Three Questions with Eduardas Borisovas, Ambassador of Lithuania to Poland
During the Warsaw Security Forum 2019, Eduardas Borisovas, the ambassador of Lithuania to Poland, sat down with GMF’s Monika Bičkauskaitė to discuss his country’s foreign policy and the newest political developments surrounding it, including following the inauguration of a new president in July.
What are the foreign policy priorities of the new president of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, especially regarding the United States and the question of permanent NATO troops in the Baltics?
The priorities of President Gitanas Nausėda were declared even before he was elected. He announced what exactly the foreign policy of Lithuania would be, and it is no surprise that the foreign policy main trends did not change much compared with those under the previous president. Yet probably some details and some new tactical elements will appear in the new president’s agenda.
He clearly expressed his willingness to establish good relations or stabilize some relations with neighbors. He followed that principle, when making his first foreign visit to Poland. It was a very successful visit that helped to establish a very good direct and personal contact with the Polish president. There was an opportunity to discuss different issues, including security.
With regard to relations with the United States, definitely there are no changes in Lithuanian foreign policy and in the rhetoric of the president compared to the former president. The reason for that lies in the fact that the presence of the United States in this part of Europe is of paramount importance to Lithuania. We could talk about its presence directly in Lithuania or we could talk about the presence of United States troops in Poland, which is our closest neighbor and our closest partner, taking into account security and strategic interests.
So here there are no changes and we clearly declare that the more U.S. troops are present, the more Lithuania feels secure. We try to keep these relations as close as possible, to keep the United States in NATO and in the region as much as possible. Talking about EU-U.S. relations, we definitely are playing the role of a mediator because both the EU and NATO are of paramount importance to Lithuania. It is a difficult but nevertheless important and unavoidable task because it is essential to have functioning relations between the two organizations.
We would definitely prefer having NATO troops directly in Lithuania and as many of them as possible. It also depends on infrastructure and on logistics, but I think that our primary task is to have a U.S. direct presence as a deterrence factor in Lithuania, in the Baltic States, and in Poland. Having troops in Poland also plays a huge deterring role against our turbulent neighbor in the east. So, having U.S. troops definitely calms down the situation, clearly defines red lines that are difficult to cross, and clearly makes peace possible. Having no deterrence, having no U.S. presence, having no NATO in the region—this would be a clear invitation for Russia to start using its policy of exploiting gaps that was very successful in other areas.
Recently, Russian media circulated the news that Russia and Belarus are planning to form a confederation. What could the implications of this be for Lithuania?
There are conflicting signals about such a prospect. Yes, it was announced that at the beginning of December they will sign some documents leading to some sort of confederation or even a stronger the union of the two states. That was already declared but we don’t know what exactly the content of these documents will be. We could just simply speculate about that now, but also we should bear in mind some other points.
First of all, the Union Treaty between Russia and Belarus was signed in 1998. A long time has passed since then and nothing has happened. Frankly it also depends on Belarus, not only on Russia. The question is what kind of cooperation they are willing to allow, and how much would Belarus allow Russia to step in and drag it into something. That’s one thing.
Another thing is that that there are clearly visible signs of the Kremlin’s irritation. For example, over the refusal of Belarus to accommodate a Russian air base. These are the most recent developments. Of course, despite the irritation the Kremlin declared that it could live without that air base because integration is sufficient. Nevertheless, such a refusal gave a clear signal that Belarus is still considering its sovereignty quite seriously. We also understand that Belarus is under huge economic pressure from Russia to be attached as much as possible to a sort of Russian constellation.
Definitely there are other factors that are quite important to Russia and should be taken into account, such as the problem of the end of Putin’s term in 2024. It is definitely an elephant in the room. It is important because, to continue his rule, Putin is likely to look for legal solutions. Simply changing the constitution is an unlikely decision. Neither is winning the fourth or the fifth election in a row, as it happens in one of our neighboring countries. Hence, the confederation between Russia and Belarus can be perceived as a solution for Putin to extend his rule. So we should take this into consideration.
A scenario in which Belarus would be integrated into Russia, if that happens, is definitely not a positive development for Lithuania. In this situation, we would be sandwiched between two parts of Russia. We should speak very frankly about that. There will be no sovereignty left for Belarus in case of integration; economic integration will lead to further political integration that would definitely evoke military integration. We should be very careful about that, and trying to keep Belarus as sovereign as possible is our historical view and definitely part of our political and security interests. So here we should be very clear.
Another point is about our relations with Belarus itself. Those are not very easy. That is not to say that our leaders did not want to have relations before, but now we have the outstanding problem of the Astravets nuclear power plant. The way that it was decided to build the power plant without consulting with us and the choice of a strategic location so close to the Lithuanian capital, so close to the border of Lithuania, was definitely not a friendly act. And we should take it very seriously and very openly declare that this is unacceptable to Lithuania.
First, the power plant as such is unacceptable. Second, the way this power plant was built is unacceptable to Lithuania. Without appropriate international control, without observing internationally recognized rules, without involving neighbors, especially the neighbor that is particularly interested in the safety of this power plant. So, in this situation the behavior of Belarus was inappropriate. Thus, Belarus cannot expect any kind of concessions from the Lithuanian side to compromise safety of citizens—we are very clear about that and about the fact that the power plant is not safe. Lithuania will not buy energy from this power plant.
However, our new president has declared that he will try to look for possibilities and will try to open dialogue where possible. But, as we all know, dialogue needs two sides. We hope that this invitation will be accepted and we could discuss different issues with Belarus, including the nuclear power plant, human rights, democracy, Belarus and Russia issues, and so on.
What are the achievements and shortcomings of Lithuania in countering cybersecurity threats in the region?
The shortcomings are more general and definitely faced not only by Lithuania. I think that cybersecurity as such was perceived a bit late. Now we are trying to fill the gaps that we had been left with. Here Lithuania is actually in the lead, especially in the EU. First of all, in countering disinformation attacks from Russia. We have an “elf” movement that comes from societal activists and it works against the Russian “trolls.” They show the deceit and false information and denounce it. There is also an internet platform for that, called “Debunk.eu” This works well against hybrid warfare, which is frequently used by Russia vis-à-vis its neighbors.
We have established our national institution—a Cybersecurity Centre under the Ministry of Defense. Here, we try to create a uniform approach to counter cyber threats coming from outside actors to Lithuania to our institutions, even private-sector institutions that are of strategic importance to Lithuania. Here we are ahead.
Additionally, talking about the EU level and Permanent Structured Cooperation, Lithuania is leading on the proposed cyber security rapid response and assistance project. We try to gather other EU countries to be part of this project and to develop cybersecurity resilience capacities. So here we are in the lead and try to be in the lead, but we understand that alone we could not achieve significant results. We need to have understanding, support, and cooperation from others.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.