MEP Liudas Mazylis: “We will likely find ourselves in a different geopolitical world after the war”

  • 2023-01-25
  • Linas Jegelevicius

After making history in Lithuania by finding the long-sought 1918 Lithuanian Independence Act, Liudas Mazylis, a chemistry doctor by first profession, who became Professor of political science and is also an avid history enthusiast, and, currently, Member of the European Parliament's Group of the European People's Party, responded carefully when asked about the parallels between World War I and the Russian war against Ukraine. “Paradoxically, certain parallels can be drawn. The technologies of war ammunition have advanced, but the inner logics and mechanisms are similar,” Mazylis told The Baltic Times Magazine.  The politician also added that the Act declaring the Independence of Lithuania was adopted in a  remarkably similar and difficult period: World War I was still going on, and the Spanish Flu pandemic was raging (now we have COVID-19). Now, after Lithuania has come a long way to freedom, Liudas Mažylis, who represents Lithuania in one of the most important EU institutions, notes that historical memory helps, but the future of Europe is our responsibility. In an interview with the MEP, we talk about today's EU challenges.

You’ve contributed significantly to Lithuanian history by discovering the long-sought 1918 Lithuanian Independence Act in the German archives. So let me ask you as someone very knowledgeable in history: what further course will the war likely take? Is WWIII off the table already?

Wars should not be compared, as by doing that we just speculate. 

Still, speaking about the development of wars – especially that of WWI, as it encouraged me to delve very deeply into the archival documents of the era while searching for the Lithuanian Independence Act – I can say this: at the beginning of the war, the warring countries were rejoicing, as the behaviour of some of the countries was just unbearable to the others. Notably, all of them thought that the war would last one month or so and, just as significantly, all of them thought they would win it.

Paradoxically, although the war in Ukraine takes place in 2022, certain parallels can be drawn to WWI. The technologies of military ammunition have advanced, but the internal logic and mechanisms are similar. Russia's war against independent Ukraine has been going on since 2014. The aggressor started the total invasion on February 24, 2022. And the future of the war in Ukraine is hard to predict. And once it is over, once Ukraine wins it, I predict that we will find ourselves in quite a different geopolitical world.  

With the war raging, does the Kremlin still manage to sow mistrust through its propaganda tools in the European Parliament and the European Union?

I’ve spoken about that in the EP plenary sittings.

There is no doubt about the solidarity of European states and their leaders for Ukraine, but it is no secret that there are individuals, certain interest groups and political movements in Europe that are trying to manipulate the discourse of the war in Ukraine, specifically, to raise doubts about the crimes of the Kremlin and the perpetrators of the war.

According to recently released US intelligence data, since 2014 alone, Russia has spent more than 300 million dollars on the financing of political movements abroad. Such shocking financial indicators are accompanied by arguments that some of the extreme left and right political parties were dominant in receiving dirty Russian money.

The European Commission’s Vice President Margaritis Schinas has recently said that the Commission will definitely determine which European political parties and politicians have received secret Russian funding. I hope he will follow up on his promise.

Another very relevant topic to your question is the former top-level European politicians’ service to the Kremlin. The number of former EU politicians in Russian energy companies before the start of the war in Ukraine indicated that the Kremlin was increasing its influence in the European political elite. I would call it not only political corruption, but also a betrayal of Europe and its values.

Propaganda can be countered by telling the truth, because it is impossible to deny a lie with another lie. Secondly, counter-propaganda statements must be accurate and easy to understand. Otherwise we will drown in the fog of debate. Thirdly, it must be operative, fast. Obviously, it is not easy to achieve this. After all, the Kremlin spends a long time preparing its elaborate lies, carefully and without sparing resources. Therefore, perhaps the most important thing is to increase the understanding and ability of each citizen to independently decide what is true and what is false. This is what Europe must strive for not only through legislation, but also through public education and raising its awareness. 

As a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), are you concerned about imminent environmental impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine? For instance, contamination of the soil or a meltdown in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or, say, Germany’s decision to switch on the mothballed fossil fuel-fired power plants. Will that not derail or hinder the implementation of the EU’s main green policy objective – to be climate-neutral by 2050 and have an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions?

If anyone thought that Russia's aggression in Ukraine would diminish the importance of the EU's Green Deal, the opposite has happened. The need for Europe to become less dependent on Russian fossil fuels makes the Green Deal even more relevant.The green course is already under attack, so the attacks against it (also organized by Russia) will only increase. Indeed, the war poses challenges to the European green targets. And even before that, the green objectives were seeing challenges – they were arising from the EU taxonomy (a classification system which establishes a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities – TBT). 

Remember, at the end of last December, natural gas-fired power plants along with the nuclear power plants were given green labels during the transitional period. In my personal opinion, the decision was very questionable.

Speaking of Ukraine, in a recent sitting of the Committee, we had the opportunity to hear what Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Ruslan Strilets, had to say about that. In his words, the damage to the environment is horrendous and is almost immeasurable. It is estimated that the cost of damage inflicted on Ukraine's environment has reached 36 billion euros by now (the interview took place on October 12 – TBT). The country is suffering from high air and soil pollution, as well as excessive CO2 emissions. That is the direct damage, even so the indirect damage can be just as high. However, both the European Union and Ukraine, which was recently granted EU candidate status, are well aware of that, so, once the war is over, the country will have to commit to the EU’s green course – with the European Union’s assistance along the way, of course.

