2020.09.30 10:00

Macron is 'realistic' with Russia, but may be disappointed – Lithuanian president

BNS2020.09.30 10:00

French President Emmanuel Macron's approach to relations with Russia is “realistic”, but he might be disappointed if the strategic dialogue does not pan out, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has said.

Macron and his Lithuanian counterpart Gitanas Nausėda visited French troops stationed in Rukla on Tuesday afternoon, a culmination of the French president's two-day visit in Lithuania.

“He's a realist and he really looks at Russia with open eyes, but in this whole geopolitical puzzle, France hopes for a better understanding with Russia to have more peace in Europe, more of mutual understanding, and one could support him in that sense,” Nausėda told reporters in Rukla.

He added that he backed such “rules of the game”, but Macron might be disappointed when Russia wouldn't play by them.

“I really support such a goal, since dialogue is always a necessary thing, but on the other hand, we have to be fair and clearly say that, [...] we are facing a lot of disappointment when it turns out that all the effort is just not giving any returns, as this state [Russia] has other goals that are incompatible with our goals,” Nausėda said.

Macron said later that dialogue with Russia was important to prevent a repetition of the atrocities that the Baltic states went through. The French leader also said dialogue with Moscow should be transparent towards Lithuania and the other Baltic states.

No security without US

The Baltic states cannot imagine their security without the involvement of the United States, the Lithuanian president said.

“All Baltic states are very clear that the United States' involvement in our collective defence system is a critical factor,” Nausėda said in Rukla.

Lithuania does not see the aspiration for Europe's strategic autonomy as “some sort of competition with the US's involvement in NATO”, he said.

During a discussion with students of Vilnius University earlier on Tuesday, Macron said Europe should be more sovereign and invest more into technology and defence to reduce its dependence on the United States and China.

“European defence is a phrase one could not utter five or ten years ago. We imagined that we can put our defence into the hands of NATO, but now we have already established a fund for the implementation of joint programmes and we have structural cooperation on defence,” Macron said.

“We cannot always rely on the power that is on the other side of the Atlantic, which is probably focusing more on China and cannot give us so much attention. Therefore, it's very important for us to be able to protect ourselves,” the French leader said.

Meeting with NATO troops

French President Macron visited on Tuesday afternoon the command of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group and French troops serving within it.

After the official welcome ceremony in Rukla, the French leader retreated for a conversation with the troops behind closed doors.

Serving in Rukla, French lieutenant Lora, 36, says it's a great honour to meet Macron.

“It's something we don’t do very often, therefore, it's a great honor to be able to meet with him here where we work so hard,” the French servicewoman told BNS. “I am very glad about that.”

The French servicewoman came to Lithuania in August and will spend less time than the other French troops, only three months. But, the woman said, time in Lithuania is special.

“I love your country and although I cannot do often what I would like to do, but from what I have seen, I can tell that your country is very beautiful, food is great and people are also fantastic,” Lieutenant Lora said.

Major Sergeant Abdul, 33, said he would meet Macron for the first time, despite the fact that, before Lithuania, he was stationed in Germany, Belgium, Greece and Lebanon.

“It will be a great pleasure for us. […] It will be the first time,” the French soldier told journalists.

He will spend the whole rotation time in Lithuania and said he was ready for the Lithuanian winter.

“The weather is great and we are ready for the winter. I work as a system administrator at the command headquarters, I am not involved in training,” he said.

French troops cannot reveal their last names due to security reasons.

Some 300 French troops are stationed within the NATO battlegroup, having arrived in Lithuania for six months in July. They brought five Leclerc tanks and 15 IFVs VBCI.