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Edward Lucas: History will judge Andrius Kubilius' government kindly

Edwardas Lucasas
BFL/Edgaro Anisimenko nuotr. / Edward Lucas
Šaltinis: BNS

Edward Lucas, international editor of weekly magazine The Economist, praises the outgoing Lithuanian government for its efforts to combat the crisis and implement ground-breaking energy policies, but criticizes it over failure to provide sufficient defense funding and inability to cooperate closely with the Baltic states.

In an interview to BNS, Lucas said that growth of the economy may give the next government more economic freedom.

He said Lithuania's image would be badly damaged by termination of the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) project, if such step is taken by the new administration. However, he acknowledged that Lithuania's neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Poland were not convinced about the success of the nuclear facility.

Lucas also expressed astonishment over the remarks made by leaders of the opposition Social Democratic and Labor Parties, who said that Russia was not a threat to Lithuania. The Economist editor noted the unfriendly energy policy of the Russian Federation.

- Kubilius' government was the first one to survive the full term in independent Lithuania. Do you think it is a sign of political maturity or simply a result of the crisis, when it was unpopular to be in power?

- I think it's both. It is impressive that they lasted the full term, it is an important precedent and helps dent the stereotype that Lithuania always hosts government that fail after a couple of years. So that's good. It's also the case that this was a particularly difficult time when people didn't want any extra uncertainties. That probably helped.

History will probably judge the Kubilius government rather kindly. It's been pretty unpopular inside Lithuania right now. But I think people will, in ten or twenty years time, think he did a pretty good job.

- Do you think that after the elections there could be an alternative for austerity policy pursued by Kubilius' government?

- I think you could do austerity in different ways. You could do different things in terms of whether you return to capital markets and borrow there more. I think Lithuania has established a lot of credibility now as a good credit risk, it is seen as part of Northern Europe rather than part of Southern Europe. So in a way a success of the Kubilius government may make it easier for the future government to borrow a bit more. That's one possibility.

I think one can also look at a way in which the spending cuts were made. Obviously, they were made in a hurry and rather bluntly. It's possible to set different priorities.

My own feeling is that the most important thing is to get defense spending up which is a very important and has been highlighted by the Americans as a quite serious issue.

- At the election debates, both Kubilius and leader of the Social Democrats Algirdas Butkevičius said the increase for defense next year could be from 0.79 to 0.85 percent of GDP. Do you think that's enough?

- I think it should be bigger. At the moment, Lithuania is relying on the charity of other countries to police it's airspace. It's a very hard argument to make that 'we are so scared of Russia that you have to spend your tax dollars or tax euros on defending our air-space but we are not scared enough to spend any money on defense ourselves'. This position lacks credibility.

It's a real danger that this will mean that the air-policing will move to Estonia. The Estonians made a very good case for it - they spend 2 percent of GDP for defense and Lithuania doesn't.

- You say that if Lithuania is scared of Russia, it should spend more. But the Social Democrats and Viktor Uspaskich of the Labor Party, when asked about threats from Russia, said they see none and called for more good will and cooperation from Lithuania. Do you agree that Russia poses no threat to Lithuania?

- It's a completely bizarre announcement from both parties to say that. We've seen Russia, particularly on the energy front, pulling all sorts of leaders to make mischief and to lobby and to pressurize Lithuania not go for energy independence. It's one of the big successes of the Kubilius government that they finally got this underway. That's how you can possibly analyze Russia's behavior. We've seen other things, as well. But just on the energy front alone, this is not the behavior of a friendly country.

- Do you think the energy projects, first of all Visaginas power plant - that still haven't reached the point of no return - could be stopped, if left-wing opposition gets into government?

- There is a danger because, as you said, they are not at a point of no return. This is a serious problem. I think it will probably be easier with the LNG terminal, because the money involved is smaller, and the European Union is taking a very strong interest in this.

But the financing of the new nuclear plant is difficult, and the Estonians and Latvians are not really convinced to the case, and the Poles certainly aren't. One can say here 'four countries that can't agree on anything so why do they get together and build the most complicated nuclear power plant'.

If a change of government does lead to a change of plan of nuclear power, it will be very bad for Lithuania's already pretty battered credibility on this issue.

- Do you expect changes on Lithuanian policy towards Poland, Russia, and Belarus?

- Relations with Poland have been deplorable. It's been very difficult for Kubilius that he is hostage of the faction of the conservative party which almost defined itself in trying to do things that are in the opposition to Poland's. This is a problem. His own views on the Polish issue are quite reasonable and his relations with (Polish Prime Minister Donald) Tusk are quite good, but this hasn't been enough to solve things on the government-to-government level.

On Belarus, handing over documents which allowed the Belarusian authorities to jail Beliatsky was absolutely scandalous. It's a mistake also made by Poland. This is really a terrible stain on Lithuania's reputation as a country that cares about human rights.

Relations with Russia have been pretty low-key. We've seen, as I said, lots of Russian bullying on the energy front. But I wouldn't fault the Kubilius government on that.

I think they could have done more to get Baltic cooperation going. This is always a difficulty, and Lithuania is not seen completely as a team player by the other two Baltic states.

But overall, Kubilius has done pretty much as well as he could in the circumstances.

- Before the last election four years ago, you said you were surprised that people like Paksas and Uspaskich were still popular in politics. They remain quite popular now as well. What are your thoughts of that?

- It's astonishing in one sense that someone who was impeached for having close ties to Russian organized crime and possibly Russian intelligence is able to be a leader of one political party, and that someone like Uspaskich for all financial problems in his party and seen to be in close ties to Russia can lead another.

But I would bear in mind that in America - and I was just looking at the political history of Washington DC - you had a mayor Marion Barry who was caught on camera snorting cocaine with a prostitute, went to jail, and when he came out he was re-elected. So tolerance to scandal isn't uniquely Lithuanian.

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