Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says Russia represents the biggest obstacle to the peace process in Ukraine, as it misleadingly represents itself as a “neutral party” in the conflict.
“Perhaps the greatest obstacle in this [Ukrainian peace] process is that Russia is positioning itself as a neutral party while it is an active participant of the conflict, although officially they are not being treated as such,” Linkevicius said on November 5 in an interview in Prague with Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
Linkevicius said Moscow tells separatists in Ukraine that "you need to reach agreement, and we will help, while exactly the opposite is happening on the ground.”
Ukrainian armed forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
Moscow has repeatedly denied that it has provided weapons, training, and personnel to support the separatists. However, independent observers, journalists, and official monitors, have gathered a substantial body of evidence to the contrary.
NATO and European Union member Lithuania, which has an ethnic Ukrainian population of some 44,000 people, has expressed strong support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia and has sent military equipment to back Kyiv’s efforts in the war.
Four-party talks -- with Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, and known as the Normandy format -- have sought to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"These Normandy [format] talks and a search for a compromise are on everyone's lips. I understand that it is very difficult to do all that, but I felt current [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr Zelenskiy's] sincere intention to resolve this issue. It is hard to say, though, how successful he will be,” Linkevicius said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko on November 1 said the timing of a four-way summit aimed at resolving the conflict depends upon Russia.
Prystayko's statement came after he voiced hope on October 29 that Zelenskiy would meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, soon for peace talks under the Normandy format.
Putin on October 30 said he was ready to have a meeting with the leaders of Ukraine, France, and Germany. But he added that such a meeting "needs to be well prepared and produce specific results that will help the settlement."
Lithuania remains a close ally of Washington and is temporarily hosting some 500 U.S. soldiers in the Baltic nation to help bolster NATO's eastern flank near Russia's borders.
Russia has accused NATO of destabilizing Europe by moving troops closer to its borders.
Looking to his country’s border, Linkevicius said Lithuania is “ready to cooperate” to make visa fees cheaper so that people from Belarus can travel to the EU as Brussels looks to draw Minsk closer to the West to reduce Moscow’s influence.
European Union ambassadors have approved a visa-facilitation plan with Belarus, a first step that could eventually lead to smoother travel to the bloc for citizens of the former Soviet republic.
"The three Eastern Partnership countries -- Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia -- do have a visa-free regime [with the EU], because they have implemented relevant reforms and have earned [this right],” he said.
“Belarus, unfortunately, has not moved an inch” on reforms, meaning EU visas remain at a higher level.
“Our interest is to have [Belarusians] see the world and [Lithuania] is, obviously, a window or a door for them to enter, because [Minsk] is only about 200 kilometers away from Vilnius,” Linkevicius said.