LRT English Newsletter – March 10, 2023.
This week’s newsletter has two important topics – the municipal elections, which were marked by the highest turnout in two decades, and the yearly threats to security published by the Lithuanian intelligence services. First off, elections.
(If you are still a little lost, feel free to read more about the municipal and mayoral elections in our previous newsletter here.)
There were a few surprises. Firstly, Valdas Benkunskas, dubbed a nobody by many observers, gathered the most votes in Vilnius, followed by Artūras Zuokas. Their run-off vote will take place on March 18. Secondly, Laisvės Partija (Freedom Party) from the ruling coalition failed to secure a single mayoral seat. Granted, they only had eight candidates (in comparison, the biggest parties had north of 50 contenders throughout the country), but even its frontrunner, Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius in Vilnius, received just 9 percent of the votes.
But there were no surprises in Lithuania’s second-largest city, Kaunas, as the incumbent and controversial mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis secured a first-round victory.
For the first time, mayors will now have more powers, while their time in office will also be limited to three consecutive terms. Just as a reminder, some towns in Lithuania have seen the same person in power since independence.
You can find the full election summary here.
Our second top story is the annual report released by the Lithuanian intelligence services. This year’s report is particularly interesting. Here are some of the key takeaways:
– The Kremlin is trying to prepare the Kaliningrad region for “complete isolation and [to] ensure that its energy system is capable of functioning independently”.
– Before starting its aggression against Ukraine, Russia began preparations to secure Kaliningrad’s provision with necessary supplies.
– Russia is ready to continue the war in Ukraine for another two years.
– The majority of the Russian population has been passively supporting the war, but last year’s mobilisation has revealed that “this support is not as strong as the regime’s propaganda has been trying to portray”.
– Russia is increasing the number of troops in its Western districts, bordering Baltics, by 30 to 50 percent.
– ”There’s a high probability there are actively recruited KGB agents” among Belarusian opposition members in Lithuania.
– Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania keep receiving invitations to return to Belarus through Telegram social network accounts.
– There might be attempts by extremist individuals to enter Lithuania via Belarus. Such cases have previously been identified.
– Russia’s nuclear energy giant Rosatom has covered up incidents at its plant in Belarus, located some 50 kilometres from Vilnius.
You can find the full report (in Lithuanian) here.
– The German brigade topic had some fresh news this week. Its deployment to Lithuania will likely depend on NATO’s decision, according to Berlin. Meanwhile, Vilnius says assurances from Germany are enough.
– The Lithuanian government wants the parliament to pass a separate law restricting travel of Russian and Belarusian citizens.
– Lithuania is seeking to clamp down on sanctions busting by ramping up fines, banning cargo from Belarus and Russia.
– A pro-Kremlin group, which has recently been banned in Lithuania, has registered with the Belarusian Justice Ministry.
– Estonia also had an election.
– Channelling skyrocketing bank profits into additional defence funds? Why not, says one Lithuanian ministry.
– Lithuania’s government is proposing to ban fur farming from 2027, following a long campaign by animal rights groups.
– After the European Commission withheld some of the funds under the Economic Recovery Plan, Lithuania’s government is presenting a package of tax reform proposals. However, even some ruling parties are sceptical about passing them.
– The Muslim community in Lithuania is growing, but the Vilnius municipality still ignores it and refuses to build a mosque, says Mufti Aleksandras Beganskas.
– A new book by two investigative reporters has stirred Lithuania’s political waters with revelations about the inner workings of the country’s main intelligence agency and the current president’s election campaign.
– And here’s a dispatch about Lithuania’s preparing Ukrainian conscripts for combat. “We all know how high the losses are there, but that's why we are here, to end these losses, to end this war,” says one of them.
– And Lithuania is mulling, again, allowing dual nationalities. This time, however, the deal wouldn’t apply if you are trying to get a Russian or Belarusian passport.
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Written by Benas Gerdžiūnas
Edited by Ieva Žvinakytė