2013.03.27 11:02

U.S. expert: Grybauskaitė’s attempts to tame Lukashenko is a mistake that I would not repeat 2013.03.27 11:02

According to Bruce Jackson, the President of the Project on Traditional Democracies, a former U.S. military intelligence officer and a diplomat, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė has made the same mistake that many a diplomat have already made in trying to elicit something from Alexander Lukashenko. 

According to Bruce Jackson, the President of the Project on Traditional Democracies, a former U.S. military intelligence officer and a diplomat, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė has made the same mistake that many a diplomat have already made in trying to elicit something from Alexander Lukashenko.

Jackson believes that Lithuania has all the possibilities to prove to be a regional leader during its presidency over the European Union (EU), but this will depend on both internal and external factors.

Was Lithuania too good of an example?

In his interview to DELFI, Jackson stated that Lithuania met, and even exceeded, the U.S. expectations in terms of its euro-integration.

“After joining NATO and the EU, Lithuania is, undoubtedly, one of the most diplomatically active countries. Its role surpasses its size. Many people already think that it is a Western European country,” commended Jackson.

In his opinion, the Baltic countries and Poland might even have been too good of an example, and the outcome of this example is fruitless and excessive pressure of the West on Ukraine and other former countries of the Eastern Bloc.

“The Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and Czechs were at the forefront of forming the new Eastern policy. I think that the biggest mistake towards the former Soviet states was made by the US. We gave the unavoidability of democracy too much prominence. We also got used to such countries as Poland and Lithuania – their integration was successful almost overnight. At the same time, we exercised enormous pressure on such countries as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, so that they would transform as quickly as these Central European states,” continued Jackson.

In his opinion, it might have been the high expectations of the West that thwarted the Ukrainian and Georgian integration processes which the Lithuanian diplomats also tried to foster in various ways.

“This was really not fair on these countries. They neither had the possibilities nor capabilities. <…> They do not have a middle class or a fully functional market economy. In some cases, there are oligarchic economic structures in place. In a certain sense, we rushed the children to finish kindergarten and go straight to Harvard. That did not work out particularly well,” smiled Jackson. “I do not think that this is Lithuania’s or anyone else’s fault.”

All eyes on Ukraine

During the Lithuania’s EU presidency, it is expected to strengthen the relations between the EU and Ukraine. According to Jackson, Vilnius may contribute to this process quite noticeably.

“Currently, Ukraine – due to its interest in free trade and joining NATO without being part of this organisation – has the greatest potential to sign the Association Agreement. For this reason, Ukraine is going to be the most important country at the Eastern Partnership Summit,” stated the diplomat.

To the question on whether Ukraine would not be hindered by a step back that it took in the process of its democratic development, Jackson claimed that he honestly did not think that such a step was taken. In his point of view, there was simply not a step forward.

“The case of Yulia Tymoshenko… the West was not convinced that these trials did not bear any political goals. I doubt that Ukraine took a step backwards in the process of democratic development. However, I am not sure if it took a step forward either,” Jackson said ironically.

He said to believe that even though the West is not satisfied with everything that is taking place in Ukraine, Russia is not particularly happy either. “President Vladimir Putin obviously does not think that they are moving towards the West,” Jackson stated.

According to him, what the EU, in all probability, is expecting from Ukraine is that closer co-operation will not narrow down to the economic changes alone. Purportedly, Europe is anticipating changes in, for instance, the Tymoshenko’s case, but these changes are not emphasised as much as they used to be. Jackson thinks that the de-politicisation of the relations between Ukraine and the EU might actually accelerate the disappearance of political plotting in this country.

“The persecution of the former government is, generally, a bad idea. This is what the Polish Round Table decided – they did not persecute Wojciech Jaruzelski (a former Polish Communist leader – DELFI) or seek revenge. That is why Poland is so successful,” Jackson noted.

Nonetheless, Jackson advised to not label the events in Ukraine as just black and white. Apparently, both the current government and the leaders of the Orange Revolution had serious transparency issues.

“Interestingly, the most recent surveys show that, today, the most unpopular political figure in Ukraine is Viktor Yushchenko. It is obvious: we might have liked the Orange Revolution, but the Ukrainian people did not. It is clear that society is not happy with the system that it lived in. I do not think that we witnessed a revolution of political thought or political behaviour. From our side, I dare say, it was not wise to call them (Yushchenko and Tymoshenko – DELFI) official democrats, when we hardly knew them. It was not wise. We have to assess countries based on European standards, and not on the way they appear on television,” further claimed Jackson.

