2019.09.27 09:00

A thaw in Lithuanian-Belarusian relations is worrying conservative MPs

BNS 2019.09.27 09:00

The biggest opposition party in the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, is worried that Vilnius may change its position and stop blocking cooperation talks between the European Union and Belarus, and whether Lithuanian interests on Belarus' nuclear plant are properly represented.

The conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats voiced its concern following Wednesday's meeting between Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius and his Belarusian counterpart, Vladimir Makey, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

"This reinforces the feeling that [the government] may be heading towards resuming the ties," Gabrielius Landsbergis, the conservative party's leader, told BNS on Thursday. "We want assurances from state leaders, the president and the prime minister, that our position will not change."

"We have a law [...] that we do not buy electricity from the Astravyets nuclear plant because it is unsafe. We must take efforts to make it a common position of the European Union," he said.

The Homeland Union's presidium discussed the issue on Wednesday and decided to ask president Gitanas Nauseda and the government to ensure that Lithuania "does not unilaterally back down on using its veto power on EU-Belarusian and any other partnership agreements as an instrument to ensure Lithuania's national security."

Read more: Lithuania offers Belarus a way out of Russia's energy grip

Conservative MPs demand answers from the Lithuanian Foreign Minister

The conservatives have also called an extraordinary meeting of the parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs over Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius' recent meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Vladimir Makey, in New York.

Three conservative members of the committee – Audronius Ažubalis, Emanuelis Zingeris and Žygimantas Pavilionis – want it to look at whether Lithuania's national interests on Belarus' nuclear plant are properly represented.

"In light of the information that has reached us through official and unofficial channels, we are concerned about the Lithuanian state's position on the Astravyets NPP and [...] other related issues in the European Union," Ažubalis said.

"Therefore, we are using our parliamentary right to react promptly by convening an extraordinary meeting of the committee," he added.

The conservative members of the committee want answers from Linkevičius on Lithuania's position in talks on EU-Belarusian partnership priorities and the course of the negotiations, as well as steps taken to achieve a common EU stance on safety risks posed by the nuclear power plant.

They also want information on a visit by a delegation led by Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, to Belarus scheduled for October.

Vilnius mayor wants access to Belarus' nuclear monitoring data

Meanwhile. Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said on Thursday he has asked Belarus' ambassador for direct access to the environmental monitoring data at the Astravyets nuclear plant.

Šimašius met with Belarus' new ambassador, Valery Baranovsky, on Thursday.

"The ambassador tried to tell me that everything is fine with [the plant]. I made it clear that we, naturally, have doubts about whether everything is really fine there," Šimašius told BNS after the meeting.

"I informed the ambassador that since they are going to launch that nuclear power plant, which is something we totally disapprove of, we want to see environmental data online, all the time, on the spot, rather than through some kind of information system," the mayor said.

"Naturally, there is no trust now and only full access to information can increase it," he added.

In response to the ambassador's call for maintaining friendly relations, Šimašius underlined the issue of Belarus' sovereignty.

"I replied that we want to maintain neighborly relations and we would very much like to see Belarus as an independent country, not a satellite of Russia," he said.

Despite an agreement signed between Vilnius and Minsk about two decades ago, there is no cooperation between the two capitals now, according to the mayor.

"As a matter of fact, since I have been declared persona non grata in Russia, I am not even sure if I could go to Belarus," Šimašius said. "There is no clarity; the ambassador could not comment on this either."

Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis accepted in May 2019 Belarusian offer to jointly monitor radiation around the Astravyets nuclear plant. However, the idea received little support among the Lithuanian ministers, while critics argued that Lithuania would be taking on responsibility for the plant’s safety without holding any controls.