Andrius Kubilius, a Lithuanian MEP of the Group of the European People’s Party, chair of Euronest and a member of the EP’s key Committee on Foreign Affairs, has always underscored the danger for all of Europe of an authoritarian Russia. Some would downplay the caveats as exaggeration, some would heed the warnings without taking any action. But, now, the former Lithuanian Prime Minister feels having been far-seeing. “It is in the core interests of the EU to accept Ukraine, Moldova and Sakartvelo (Georgia), and then a democratic Belarus, in the bloc – their success would push Russia to transforming itself also,” the MEP told The Baltic Times Magazine.
Ukraine has been seeing un unprecedented wave of support. Yet what do you believe has been omitted, especially by the European Union, to prevent war in Ukraine?
Indeed, I have been telling my colleagues for years now that Russia has been dangerous as such and will remain a menace to all for the foreseeable future, unless it is helped to transform to democracy. Unfortunately, far from all heeded the warnings and that led to the war.
Since the beginning of the war most EU decisions regarding Ukraine were ad hoc, i.e. addressing the concrete situation. In terms of assistance to Ukraine, it is the United States, not the European Union that takes the leader’s position.
Although eight Russian sanction packages are in place, the next step for the European Union, I believe, should be systemic decisions, especially considering that war can take place longer than most expect. This means that the European nations need to plan their Ukraine-aimed ammunition production and logistics, long term financing, etc. If they do this, they will not need to search for them frenetically in their stockpiles when a conflagration like this breaks out.
Speaking of the sanctions, I believe they do effect Russia, especially the first ones, which effectively stopped Russian gas and oil exports. Let me remind you that, before the war, Russia’s gas export to the European Union amounted to 41% and, as of the time of the interview (it took place on October 12 – TBT) it is at a mere 7.5% and continues to edge down.
Russia’s high-tech imports have also been dealt a big blow – some of the technologies, like the Taiwanese chips which are necessary in the production of Russian weaponry, are just no longer available and are hardly replaceable with the local production. No wonder that, now, to believe the press, Russia uses the derelict Soviet-era kukuruzniks (the Russian word is derived from "kukuruza", maize. During the Soviet era, it was used as a nickname for the utility aircraft used extensively in agriculture – TBT) in war.
The European Union will likely adopt new sanction packages against Russia, but, understandably, they will not be anywhere as harsh and inflicting damage to its core economic interests as the first ones. Simply because there is little left to sanction.
In the European Parliament, I have been insisting on setting up ad hoc an international Special Tribunal for Russian crimes of war aggression. It would be different than those existing courts already, like that in Hague, which are in charge of war crimes mostly.
You have always been known for your tough stance on Russia – even in much better times. Here in your MP bureau, I see the sheet of paper on the stand – likely to have been used by you for a small number of your visitors – with the inscription in capital letters “How to stop Putin?” written by hand. Is he stoppable? And as a member of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs, can you be sure that with a change of regime, the new Russian leader will be more predictable and democratic?
Let me state the status quo we have now: with the help of the West, Ukraine has stopped Russia. That’s first. Secondly, it appears Russia’s military might is nowhere where Russia had claimed it to be. Thirdly, until the recent Russian bombardment of civil Ukrainian objects – a desperate move by the perpetrator, Ukraine was gaining momentum as its military capabilities are strengthening. What I now see as essential in securing Ukraine’s advancement is providing it with the weaponry it needs.
The implementation of the above-mentioned Tribunal would also help many Russians understand Putin’s guilt. And only after that Russians can take on the dream of a new life, marked with liberties, respect and responsibility.
There are no reasons to believe that the Russians, likewise the Ukrainians and the Belarusians, do not want to live a normal life – a European life, marked with democracy and with peace.
I do believe Russia can take the path after Putin is gone. Obviously, at this point, no one can be sure how the war will evolve in the weeks and months to come, but we need to exert all effort to help Ukraine win it, as only its victory can foster a transformation in Russia – for good. Also, it may help Russians get rid of the ostensible imperial glory of Russia, an idea that Putin insistently foists on his country fellows, but which, in fact, leads to a tragedy for the country. Especially under Putin – the war is instigating various disintegrational processes within Russia itself. We see that happening already.