Linas Linkevičius’ apology in Warsaw: commendable

According to Jackson, the words spoken between Lithuania and Poland over the last few years affected the EU policy in the East. Thus, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius is, in his point of view, criticised gratuitously for his apology in Warsaw.

“I would say that any apology is a good move. We – the rest of the world – cannot understand as to why Lithuania and Poland disagree with each other. I suppose there were many people who told, in private, both the Polish and Lithuanian politicians that this was simply infantile diplomacy. You have rightly observed that the gaps between Lithuania and Poland have significantly weakened the eastern wing of the EU. If the Baltic countries and Poland are not united, it is going to be trouble. It would be something similar if Bulgaria and Romania disagreed with each other – then, it would be rather difficult to achieve anything in the Balkans.”

“One bit of good news about the EU presidency is that both countries have set all of this aside. The relations are being amended. Whatever the problems are, they need to be resolved promptly and quietly. In turn, the politicians who have gotten involved in this out of fun should not repeat it. I compliment Linkevičius on his step towards restoring the interrelations of the two countries. I think he did a great job,” summed up Jackson.

“I believe that the Eastern Partnership and common dangers in the unstable East are again uniting Lithuania and Poland. Your minister and the Polish minister are communicating on a regular basis, and I find this normal.”

In Jackson’s opinion, the three Baltic countries also lack unity, and what can make things difficult here are the overly big ambitions of Lithuania.

“Lithuania demonstrates that it wishes to act as a big brother, whereas the smaller two brothers are not happy about it and so they go play with others. I think that, in terms of the Eastern Partnership, Russia, and energy independence, all the Baltic countries and Poland share the same interests,” added the expert.

Grybauskaitė is seen as repeating others’ mistakes

In assessing the relations between Lithuania and Belarus and Dalia Grybauskaitė’s attempts to get in contact with Lukashenko, Jackson emphasised, in the first instance, that nobody has ever managed to tame the Belarusian leader.

“The Latvians tried, the Swedes tried – to no avail. At the moment, Lukashenko is again in a kind of exile, isolated from Europe. It is very unlikely that he is going to be invited to the Eastern Partnership Summit,” he continued.

“Would I have done the same thing? Of course, not. You cannot tell EU member states to not speak with their neighbours if they see their own interest in it. Yes, I would have said that this would not work out; that there would be disappointment and criticism.

“However, if you are prepared to take such a risk – go ahead. Anybody who tried were either deceived or betrayed by Lukashenko or returned home empty-handed. Therefore, there are increasingly fewer people who are willing to take this moral risk and talk to a person who is, in essence, the European Hugo Chavez. When there are countries that are really willing to make reforms, that really need help – such as Moldova, Georgia, and others – I sincerely do not understand as to why we are wasting our diplomats’ time on a man who is not interested in anything that the EU might offer,” Jackson added.

According to Jackson, the leaders of the countries that are geographical neighbours to Belarus “cannot have a choice or believe to not have it” when the business of the country, national minority, or diplomats are at stake. However, poker with Lukashenko is not the kind of game that one might expect to win.

“We have to admit that, if presidents and prime ministers wish to take initiative, they are entitled to do so – even if they are wrong. Let us hope that increasingly fewer people will attempt that. On the other hand, we have a basketball player who decided to go to North Korea and become an ambassador,” Jackson recalled the adulations to the totalitarian regime by a famous former basketball player, Dennis Rodman.

He also pinpointed that the EU presidency was going to present Grybauskaitė with individual challenges.

“I think that the Eastern Partnership Summit is going to create certain pressure on the President of the hosting country. Her responsibility is to keep the leaders of all the countries happy, which is not the same as ensuring that they all know her point of view. <…> She is the kingpin here. She will have to speak in the voice of the EU and say the things that she would not necessarily like to say as a Lithuanian,” Jackson stated.

Jackson also believes that Lithuania is taking over the steering wheel at a very favourable time, especially due to the development of the Eastern Partnership.

“I think that everybody on the European Council and Warsaw are pleased that Lithuania is taking over the EU presidency. <…> This, in many people’s opinion, gives better possibilities to most Eastern European countries. Moreover, Lithuania has a lot of good euro-integration experience,” Jackson concluded.