Vik­toras Pranck­etis: “Our goal and the goal of Ukraine is for it not to stop on the path of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion”

“Our goal and the goal of Ukraine is for it not to stop on the path of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Yuriy La­payev

Speaker of Lithua­nia's Seimas on Mar­shall Plan for Ukraine, gas mo­nop­oly in Europe and ef­forts to stop em­i­gra­tion of Lithua­ni­ans

The Ukrainian Week talked to the Speaker of Lithua­nia’s Seimas about so­lu­tions to the gas mo­nop­oly prob­lem in Europe, cam­paign against em­i­gra­tion of Lithua­ni­ans, and a Mar­shall Plan for Ukraine.

How the pub­lic sen­ti­ments in Lithua­nia changed af­ter NATO troops were sta­tioned there? Is there a sense of be­ing pro­tected now, es­pe­cially among the pub­lic opin­ion lead­ers?

Be­fore th­ese NATO units were sta­tioned in all Baltic States, we said al­ways and ev­ery­where that Za­pad 2017 ex­er­cise was near­ing and we didn’t know whether our coun­tries were the tar­get of that ex­er­cise. Would it only take place in Be­larus or would it reach our land too? Peo­ple ac­cepted this with con­cern and won­dered whether they could feel se­cure. When NATO units were sta­tioned in our coun­tries we in­formed the pop­u­la­tion that it was the guar­an­tee of our se­cu­rity, that we are

part of NATO. When the US Congress passed the res­o­lu­tion on the readi­ness to ap­ply Ar­ti­cle 5 on June 27, 2017, and Pres­i­dent Trump signed it, we re­called 2004 when we were join­ing NATO. Back then Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush came to Vil­nius. He said that who­ever at­tacked Lithua­nia would be the en­emy of the United States. Now, the US has reaf­firmed th­ese com­mit­ments but at the level of the Se­nate, made it into a law. We are a re­li­able NATO part­ner, we spend more than 2% of GDP on de­fense. NATO in turn com­plies with what it de­clares. We are very happy to have th­ese units here.

Of course, we were con­cerned about how our peo­ple would ac­cept them. We did a sim­ple poll. Do you know how peo­ple re­sponded? 81% said it was good. It was a sur­prise for us and good news for our part­ners. Now we have Ger­man and Dutch troops sta­tioned here. Lithua­nia is be­tween Be­larus and Kalin­ingrad. The dis­tance is a mere 80 kilo­me­ters in the area of Suwalki. If you think about Rus­sia’s re­uni­fi­ca­tion plans, it raises con­cerns nat­u­rally. But ac­cord­ing to the lat­est news, Rus­sia has in­vited our ob­servers to its ex­er­cise. I think this ex­er­cise is not an ir­ri­tant for us be­cause we have NATO guar­an­tees.

Still, we con­tinue to see this as a threat. One ex­er­cise sce­nario has Lithua­nia at­tack­ing Rus­sia. Which sounds weird, we are not an ag­gres­sive coun­try. The units sta­tioned in Lithua­nia are not big, they have a sym­bolic role, their pur­pose is to de­ter, not to at­tack. More­over, we con­stantly point to the fact that this is not just Lithua­nia’s fron­tier but the fron­tier of NATO and EU. There­fore, our se­cu­rity is not just our con­cern, but that of the en­tire Al­liance.

Lithua­nia started to pur­chase liqui­fied nat­u­ral gas from the US and is pro­mot­ing the cre­ation of Baltic in­fra­struc­ture for it. At the same time, other EU mem­bers are de­vel­op­ing projects to­gether with Gazprom. How does Lithua­nia see its en­ergy se­cu­rity in that con­text? What do you to plan to do to im­prove it?

We have viewed North Stream 2, and still do, as a po­lit­i­cal project. Some EU mem­ber-states see it as an eco­nomic one. But we know that it would hurt some EU coun­tries and Ukraine. There­fore, we agree with the US in that it has im­posed a pack­age of sanc­tions to halt it. Our ex­pe­ri­ence shows that af­ter the open­ing of In­de­pen­dence, the float­ing stor­age and re­gasi­fi­ca­tion unit in 2015, the price of gas went 30% down. I think ev­ery­one would find this news good to hear. The price has not only changed in Lithua­nia, but in other Baltic States as well. We used to pay the high­est price in the EU, one third more than Ger­many did. Now, our ex­pe­ri­ence shows that di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of gas sup­plies is a must.

We re­ceived the first Amer­i­can gas last week (on Au­gust 21 – Ed.). And the pur­chase of gas is no longer a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion, it turns into a sim­ple mar­ket process: we buy where it’s cheaper. The mar­ket has be­gun to work, there is no Gazprom mo­nop­oly. I may be mis­taken, but if North Stream 2 is built, a third of gas for all Europe will go through those two pipes. That ties the en­tire re­gion to Rus­sia’s de­liv­er­ies.

There is an­other im­por­tant is­sue: Rus­sia will be re­ceiv­ing rev­enues from the EU which it can later use in its war with Ukraine. We are try­ing to say this loud, so that there is no doubt about the sup­port of Ukraine. We be­lieve that th­ese are the right and bold steps, they are nec­es­sary now to sup­port democ­racy.

