How would Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent flee if Rus­sians in­vaded?

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Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė has been fac­ing heavy crit­i­cism at home af­ter fail­ing to ar­rive to the fes­tiv­i­ties of the cen­te­nary of Latvia’s statehood.

«Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė missed the best friend’s birth­day party!». «If I couldn’t have been able to fly, I’d have gone to Riga on bike». «The Pres­i­dent is so con­ceited that she does not care about the cen­te­nar­ies of Latvia and Es­to­nia. The only things she cares is her ca­reer in Brus­sels af­ter she ends her pres­i­dency in June». «If we can re­move a drunk fish­er­man from the ice, how come that we can­not get the Pres­i­dent to Riga, which is at a stone’s throw?» «There must be more than just the glitch of the mil­i­tary plane». «If Rus­sians in­vaded Lithua­nia again like in the 1940s, would the Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent, with the de­ci­sion to flee, cross the Lithua­nian- Pol­ish bor­der rivulet bare­foot, which is what Pres­i­dent An­tanas Sme­t­ona did in 1940, when Rus­sia in­vaded Lithua­nia? The only plane able to carry the Pres­i­dent over the river would likely be out of order». These are just some of the vo­cif­er­ous head­lines and the ob­ser­va­tions that Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė has drawn fol­low­ing her de­ci­sion not to go to Riga af­ter a mil­i­tary plane, Spar­tan, broke down prior to the board­ing. A fault in Spar­tan’s al­ti­tude man­age­ment sys­tem was blamed for wreak­ing havoc in the Pres­i­dent‘s sched­ule – Gry­bauskaitė called off her trip to the Lat­vian capital and con­grat­u­lated Lat­vians on the 100th cen­te­nary of Latvia’s In­de­pen­dence via Skype.

The can­cel­la­tion of the trip has been met bad by both the Lithua­nian me­dia and most politi­cians.

In the pres­i­den­tial de­bate this week between Gi­tanas Nausėda, for­mer SEB Lithua­nia Bank chief ad­vi­sor, who now tops all the pres­i­den­tial polls, and Naglis Puteikis, who with a sur­prise 9.33 per cent of the votes came fifth in the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Puteikis, now a mem­ber of Lithua­nian Par­lia­ment (Seimas), ex­co­ri­ated Gry­bauskaitė, say­ing that she seeks her per­sonal ca­reer in Brus­sels and has long for­got­ten «unim­por­tant neigh­bours» like Latvia and Es­to­nia. «She ob­vi­ously does not care much about their cen­te­nar­ies. I think this is clear ar­ro­gance,» Puteikis lam­basted Gry­bauskaite. Ob­servers were quick to bring up the fact that Gry­bauskaitė also missed Es­to­nia’s cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions in June too, also due to bad weather.

Echo­ing, Nausėda rea­soned that, in the field of for­eign pol­i­tics, there can­not be «unim­por­tant coun­tries» there.

«If one means of trans­porta­tion breaks down, then there are oth­ers, and they ought to be used, even if it means be­ing late for an event…Even in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions any trip can be made if there is will­ing­ness to make it. If I were her, I would have gone (to Riga), even if I had needed to get on my bike for this,» Nausėda said.

«Even if the Pres­i­dent had ar­rived late in Riga, she would have been greeted with ap­plauses and grate­ful­ness as a dear neigh­bour…Es­pe­cially, that re­la­tions between Lithua­nia and Latvia in re­al­ity are far away from the ideal «two sis­ters» type of re­la­tion,» a com­men­tary in the daily «Li­etu­vos Ry­tas» read.

Even more up­set about the Pres­i­dent’s fail­ure to show up in Riga was Lai­monas Tap­inas, a prom­i­nent Lithua­nian jour­nal­ist and founder of Laisvės TV (Free­dom TV).

«If we can lift a drunk fish­er­man off the ice, so it should be a synch to fly our pres­i­dent to Riga,» he said on his show this week. He re­called that Gry­bauskaite missed the Es­to­nian cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions too, also due to a break­down of the Spar­tan plane.

