As Lithuania prepares to hold the European Union Council Presidency the second half of 2013, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has expressed his hope that it will signal a change for EU-Belarus relations. Lukashenko spoke on the matter on Tuesday while ushering in new Lithuanian Ambassador to Belarus Evaldas Ignatavicius. The Belarusian President elaborated, saying that the two neighbours share a common history, traditions, culture and values and that there is “nothing to divide”.
Lukashenko explained the mutual concerns of both countries, saying:
“The two countries have many common interests in the areas of security, trade and industrial cooperation. We should use and increase the existing transport and logistics potential. We’re ready to make our relations a model of genuine good neighborliness.”
The Belarusian leader also emphasised the opportunity that the EU Presidency offers:
“If Lithuania wants to cooperate with us—and it does—and if Lithuania gets rid of some outside pressures, we’ll build relations that our nations want, and not only [our] nations but also our and your political elite. Rest assured that we’re ready for this.”
On the topic of outside pressures, perhaps referring to Belarus’ strained relationship with the European Union, from which it is currently under sanction, Lukashenko was also careful to defend his reputation, countering critics who call Belarus ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’:
“Don’t believe that we’re a rogue state, as some write, that this country doesn’t deserve attention, that it’s an undemocratic country, and that it’s actually a dictatorship. I think that as ambassadors, you’ll see the situation in Belarus for yourself very well.”
Lithuani and Belarus have a relationship of mutual-reliance, particularly when it comes to economics. 2012 was deemed the most successful year for Lithuanian and Belarusian cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries two decades ago. Trade between the two nations hit a new high in 2012, exceeding the previous record of USD 1.5 billion. In spite of EU sanctions against Belarus, many argue that Lithuania has no choice but to conduct business with its neighbour. As economic relations between the two are so deeply entrenched that undoing it would be impossible and even catastrophic–further alienating Belarus, and far from improving human rights, perhaps making the current internal situation in the country even worse.
Lithuania’s other neighbour, Poland, is also pinning hopes on the Lithuanian Council Presidency, as Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak expressed the wish that Lithuania will use the chance to enhancing the common security and defence policy. Siemoniak explained:
“We truly hope that the Lithuanian presidency will bring back the dynamics of tasks in connection with the common defence, which Poland gave during its presidency in the end of 2011. I told [Lithuanian Defence] Minister Juozas Olekas – we either work hard and step up work on common security and defence policy in December or nothing changes and we stand still.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevicius, also met with Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, Adviser on European Affairs to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on April 11, to discuss the upcoming Presidency. The importance of the Eastern Partnership was discussed, as Lithuanian capital Vilnius is tipped to host the Partnership Summit in November of this year. The Summit has continuously grabbed headlines as it signals the crossroads for Ukraine in signing a crucial trade agreement with the EU.
“The successful Eastern Partnership programme embodies the idea of an open Europe; therefore, Lithuania will pay great attention to the implementation of this ambitious programme. The Presidency’s most important event – the Eastern Partnership Summit – will be held on November 28 and 29 in Vilnius.” Linkevičius said during his state visit to Germany.