Do you no­tice any in­stru­ments of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence that Rus­sia is us­ing in your coun­try? If so, how does Lithua­nia re­spond to those?

Lithua­nia faces cy­ber­at­tacks. We are try­ing to re­act and take mea­sures im­me­di­ately. A re­spec­tive ex­cel­lence cen­ter has been es­tab­lished for cy­ber se­cu­rity. In this do­main, there are things on which Ukraine can work with us. As to pro­pa­ganda, we have it. We call it soft power that tries to in­flu­ence our peo­ple. And we see the coun­ter­re­ac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion to pro­pa­ganda: we are vac­ci­nated against it. Lithua­nia had been oc­cu­pied by the Soviet Union. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­no­cent peo­ple had been sent to GULAGs, died in re­sis­tance to the oc­cu­piers. So we know what it is.

And, of course, we work in this di­rec­tion, we pro­vide peo­ple with ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion. It must be help­ing us leave this sit­u­a­tion as win­ners. We have re­cently com­pleted the con­struc­tion of a new re­peater sys­tem in Vil­nius, we have launched the broad­cast­ing of Ra­dio Free Europe pro­grams in Rus­sian and Be­laru­sian. This was done specif­i­cally for the part of the pop­u­la­tion that speaks Slavic lan­guages. Ear­lier, they lacked pro­grams in the lan­guages they are used to.

More­over, we are plan­ning to ne­go­ti­ate with Poland to have Pol­ish pro­grams broad­casted in our ter­ri­tory. We are con­fi­dent that we should be look­ing for new ways all the time in this in­for­ma­tion war. Be­cause the other side is not stop­ping its in­flu­ence and wants to change the minds of our peo­ple.

At the same time, I think there is no in­flu­ence on our politi­cians.

In your opin­ion, how much the dif­fer­ence be­tween what the Krem­lin says and what is go­ing on in Ukraine in re­al­ity is un­der­stood in the West?

There are no prob­lems with the coun­tries that share a bor­der with Rus­sia or Be­larus. They un­der­stand things clearly as they are. The coun­tries that are farther start talk­ing about no need for sanc­tions. How­ever, based on Lithua­nia’s ex­pe­ri­ence we can say that we no longer suf­fer be­cause of Rus­sia’s retaliatory mea­sures. We man­aged to diver­sify our econ­omy and it has even grown stronger. We man­aged to off­set the losses by find­ing new mar­kets in the West and in the East. We

BASED ON LITHUA­NIA'S EX­PE­RI­ENCE WE CAN SAY THAT WE NO LONGER SUF­FER BE­CAUSE OF RUS­SIA'S RETALIATORY MEA­SURES. WE MAN­AGED TO DIVER­SIFY OUR ECON­OMY AND IT HAS EVEN GROWN STRONGER. WE MAN­AGED TO OFF­SET THE LOSSES BY FIND­ING NEW MAR­KETS IN THE WEST AND IN THE EAST

are try­ing to not trade with Rus­sia alone. We be­lieve that sanc­tions should be kept. We al­ways say that we don’t rec­og­nize the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. The in­tegrity of Ukraine should be within the bor­ders of 1991. His­tory hints at that: the US did not rec­og­nize the an­nex­a­tion of the Baltic States, in­clud­ing Lithua­nia, and we are grate­ful for that. I think that democ­racy should win in Ukraine’s case as well.

I once met with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Cyprus. I asked him what he thought about the prospect of re­uni­fi­ca­tion. He said it was im­pos­si­ble. Then I told him: could any­one be­lieve that our coun­try would be in­de­pen­dent in 1985? It’s only the will of God and peo­ple. Ukraini­ans should be­lieve. Just like our fa­thers and grand­fa­thers be­lieved as they stayed in the prison camps.

My un­cle showed me a Lithua­nian flag and a text­book of Lithua­nia’s his­tory writ­ten be­fore the oc­cu­pa­tion in 1977, I think. He showed me the an­them. He was say­ing then that Lithua­nia would be free. I thought it was im­pos­si­ble. But he be­lieved, he re­mem­bered the in­de­pen­dent Lithua­nia.

I re­cently spoke at a summit. The fo­cus of my con­tri­bu­tion was Ukraine. I made a cor­rec­tion there that, of course, it wasn’t the con­flict in Ukraine, but the Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. The phras­ing is wrong. We are try­ing to change that be­lief in the West about the con­flict be­ing an in­ter­nal one for Ukraine. And they hear us. We know Ukraine well, we have com­mon his­tory.

Your party’s suc­cess in the lat­est elec­tion came partly from the plat­form it of­fered, in­clud­ing the prom­ise to work to re­duce em­i­gra­tion from Lithua­nia. How soon do you ex­pect to see pos­i­tive re­sults in this? What is Lithua­nia do­ing to ac­com­plish this goal?

