2020.04.23 13:39

Lithuanian and Belarusian leaders hold first call in a decade

BNS 2020.04.23 13:39

In a first call between leaders of the two countries in a decade, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda offered his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, help with the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The leader of our country offered Belarus assistance in the form of medical supplies, if needed, because Belarus has submitted its request for aid to the European Union," Asta Skaisgirytė, Nausėda's foreign policy adviser, said in a comment sent to the media.

Nausėda also voiced concerns over the Astravyets nuclear plant being built near the Lithuanian border, according to Skaisgirytė.

Lithuanian officials say the nuclear plant some 50 kilometres from Vilnius is being built in breach of international safety standards. Minsk denies all allegations.

Read more: Launch of Belarus’ nuclear plant near Lithuania delayed again

Nausėda "expressed very deep concern" about the safety of the plant and offered Belarus assistance in diversifying its energy supply sources.

"He emphasised that the issue of the power plant's safety must be addressed in Belarus at the highest, presidential level and that the European Union's stress test requirements must be implemented before the launch of the [...] plant," the adviser said.

"We believe that the construction of the power plant is an additional burden on Belarus' economy, too, because it uses Russia's loans that will have to be repaid", Skaisgirytė said.

Read more: Lithuania nudges Belarus out of Russia's energy grip

The plant is being constructed by the Russian state atomic agency, Rosatom, and is funded by a loan from the Kremlin.

The Lithuanian president offered help to Belarus in diversifying its energy resources to reduce its dependence on Russian resources and infrastructure, she added.

The Lithuanian and Belarusian presidents also discussed cultural, scientific and human rights issues.

According to the adviser, Nausėda believes that the countries made "a good start" when they jointly organised last year's reburial of the participants of the 1863–1864 anti-Tsarist uprising in Vilnius.

The Lithuanian president also suggested that the two countries jointly apply to the European Commission for 2022 to be designated as the year of Franciscus Skorina to mark the 500th anniversary of the first printed book in Eastern Europe.

The presidents also discussed traffic of goods between Lithuania and Belarus, said Skaisgirytė.

Nausėda believes that the two neighbouring countries "must ensure uninterrupted movement of goods" across their shared border "during this rather difficult period", the adviser said.

"It was also an opportunity to thank Belarus' president for cooperation in repatriating Lithuanian citizens and tourists from third countries through Belarus to Lithuania," she said.

Coronavirus rhetoric

The two leaders "exchanged opinions on anti-virus measures in both countries,” according to Skaisgirytė.

In early April, Lithuanian officials said the coronavirus situation in Belarus was a cause for concern. Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis also said the country could be "an uncontrolled hotspot" of the disease.

Belarusian President Lukashenko previously said that he could not see the virus flying anywhere and suggested that "tractors" and work "in the fields" would heal everyone. He also told Nausėda to take care of "your virus".

Read more: Vilnius and Minsk in war of words over coronavirus handling

Weeks later, on April 13, Lukashenko backtracked on his words, saying it was a joke. Meanwhile Lithuania banned passenger cars from Belarus from entering the country as a response to Minsk's management of the health crisis.

Later on Thursday, Nausėda is also scheduled to have a telephone conversation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and to hold a video call with Baltic and Nordic leaders.