I do believe that if Ukraine succeeds – wins the war and rebuilds itself successfully and turns into a sustainable state, that would be the best impetus for Russians to seek change and follow the Ukrainian example. In case Putin lasts that long (to see Ukraine’s success – TBT), the Ukrainian success story would be very dangerous for him and his regime.
I believe the European Union has to try all the ways to reach out to Russia’s Democratic forces – the bulk of them live in the West – now. In doing so, we will ensure the whole country’s transition to democracy. Already now the ordinary Russians should know what their lives will look like once Russia and the European Union start cooperating on the basis of democracy. Due to the immensity of Russia, we cannot propose an EU membership for it perhaps, but in return to its abiding by law we can propose it free trade and a visa-free regime.
I understand this may sound like a fantasy to some, but there can be a new reality – sooner or later. Of course, perhaps no one can rule out that a more ruthless leader can emerge once Putin ends his rule, but not to try to help Russian transformation would be strategic mistake on our side.
As a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and as Lithuania’s former Prime Minister under whom the idea of construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in Lithuania was born, are you concerned about possible energy shortages and record-high prices this winter?
The bulk of the possible problematic issues lies in Germany’s significant dependency on Russian gas until very recently. To be exact, until the war, over 50 percent of Germany’s gas supply was of Russian origin. I can only regret that the Germans did not follow in the footsteps of Lithuania, which built its liquefied natural gas terminal in 2010 - 2014. On the contrary, the Germans insisted that Gazprom is a reliable partner and the whole relation was purely economic.
Obviously, Germany is now compelled to scramble to reverse the policy and find new energy sources – as quickly as possible. The challenge it is facing will definitely impact the whole energy situation in Europe. However, I am convinced that, at the end of the day, it is the European Union, not Putin, that will come out victorious from the Putin-launched energy war. As we speak, roughly 90 percent of European gas storages are filled and the Russian gas imports are historically low, as I said, in single digits. Until recently, due to the energy war, Putin thought that he will make the Europeans subservient, but we clearly see that he failed. The energy crisis will also prompt the European Union to switch to renewables faster. I have no doubt that the Baltics and Lithuania will also feel the big impetus for green energy. Unfortunately, Lithuania failed to build a safe state-of-the art nuclear power plant. I still believe that scrapping the idea was a mistake. Yet Lithuania has made a big step forward in harnessing solar and wind energy – just in 10 years or so, it can be one the greenest EU nations.
You’re chair of the European Parliament's Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (PA). How is the war effecting EU cooperation with the Euronest’s six countries, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Sakartvelo (Georgia), all of which are on very different terms with the EU?
Indeed, on the one hand we have Ukraine, Moldova and Sakartvelo that eye EU memberships – the former has been granted the EU’s candidate status. Then, on the other hand, we have Armenia and Azerbaijan that are shedding blood in Nagorno Karabakh and, then, we see Belarus with an illegitimate president. I do believe that the war in Ukraine will be sort of an eye-opener for the European Union. Because of the reliance on Russian gas until recently, the EU did not have a clearly outlined policy towards Ukraine and the other Eastern Partnership countries. Now, we have a new reality – generally, we see less fear of Putin, although the war still rages and can drag out and spill over the borders. I think it is in the core interests of the EU to accept Ukraine, Moldova and Sakartvelo in the bloc – even until 2030, which, with their success, would remove them from the Russian orbit for good.
And when it comes to Belarus, Lithuania’s immediate neighbor, the victory of Ukraine over Russia will have a huge effect on it – to an extent, where change of the regime will be inevitable.
Sadly, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader, is in a way overshadowed by the war. But as we speak, she is to visit the European Parliament – we need to discuss with her what Belarus’ transition to a democratic Belarus will look like. Its long-range goal should also be an EU membership, which would create much more stability and security in the region and in all of Europe.