Em­i­gra­tion is a very sen­si­tive is­sue for us. Over the past 27 years, nearly one mil­lion peo­ple have left the coun­try. This is a lot for Lithua­nia. Ev­ery year, a town of county cap­i­tal size leaves. How­ever, Lithua­nia al­ways had em­i­gra­tion, ex­cept for the pe­riod of the Iron Cur­tain. Given the num­ber of our pop­u­la­tion, ev­ery em­i­grant mat­ters to us.

I think we have been fol­low­ing a wrong path in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. We have man­aged to ed­u­cate and train many smart peo­ple at our uni­ver­si­ties but they have not man­aged to find a job here. Ev­ery­one wants to have a de­cent life and to get a job based on his or her de­gree. There­fore, peo­ple are look­ing for bet­ter con­di­tions abroad.

The gap be­tween the economies of dif­fer­ent coun­tries al­lows peo­ple to get higher salaries. Many have left to make some money and re­turn. To­day, we are see­ing a grow­ing de­mand for real es­tate. This means that peo­ple are com­ing back. How­ever, there is a prob­lem with fam­i­lies: once they leave and their chil­dren grow used to a new coun­try, it be­comes more dif­fi­cult for them to re­turn.

What mea­sures are we tak­ing? We are changing our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem so that peo­ple could get more train- ing to work in the trades – we have a deficit of such spe­cial­ists now. In ad­di­tion to that, we are rais­ing min­i­mum wages. Our plan for the next two years is to bring av­er­age wages up to EUR 1,000. This is the level that will al­low peo­ple to live de­cently and make them think twice on whether it’s worth leav­ing the coun­try.

Our party plans to pass a new La­bor Code that will lib­er­al­ize the mar­ket, pro­tect the rights of em­ploy­ees to im­prove the tri­lat­eral di­a­logue of the work­ers, trade unions and em­ploy­ers. Of course, we are a free coun­try and will not keep any­one by force here. Free­dom of move­ment is one of the key prin­ci­ples of the EU. How­ever, we hope to cre­ate the con­di­tions and a de­cent life for peo­ple to want to come back.

The “law of three em­ploy­ees” whereby for­eign in­vestors are re­quired to em­ploy at least three cit­i­zens of Lithua­nia to be able to work in the coun­try: how is this af­fect­ing busi­ness? Is there a dis­cus­sion on amend­ing this law? Or is it hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion?

I don’t think this law is a prob­lem. It was passed to fight against shell com­pa­nies and pre­vents money laun­der­ing. It’s purely le­gal reg­u­la­tion. More­over, the re­quire­ments are not that tough: it’s only three peo­ple.

We are try­ing to help in­vestors, this is con­firmed by our rat­ing in Do­ing Busi­ness: Lithua­nia is 21st in the world in 2017. Our high qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion and manda­tory knowl­edge of for­eign lan­guages (many peo­ple speak three) helps.

There has been talk of a Mar­shall Plan for Ukraine: what dy­nam­ics do you ex­pect of it in the near to mid-term prospect? Do you think it might get the sup­port in the rest of the Euro­pean Union that East­ern Part­ner­ship had back in the day?

The of­fi­cial ti­tle is Lithua­nia’s Plan for Ukraine in 20172020, it was pre­pared by the Lithua­nian Seimas. The goal of the plan is to de­velop and sup­port small and medium busi­ness. This takes around EUR 5bn per year. If ev­ery­thing goes as we have it in mind, the pro­gram will for both for Ukraine, and the Euro­pean Union. When we speak about Brexit, it is the shrink­ing of the EU. Ukraine is a pos­si­ble ex­ten­sion of the EU. Ukraine is an im­por­tant player in Europe.

Our goal and the goal of Ukraine is for it not to stop on the path of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion. We have been pre­sent­ing this plan wher­ever I have been: at the cel­e­bra­tion of the 60th an­niver­sary of the Treaty of Rome, at the summit of EU mem­ber-states’ par­lia­ment speak­ers. We have been say­ing that this Lithua­nian plan should be­come a plan of the en­tire Europe for Ukraine. Now, this idea has reached the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, it has reached all lev­els.

Euro­pean politi­cians have be­gun to rec­og­nize and un­der­stand that to­day’s in­vest­ment into Ukraine is the in­vest­ment into the fu­ture of the Euro­pean Union. By help­ing Ukraine we are help­ing our­selves.

The more of this knowl­edge we pass on to other coun­tries, the bet­ter the vote on this will be. All de­ci­sions are tak­ing through con­sen­sus in the EU. A res­o­lu­tion is be­ing pre­pared on the Mar­shall Plan for Ukraine at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. We are do­ing our lob­by­ing. But you need to demon­strate your suc­cess in im­ple­ment­ing re­forms. You have a lot of ac­com­plish­ments. Show them.

EURO­PEAN POLITI­CIANS HAVE BE­GUN TO REC­OG­NIZE

AND UN­DER­STAND THAT TO­DAY'S IN­VEST­MENT INTO UKRAINE IS THE IN­VEST­MENT INTO THE FU­TURE OF THE EURO­PEAN UNION. BY HELP­ING UKRAINE WE ARE HELP­ING OUR­SELVES

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