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2019.09.20 16:00

'Lukashenko will resist by all means' – Lithuania cautious on Russian plans in Belarus

BNN, LRT.lt, Linas Jegelevičius2019.09.20 16:00

Reports of an economic confederacy between Belarus and Russia did not go unnoticed in Vilnius, which is courting the idea of recharging its dusty relations with Minsk. If the plans come to fruition, what does it mean for the Baltics?

In late August, Nausėda had an undisclosed meeting with political scientists to discuss possible changes in bilateral relations with Belarus.

Read more: Lithuanian president looks into revising ties with Belarus, undisclosed meeting suggests

Andžej Pukšto, associate professor of Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University was part of that meeting.

“It is certainly Russia, not Belarus, that wants such unification [and] I am sure Lukashenko will resist such new attempts by all means,” he said.

“We saw the US official’s visit to Lukashenko this week – the US is clearly sending a firm message it wants to see Belarus an independent country,” said Pukšto.

According to Pukšto, Russia has a grip on Belarus due to it being “the single energy supplier”.

Read more: Lithuania and Poland look to help Belarus withstand Moscow's pressure

“Ironically, Lukashenko, criticized for so many years for his authoritarian style and crackdown on opposition, now seems to be the only guarantor of Belarus’ independence,” he added.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko promised to a high-ranking US official on Tuesday not to deploy short or medium range missiles in his country – something Russia has suggested it might do in response to US and NATO military moves in Europe.

The move was certainly music to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius’ ears, who said that the new integration agreements between Minsk and Moscow will bring Russia closer to the Lithuanian border “with all the [negative] consequences”.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has also said that Lithuania “wants a long border with Belarus” and not Russia, adding that there are are "clear attempts to reduce [...] Belarus' sovereignty".

Lauras Bielinis, professor of Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University and former director of the Belarusian Institute in Vilnius, also doubted the “seriousness” of new unification intentions.

“I’d rather believe both countries can ultimately agree on pursuing a more active model of economic cooperation, one not foreseeing a common currency, leave alone a joint legal system and defence,” Bielinis told BNN.

Povilas Gylys, Lithuania’s former Foreign Minister said the idea of a single Russian and Belarusian state has been brought up so many times over the last 20 years that now “few” believe in it.

“Just let me remind that a 1999 Russia-Belarus deal envisioned a union state with a common currency, legal system and a joint defence and foreign policy. The decision however did not flesh out,” according to Gylys.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that the unification plan cited by the Russian daily Kommersant is “preliminary”. He said the integration roadmap is expected to be released to the public before the start of 2020.

This story originally appeared at BNN, and was edited for brevity by LRT English