The energy situation we are in – I mean the rise of natural gas prices, the primary result of the energy market shake-ups prior to the war – has pushed some EU member states, like Germany for example, to go back to fossil fuels in their power generation. Meanwhile, Poland has been perhaps the most notorious polluter due to its extensive use of coal, which is abundant in the country. 

In short, the war has prevented the EU green course from being implemented on time. However, no one intends to stop its implementation altogether.

Speaking about Russia’s actions in the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine (it is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world – TBT), it is sheer ecoterrorism. In all the previous wars, the countries respected certain war ethics – and WWI and WWII were no exception. However, holding the staff of a nuclear power plant as hostages, which Russia did in Zaporizhzhia, goes beyond what is acceptable in any war. No one can say what will happen next. By holding the plant hostage, the aggressor (Russia – TBT) clearly expects to exhaust the Ukrainians ahead of and during winter. Along with the bombardments of Ukraine’s civilian objects, it should be considered a war crime by Russia.

You’re a member of the European Parliament's Delegation for relations with Belarus. Does Belarus seem to you a passive or active participant in the war? 

In fact, it is the most active one. In the same way as Russia. The authoritarian (Belarusian) regime is simply trying to pretend it is not fully engaged in it.  Lukashenko’s regime dragged Belarus into the war against Ukraine, but claims the opposite. From the first day of the war he has been involved in the conventional full-scale war: granting soil, air and logistics to the Russians, allowing them to attack the northern territories of Ukraine. Indeed, Belarusian troops are not sent to the frontlines, but the engagement level is substantial – Belarus allows Russia to use land, assists it with its military and other infrastructure, all of which makes it a full participant in the war. Besides, all in all, around 60 thousand Belarusian troops are on active duty, which was justified by a fairy tale-like explanation that Ukrainian terrorists can ostensibly invade Belarus. The move also keeps the Ukrainians on alert, forcing them to regroup their military and protect the Belarusian-Ukrainian border in the south.

Relations between the EU and Belarus have been minimal since the rugged presidential election in Belarus in September of 2020.  Condemning the actions of Belarus in our country and in the context of the war against Ukraine, we adopted several resolutions in the European Parliament. I have also repeatedly appealed to the European Commission regarding the actions of the Belarusian regime and possible EU measures. At this point, I believe that the Belarusian regime should be subject to the same sanctions as Russia.

You are a member of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, an inter-parliamentary forum in which members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia participate and work on closer political and economic ties with the European Union. How is the war in Ukraine impacting Russia’s influence in Euronest countries like Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan? Has it not diminished significantly, as Russia has almost depleted its resources?

Currently, the military threat of invasion from Russia might be slightly diminished, yet the Kremlin's political investments in the region have not. That is why there is still a possibility for the Eastern Partnership countries to achieve a somewhat better strategic position in the region, while Russia is struggling in Ukraine. Especially now, when the security of the region once again dominates the agenda of the EU parliament, it is crucial to seek a new reinforced relationship with Europe, in terms of economic and political partnerships. The EU long ago provided quite a clear roadmap with the policy areas in which these states must reform before ascending to deeper institutional levels of cooperation. The Associated trio succeeded in the implementation of political, judicial, economic and many other areas of reforms, even if some states are still fighting their inner demons. Nonetheless, Eastern Partnership cannot and should not be left alone, yet now is the perfect time for these states to show dedication for their future in the EU. Each of these countries is in a different situation within the European Eastern Partnership.

Ukraine and Moldova have been granted EU candidate status. The latter country has successfully carried out reforms in the fields of foreign policy, security, trade and energy. The Association Agreement, including its provisions on a comprehensive free trade area, entered into force in 2016. Of course, the war started by Russia against Ukraine poses a direct threat to Moldova's security. The separatist region of Transnistria, a puppet of the Kremlin, is of particular concern. Transnistria illegally seceded from Moldova as early as 1991 and maintains close ties with Russia. Currently, the public has clearly chosen a pro-European president and parliamentary majority, and also hopes to protect itself from threats from Russia. 

On 24 June, the European Council also stated that it is ready to grant the candidate country status to Georgia, after taking into account the priorities indicated in the position presented by the European Commission regarding Georgia's application for EU membership. Therefore, such a decision can be interpreted as a bold response to Russia's attempts to strengthen its influence in the separatist regions and Georgia itself. The first sign that Russia would seek to regain its influence in Eastern Europe was in 2008, the invasion of Georgia. The secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia took place at that time. South Ossetia, a separatist region, announced in April that it would seek to join Russia through a referendum. This creates new territorial threats. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not independent states under international law. They are pretenders under the influence of the Kremlin. EU members have always supported Georgia's territorial integrity without recognizing their autonomy.

Belarus remains in Russia’s primary orbit. The tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which I am sure are being instigated by Russia, damage both countries in terms of their cooperation with the European Union. Clearly, the war allows the countries to orbit away from Russia, but it is not yet clear to what extent. In 2020, when the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flared up again, Russia immediately deployed 2,000 troops. Since the renewal of the conflict, the EU has actively sought to find a solution through mediation. For example, after the unrest began again this summer, the European Union's foreign ministers agreed in October to send a team of specialists to Armenia for a short-term mission to monitor the country's border with Azerbaijan.

In any case, the attention and assistance of the EU and the West to Ukraine must not stop. Ukraine's victory and the unity of the democratic world will determine the future of these Eastern Partnership states and the future of Europe as a whole. In the European Parliament, we continue to support Ukraine by permanently adopting decisions and encouraging other EU institutions to act decisively.