Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, one of the three front-running presidential candidates, says Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who has received criticism for her planned visit to Moscow later this month, is merely defending national interests.
It takes courage to meet an aggressive opponent, he adds.
“I've no doubt that the Estonian president's visit is about representing the interests of the Estonian state and the Estonian people. I've no doubt that I'd do the same, if necessary,” he said during a debate with two other candidates on Monday evening.
Skvernelis, the presidential candidate of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), expects that Kaljulaid will express her own and the EU's position on Vladimir Putin's policies in Ukraine and Georgia when she meets with the Russian president in Moscow.
“I respect the position of that state [Estonia] and the courage to talk to a very aggressive opponent, who is also a neighbouring state,” he said.
However, Skvernelis and his two opponents – Ingrida Šimonytė of the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats and independent candidate Gitanas Nausėda – noted during the debate that they did not know what the Estonian president was aiming to achieve by meeting with Putin.
Šimonytė thinks that the Baltic countries should take a united stance toward Russia.
“One can try to talk to Russia about Ukraine or Georgia, but it seems to me that the international community has been doing so for a long time already and it doesn't look like we see any change in [Moscow's] posture. I'd read this message differently. It seems to me that we need to speak about the need for the Baltic states to start forming a more united position toward Russia,” she said.
Šimonytė also said she would not have anything to talk about with the Russian president at the moment.
Nausėda said he supported Lithuania's “consistent” stance toward Russia of recent years.
“In my opinion, Lithuania's position has always been consistent and (...) linked to the fact that what happened in Ukraine can't be tolerated in the 21st century. This is a gross violation of international agreements and, for this reason, the Western community, not just Lithuania, has been quite united in their stance, although there are, of course, individual states that take a slightly different or milder position,” he said.
However, Nausėda said that Lithuania “should not close all the windows for economic and cultural ties”.
“I believe relations with Russian people should be Lithuania's top priority now, because we'll have to live with these people when the term of the current Kremlin leaders ends,” he said.
Kaljulaid is scheduled to pay a working visit to Moscow on April 18 to open Estonia's renovated embassy building in the Russian capital.
The Kremlin confirmed last week that preparations were underway for a meeting between Putin and Kaljulaid during her visit to Moscow.