy and neighborhood policy at nearly
every European Council or GAERC, but seldom go to bat in
European structures on any external issue that doesn't touch
Russia. The GOL has a habit of hosting conferences on issues
most sensitive to Russia (2006: democracy promotion, EU/NATO
expansion, and frozen conflicts; planned for 2007: energy
security in Europe); and it rallies pro-western leaders from
transforming democracies, but does little to encourage
multilateral dialogue with (no-show) Russia or to garner
support from Western Europe, which worries that fanfare
around the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine needlessly
irritate Russia.

16. (C) At ease with leaders of transforming democracies,
Lithuania struggles to earn credibility within the EU as a
mediator between the EU and neighborhood countries. FM
Vaitiekunas consulted broadly with EU allies (and us) before
he flew to Tbilisi in the midst of the September-October
Russian spy scandal to condemn Russia's "disproportionate
response" to the Georgia's expulsion of four Russian
diplomats. While there, he also urged Saakashvili to
de-escalate tension so as not worry European allies and
damage Georgia's chances at Intensified Dialogue with NATO.
Two days later, he (unsuccessfully) pushed for language about
"disproportionate response" or "Georgia's territorial
integrity" in the GAERC conclusions. This hurt Lithuania's
positions in the concurrent negotiations on the EU-Russia
PCA, according to Gulbinas. "We are seen as troublemakers
now," he observed.

17. (C) Lithuania has a sincere desire to promote democracy
in Europe and elsewhere, but it doesn't miss many chances to
blame Russia for the region's challenges. To be seen as a
credible expert on neighborhood policy by the EU, Lithuania
knows (and says) it must temper its shrill tone toward
Russia; counsel moderation -- not confrontation -- to
neighborhood allies like Saakashvili; and ultimately support
freedom and democratic transformation beyond the frozen
conflicts bordering Russia. But the GOL is often tempted to
push its own historical experience of kicking out Russian
troops and rapidly joining the EU and NATO on those states
locked in struggles with Russia today. "Our states have
similar historical experiences, and therefore we understand
the strivings of the Georgian people," PM Kirkilas said in
relatively distant Tbilisi. He could say the same elsewhere,
too. Given Lithuanians' lingering fear, anger, and pride,
they are perhaps happy to be accused of "trying to draw a new
front line with Russia," as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Grigory Karasin told a high-ranking Lithuanian MFA official
after the May 2006 summit on Neighborhood Policy.

Looking forward

18. (C) Lithuania expects to be frustrated with what it sees
as Russian bullying, and is not counting on productive
relations. But the GOL will nevertheless continue to pursue
its policy mix of confrontation and pragmatism with Russia
because it, like the USG, recognizes that Russia cannot be
ignored. Lithuania's administration accepts the need
ultimately to play nice with Russia, but many of its
politicians do not. We expect they will continue to
antagonize Russia with resolutions calling for compensation
for victims of the Soviet occupation and loudly condemning
Russian interference in Eastern Europe.