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Lithuania: Minister Cites Key Role Between EU And Russia

Petras Vaitiekunas (RFE/RL) Lithuania has a history of complicated but close relations with Russia. Now, as a member of the EU and NATO, Vilnius plays an active role in the EU's policy of shaping relations with the former Soviet Union. RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite spoke with Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Petras Vaitiekunas about what that entails.

RFE/RL: How do Lithuania’s attitude and policy toward Russia differ from the policies of older EU members? Does the former Soviet occupation still strongly affect Lithuanian-Russian relations?

Petras Vaitiekunas: Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, and modern Russia is different from what was the Soviet Union. We are very close neighbors and our attitude [toward Russia] without any doubt differs from the attitude, for instance, Portugal has. Russia is much more important for Lithuania than for Portugal. I would say that on the whole the relations between the EU and Russia are very important for Lithuania because Lithuania is the first to suffer and the first to benefit from the state of those relations.

RFE/RL: What specific role does Lithuania play in shaping EU relations with Russia?

Vaitiekunas: I think Lithuania can play and does play a specific role. I do not know how special it is, but this role exists and I see a niche for Lithuania here. Lithuania also has ambitions to play its role in [its] region -- to better understand the region...and to become a center of certain initiatives in the region.

RFE/RL: Lithuania was diplomatically active in the Ukrainian crisis that led to the Orange Revolution. It was also involved in helping Georgia solve its problems last year. How do you evaluate the results of these and other Lithuanian initiatives in the former Soviet Union?

Vaitiekunas: To begin with, Lithuania is not involved in "revolutions" but in spreading European values. This Lithuanian participation in politics outside of Lithuania’s own borders, outside of the borders of the EU, has at least three very important reasons. The first fundamental principle of our foreign policy in the East is paying a moral debt. Some time ago, when we were restoring our independence, we had the support of the Western countries. We were looking for this support, it was precious to us and we needed it, and it was effective. Now, we give support to others. Another principle [of our Eastern policy] is connected with national security. Lithuania will be safer when it is surrounded by states that think the same way and accept the same basic values of European civilization as we do. And finally, the third interest that determines our policy in the East is based upon economics.

RFE/RL: One of the most controversial points in Lithuanian-Russian relations is Lithuania’s demand that Russia provide compensation for the damage done by the Soviet occupation. Do you think that's a realistic demand?

Vaitiekunas: We should agree on the topic of our conversation. To begin with, I should say that Lithuanian demands for compensation for the damage done by the occupation are legitimate and fair. The problem of compensation is important in the work of our ministry, and we devote attention and resources to it. However, as I have already told you, the Soviet Union is not Russia and Russia is not the Soviet Union. Russia, by stating that it is an inheritor of the rights of the Soviet Union, has also inherited some duties. But I think Russia is not guilty of the crimes the Soviet Union committed, of the deportations the Soviet Union used to practice. Russia has suffered no less than the other [former Soviet] republics.

RFE/RL: But if no one is guilty, Lithuania has nothing to demand, and all the talk of compensation is pointless.

Vaitiekunas: I think we should start talking [with Russia] beginning with values, principles, and trying to find a common attitude toward history. Damage has a broader meaning than material things. I'm speaking about damage which cannot be compensated for financially.

RFE/RL: However, it would cost nothing for Russian President Vladimir Putin to come to Lithuania and apologize for the occupation.

Vaitiekunas: For the occupation by the Soviet Union? I have no comment.

RFE/RL: Why do you refuse to comment?

Vaitiekunas: Because I agree with what you say.

RFE/RL: Do you know why Putin has planned no visits to Lithuania, even though he has been invited?

Vaitiekunas: It is not only President Putin. President [Boris] Yeltsin did not come to Vilnius, either. There is no doubt that the Lithuanian invitation for a Russian president to come to Lithuania is open and valid. Lithuania is ready to host a Russian president and we are looking forward to such a visit.

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