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Lithuanian reviewers do not expect major changes in Washington's Eastern Europe policies after US presidential election

Barackas Obama ir Mittas Romney
„Reuters“/„Scanpix“ nuotr. / Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
Šaltinis: BNS
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Lithuanian politicians and political reviewers believe that the presidential elections scheduled to take place in the United States later this week will not revise Washington's attitude towards Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, and Russia, regardless of who is the new head of the White House – incumbent Democratic president Barack Obama or his competitor Mitt Romney of the Republican Party.

Arvydas Anušauskas, chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee, told BNS there were no major differences between the stances taken by Obama and Romney on Eastern Europe and Russia.

"I believe there are some nuanced differences between the candidates in security and defense, but they are not radical," said the head of the committee.

In his words, although US attitudes towards Eastern Europe are often seen in the context of Washington's relations with Moscow, US defense relationship with Lithuania has been stepped up during the “reload” policy of the US relations with Russia implemented over the four years of the Obama rule.

"I must say that cooperation of defense and special forces has intensified, and there has been a stronger increase of activity in the context of NATO visibility in the Baltic region in response to, of course, demonstration of Russia's military activity," Anušauskas told BNS.

"And there are many other things that could be mentioned and which show the US principled position towards the Baltic states, regardless of who may be the next president. The position was declared by (former) president George W. Bush during his visit to Lithuania," said the politician of the ruling conservative group.

"Of course, we could grasp some differences between the candidates, but the global geopolitical environment has been dictating some decisions for the United States, for example, on stepping up capacities in the Pacific region. However, I must say that it is not always directly related to a decrease in capacities in Europe, although some say there is a link. As we know, their defense spending is cut in a way that only the priority fields are left. Europe is one of them," Anušauskas said.

The opinion was seconded by former defense minister Juozas Olekas of the Social Democratic Party, who said that US stance towards Lithuania should remain consistent.

"The United States of America do not change policies towards Lithuania with the change of presidents," Olekas said.

"We have had different presidents during our independence, and we have always enjoyed strong support, regardless of whether it was a Republican or a Democratic candidate. Let's remember the words of (former) president George W. Bush: 'Whoever chooses Lithuania as its enemy, will also make an enemy of the United States of America.' Let's remember – during the rule of Barack Obama, US approved Baltic defense plans. I think we can be happy with and take pride in the consistent US (policy) line regarding Lithuania," the Social Democratic MP said.

A member of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Petras Auštrevičius of the Liberal Movement, said foreign policy was not very important in the US presidential election.

"Traditionally, foreign or national security policies do not play a key role in election campaigns of American presidents. This has always been the case and it is so now, especially considering that the economic crisis of the past decade started in America and never left the continent or global economy," he said.

Auštrevičius emphasized that the main features of Obama's foreign policy included "flexibility and ability to talk," whereas Romney has “stronger” rhetoric, which Auštrevičius doubted could be translated into reality.

"Obama was one of those who said we should talk to Russia as if it were an equal partner without the need to change its position in advance or make connivance. I did not see any ungrounded connivance to the third country, which is our neighbor," said the Liberal.

"Meanwhile, we have to admit that Romney has had 'stronger' rhetoric, but his decisions are less clear to me. Candidate debates were a demonstration of this: he criticizes but often has to agree with decisions of the current administration, he is unable to propose any specific solutions of his own," he added.

In Auštrevičius' words, should Obama win the election, we could expect his administration to take more resolute actions, as "the second tenure is, as we know, the last, and presidents attempt to set their seal."

The MP downplayed the conversation between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedec accidentally recorded last year when the US president said he would be able to be more flexible in missile defense after the election.

"I do not think that the phrase could clearly mean risks for us. There can be different informal phrases, it is important to observe actual decisions and the official attitude," Auštrevičius noted.

His opinion was similar on the statement made by Republican Romney during the election campaign – the candidate said Russia was the main geopolitical enemy of the US.

"I have many questions about his transformation as a candidate. He has been rather consistent and, all of a sudden, became rather conservative and even radical, this is probably due to political choices," said Auštrevičius.

Political reviewer Kęstutis Girnius believes that Obama's merits for Eastern Europe have been underrated, while Romney's strong-worded statements about Russia should not be overestimated.

"I believe Obama's role is somewhat underestimated. The reload policy was beneficial and much needed, if we were to talk about his excessive connivance to Russia, it is not true. Please remember the full integration of the Baltic states to NATO defense plans during Obama's presidency. Obama is not as friendly towards Russia as he is said to be, he is not as indifferent towards Eastern Europe as he is portrayed to be as well," Girnius said.

"Realistically speaking, Romney's accession to power would bring nearly no change to US policies towards Eastern Europe. Romney's speech is very strict and old-fashioned, he is using the terms of the Cold War. But I think that the words are largely due to his lack of know-how of the problems," he said.

In the political reviewer's words, presidential campaigns can feature "brave words and threats, but once they are elected presidents, they are forced to adjust to the reality."

"Whoever may rule America, the main focus of the US will undoubtedly be on Southern Asia where conflict may emerge over the Sea of Southern China and the dangerous arc now stretching from Afghanistan to Libya. However things turn out, every president will place his focus on the region, not Europe, which is stable, or Eastern Europe, which is rather stable and is under no threat from Russia, as Russia may be hard in economy but is unable of doing anything. I do not see any major changes coming," said the reviewer.

Girnius also downplayed Obama's hint to Medvedev to take a more flexible stance on the missile defense system in Europe.

The US presidential elections are scheduled for 6 November.

BNS
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