Tap­inas also re­minded all that, be­ing un­able due to bad weather con­di­tions to fly to War­saw to at­tend the fu­neral of Lech Kaczyn­sky, who died in a plane crash in Rus­sia, Gry­bauskaite, ac­cord­ing to him, «dashed» to the Pol­ish capital in a record time. «Latvia is our clos­est friend and neigh­bour, one which cel­e­brates some­thing very big. Our Pres­i­dent had to do all she could to show up in the cel­e­bra­tions in Riga,» Tap­inas said.

Mean­while Au­dro­nius Ažubalis, for­mer Lithua­nian For­eign min­is­ter and, now, a par­lia­men­tar­ian, said he was «sur­prised» that Gry­bauskaite failed to at­tend the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions both in Riga and Tallinn. «Such things do form cer­tain opin­ions and standings on a range of is­sues, which are very im­por­tant in work­ing out mu­tu­ally nec­es­sary deals and ar­range­ments,» the politi­cian said.

Both Lat­vian Pres­i­dent Rai­monds Ve­jo­nis and Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Ker­sti Kalju­laid par­tic­i­pated in the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions in Vilnius.

Fol­low­ing the Spar­tan plane break­down, Ner­i­jus Alek­siejū­nas, the Pres­i­dent’s for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sor, told Lithua­nian me­dia that the del­e­ga­tion had waited for two hours at the air­port for the air­craft to be fixed, leav­ing too lit­tle time for go­ing to Riga by car. «When we were in­formed that the Spar­tan would not fly, there was too lit­tle time left for us to reach (Riga) by car in time for the main events to con­grat­u­late Latvia and the Lat­vian peo­ple, that is, the flower-lay­ing cer­e­mony and the mil­i­tary pa­rade. We had no chance to drive there in time,» he said. The scan­dalous de­ci­sion not to go to Riga re­minded the Pres­i­dent’s trait that many would like not to talk about – her stub­born­ness, the daily «Li­etu­vos Ry­tas» wrote in its com­men­tary, re­mind­ing the his­tory of fu­tile at­tempts by Lithua­nian Govern­ment to ob­tain a plane serv­ing the coun­try’s lead­ers. «The glitch-prone pres­i­den­tial plane is the best ex­am­ple how bad Lithua­nia needs the NATO al­liance’s as­sis­tance,» the «Li­etu­vos ry­tas» com­men­ta­tor ac­cen­tu­ated, re­mind­ing that, af­ter re­pairs last Sun­day, the Spar­tan next day broke down in Brus­sels, where it had taken PM Skver­nelis to meet NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g. «Such a sit­u­a­tion is shame to the state it­self. How did Lithua­nia al­low it­self to fall so low? In fact, Pres­i­dent Gry­bauskaite has con­trib­uted her­self to the quandary hav­ing de­railed the left­ist Govern­ment’s ini­ti­ated procur­ing of a state air­craft to carry top of­fi­cials,» «Li­etu­vos ry­tas» con­cluded in its com­men­tary.

The daily also re­minded that the Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent has trav­elled with a low-cost air­car­rier in the past (to be pre­cise, to at­tend the fu­ner­als of the late UK Pre­mier Mar­garet Thatcher) and then she em­pha­sised ne­ces­sity to save.

«How­ever, how come that now our fru­gal pres­i­dent de­cided to fly such a short haul in­stead of us­ing her pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade? It is ob­vi­ous that it would have cost many times less than the flight,» «Li­etu­vos ry­tas» com­men­ta­tor asked rhetor­i­cally be­fore ad­ding: «Her ex­pla­na­tions that, in this case, she would have been late for the of­fi­cial events are not worth any­thing…Even her tardy ap­pear­ance at the Riga events would have been greeted with grate­ful­ness.» The Lithua­nian army has three Spar­tan trans­porters, with one of them still un­der re­pay fol­low­ing a fail­ure last year. Both Gry­bauskaite and Skver­nelis have said this week that Lithua­nia must find al­ter­na­tive air trans­porta­tion for its lead­ers fol­low­ing two in­ci­dents with its mil­i­tary planes in two days.


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