Lithuania’s Presidential Election Is Boring — And That’s Fine
Former finance minister Ingrida Šimonytė and economist Gitanas Nausėda have advanced to the second round of Lithuania’s presidential election. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis placed third and has announced he will step down in July.
The remaining candidates are both center-right, so the outcome of the runoff on May 26 should not affect Lithuania’s politics in a major way. Even so, the result is largely a happy one. Read more
Czechs, Poles Huff and Puff as British Propose Benefits Reform
Central European governments responded angrily on Wednesday to British prime minister David Cameron’s proposal to restrict their nationals’ access to welfare benefits in the West.
“If Cameron wants to divide people according to their nationality then that is against the free movement of labor and the treaty,” Witold Waszczykowski, the new Polish foreign minister, told The Daily Telegraph.
His Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevičius, similarly cautioned against “discrimination or restrictions.” In Prague, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said, “Any interference in free movement poses a serious problem for the Czech Republic.” Read more
Lawmakers from both of Germany’s ruling parties have criticized a Defense Ministry decision not to supply NATO ally Lithuania with armored fighting vehicles.
“We have a great interest in increasing the capability of our NATO partners in the Baltic,” the Social Democrats’ Rainer Arnold told Die Welt newspaper.
Florian Hahn, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party, told the same newspaper the Baltic states’ security concerns were fully justified in view of the situation in Ukraine. Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from the former Soviet republic last year and has since supported a separatist uprising in the southeastern Donbas region there.
“In this position, we are required to support our NATO and EU partners as much as possible,” said Hahn. “That is also the case for procurement plans like this one for the Boxer transport tank.”
Lithuania had asked to buy several dozen Boxer armored fighting vehicles which are operated by the armed forces of Germany and the Netherlands.
According to Die Welt, the German government turned down the request because it didn’t believe it could afford to do away with any Boxers in light of its own plans.
Last month, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen announced a modernization of the army after the parliamentary ombudsman for Bundeswehr personnel, Hellmut Königshaus, had warned that the forces were stretched to their limits.
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic like Ukraine, has been among Russia’s staunchest critics since it launched its stealth invasion of Ukraine. Last year, it agreed to form a joint military brigade with neighboring Poland and to share intelligence and widen cross-border air force training with Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Russian warplanes have regularly menaced Baltic airspace, prompting NATO to deploy F-16 fighter jets to the region for patrols.
Lithuania, Poland to Revive Military Brigade with Ukraine
In response to Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea, Lithuania and Poland agreed on Thursday to revive a joint military brigade with the country and deepen defense cooperation.
The three former Soviet satellite states agreed as early as 2007 to erect a multinational unit but efforts stalled in recent years. Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, which headquarters its Black Sea Fleet and has a majority ethnic Russian population, prompted the countries into action.
Lithuanian and Polish defense ministers Juozas Olekas and Tomasz Siemoniak met in Białystok in northeastern Poland on Thursday to discuss security in the region and the situation in Ukraine. According to a statement, “The ministers agreed to proceed with the bilateral cooperation between Lithuania and Poland, continue the existing projects and acquisitions and start new ones, especially in the field of air defense.”
Olekas also said he and Siemoniak agreed to continue development of the joint military brigade with Ukraine but cautioned that it was too early to discuss deployment.
The brigade, which is supposed to consist of up to 4,500 soldiers, would be available for military missions to the European Union and NATO.
Lithuania and Poland joined both the European Union and NATO after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Ukraine is not a member of either bloc but signed part of an association agreement with the European Union on Friday — the very treaty that former president Viktor Yanukovich rejected, stirring months of protests against his government that culminated in his ouster and Russia’s intervention.
The country has also conducted joint exercises with NATO member states and contributed to Western anti-piracy and counterterrorism operations.
Poland has taken an active role in the Ukrainian crisis, first negotiating a fleeting compromise between Yanukovich and the opposition and then calling for NATO consultations when Russia invaded the country.
Russia has denied sending troops into the Crimea but said it had a right to intervene in Ukraine in order to protect Russian speakers there as well as its naval base at Sevastopol. Lithuania has a 5.8 percent ethnic Russian population. Many live in the port city of Klaipeda which is close to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland that headquarters Russia’s Baltic Fleet.