True Lithuania

Russia bans Lithuanian dairy products

2013 10 11. Recently-introduced Russia's sanctions on Lithuanian dairy imports continue. Official reason: compromised quality. However, the fact that no other country in the world has restricted Lithuanian dairy imports leads Lithuanians and some Russians to believe the reasons are political. Lithuanian columnists see the "dairy war" as a pressure for Lithuania to adopt more pro-Russian policies as it presides over the European Union.

In spite the new restrictions Lithuania continues to support deepening the European Union ties to Ukraine, traditionally regarded by Moscow as a part of its own sphere of influence.

A change in Lithuanian foreign policy?

The current events (and a seemingly firm Lithuanian stance) may indicate a turn in policies of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, who has been previously a follower of "the pragmatic policy". "The pragmatic policy" long is a code-word for a limited Finlandization towards Russia: remembering the tragedy of Russian-led Soviet occupation, but not actively seeking either remuneration or a trial of Russian war criminals, both of which Russia refuses for 22 years.

When Dalia Grybauskaitė replaced Lithuanian-American Valdas Adamus after the 2009 presidential elections she triggered a major foreign policy shift: the active Lithuanian support for democratization in Eastern Europe was hastily dropped and pro-US policies replaced by a more pro-EU line. One of the first Grybauskaitė's controversial acts was a refusal to meet president Barack Obama of the USA in Central/East European leaders meeting, she also didn't meet Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili during the Eurobasket 2011 championship in Lithuania (M. Saakashvili had been supported by Valdas Adamkus as a beacon of liberal democracy in the Caucasus but heavily disliked by Russia after the 2008 war; to this day there are even streets named after V. Adamkus in Georgia).

In 2013 however D. Grybauskaitė met B. Obama and her rhetorics became increasingly critical of Russia. After the "dairy war" started D. Grybauskaitė refused to negotiate herself delegating members of government instead. "The pragmatic policy" has possibly been seriously revised - likely because it did not give the desired economic or political benefits (Russia giving little in return for support). Another reason may be the upcoming elections (2014) where D. Grybauskaitė will likely stand for re-election; recent doubts about her work for KGB during the Soviet occupation coupled with previous pro-Russian policies may have caused her to distance herself from the Russian regime.

It should be noted that foreign affairs are one of the few domains where the president of otherwise parliamentary Lithuania has considerable powers.

The current "dairy war" is just a single episode of Russian sanctions or limitations on what it calls "The nearby overseas" (i.e. former republics of the Soviet Union). These sanctions have been never been officially described as punitive by Russia but are usually concurrent with other political or economic events where the sanctioned state refuses to act as Russia requests. The sole oil pipe leading to Lithuania remains closed by Russia since 2005 (official reason: repair works) forcing Lithuania to import oil the more expensive way by sea. Recently there have been limitations on the rights of Lithuanian truckers to use Russian roads. On a side-event, a Russian television channel in the Baltic States recently promoted a conspiracy theory that Russia did not attack Lithuanian civilians on January 13, 2013. Such conspiracy theories tend to be taken as a great insult in Lithuania because hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians stood against Soviet armies back then, meaning that nearly every Lithuanian either has memories of the night himself/herself or knows somebody who does.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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