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2019.10.03 09:00

Lithuanian foreign minister going to Minsk despite outcry from opposition

BNS2019.10.03 09:00

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius will pay a visit to Minsk later this week, amidst criticism from the opposition that resuming top-level talks between Vilnius and Minsk is premature.

According to Linkevičius, this is going to be a joint visit of EU foreign ministers, but bilateral relations between Lithuania and Belarus will be on his agenda, too.

“This is a high-level meeting of EU Eastern Partnership ministers, (...) and a joint meeting with Belarus' prime minister on Friday,” the minister told reporters on Wednesday. “On Saturday, we have our own agenda: Eastern Partnership issues, priorities.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, held an extraordinary meeting to discuss Lithuania's relations with Belarus.

The meeting was called by the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats which criticizes a move by President Gitanas Nausėda and Linkevičius to seek a broader dialogue with Minsk, fearing that this may water down Vilnius' opposition to the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant.

Linkevičius said after the meeting that “our attitude toward [the Astravyets plant] will certainly not change” and that the government would continue to oppose the project, but added that Lithuania would lose any levers of influence it may have by avoiding a dialogue with the neighbouring country.

“I wouldn't call it softening; I'd say there should be a constructive position; it remains firm but realistic and realizable,” he added.

The conservative members of the Foreign Affairs Committee say the Seimas has been left out of the government's efforts to reopen a dialogue with Belarus.

“It's bad that he [Linkevicius] is going [to Minsk] without a position, without any red lines. He has some, good or not, but we had no chance to discuss them,” MP Žygimantas Pavilionis said.

He added that it was very important for Lithuania to maintain a ban on buying electricity from the nuclear power plant. “But this important detail was not reflected in the ministry's position for some reason,” according to Pavilionis.

Audronius Ažubalis, another conservative MP, insisted that “safety of the Lithuanian people can't be the price of the dialogue”.

“I oppose any dialogue if it threatens the country and its people. For ten years, Lithuania had tried to open a dialogue with Belarus, but what did we get at the end of the day? The same thing: they don't speak with us or they send us documents, such as environmental impact studies or stress tests, which are worthless,” he said.

According to Ažubalis, the Seimas was left out of discussions about “consultations on the EU-Belarusian agenda and Lithuania's position on these issues”.

“Nobody was informed about Lithuania's position. The [Foreign] Ministry's administration is largely to blame, because the Seimas and its Foreign and European Affairs committees knew nothing,” he said.

The Homeland Union has said recently that the almost completed Astravyets nuclear power plant “is being gradually legitimized in Lithuania by its official foreign policymakers”.

President Gitanas Nausėda has dismissed the criticism, saying that Lithuania stands firm on its position that the nuclear power plant is unsafe, but Vilnius will not be able to press Minsk to comply with international safety standards if it refuses to talk with the Belarusian government.

In recent years, Lithuania has been the only EU member country to block an agreement on EU-Belarusian partnership priorities.

Lithuania's conservatives MPs insist on continuing to block the agreement. The president and the foreign minister say they will not approve the deal unless it lays down conditions for respecting democratic values and nuclear safety requirements.

Read more: Lithuanian president backs foreign minister against opposition attacks over Belarus NPP inaction

Read more: Lithuanian opposition calls on country's leaders not to 'legitimise' Belarus' nuclear plant