VILNIUS - President Valdas Adamkus refused to bite his tongue during an official visit to Germany last week, and today there's fire. The president's critical remarks about outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's foreign policy 's specifically, plans to build, together with Russia, a gas pipeline circumventing the Baltics 's created tension for both sides.
Adamkus was quoted as saying that the talks with Schroeder had been very frank, which in diplo-speak suggests serious dissension. Lithuania, like Poland and the other two Baltic states, believes that it should have been included in talks on pipeline construction, while Schroeder said that ensuring a nation's energy supplies is a sovereign prerogative.
"Schroeder demonstrated utter indifference to relations with neighbors," Adamkus was quoted by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as saying.
Officially, the Baltic states and Poland believe that the $5 billion pipeline is an environmental hazard, since a large amount of chemical weapons are lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Moreover, they claim the project lacks economic sense and is therefore "political." In a bilateral sense, relations between outgoing Chancellor Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among the strongest on the continent, partly due to the Putin's knowledge of the German language.
Adamkus' discussion with Schroeder ended with the latter firmly stating that his country was not going to change its position. The chancellor publicly deflected Adamkus' criticism that Berlin, prior to hammering out the deal with Moscow, failed to consult other nations.
Schroeder called Adamkus' words "unjustified in both form and content." Anyone who states that he is setting up a market economy should not object to such [free market] moves with weak arguments, Schroeder said.
However, he did say that Lithuania could be connected to the gas pipeline through a branch.
In the meantime, German President Horst Koehler suggested that the gas pipeline issue might eventually be resolved in favor of Lithuania.
More importantly, Chancellor-elect Angela Merkel also expressed doubt about how the pipeline deal 's dubbed the Putin-Schroeder pact by many Polish-Baltic observers and politicians 's was reached. She expressed understanding of Baltic fears that the pipeline could be used by Moscow as an instrument of political influence.
Merkel promised Adamkus that Germany should pay more attention to the smaller EU members and that the union should pursue a common policy toward Russia. "We should do this, or at least try to do this," she was quoted as saying.
Indeed, analysts agree that Merkel will not go out of her way to keep German-Russian relations on their current high.
"This contradicting reaction of Germany's politicians [to Adamkus' statement] shows that a painful spot was stepped on," said political analyst Vytautas Rubavicius in his commentary in Omni Laikas. "Although Germany's politics toward Russia shouldn't alter significantly, it's possible to see some changes in the EU's political climate, and the new leaders are sensing this."
He added, "When Schroeder leaves active politics, the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis will definitely become weaker. And it isn't only the German chancellor who's leaving. It's highly unlikely that France's President will be reelected for another term."
Roland Goetz, a German political analyst and expert on German-Russian relations, pointed out that the EU, and especially Germany, should not ignore Poland and the Baltic states and their uneasiness toward the gas-pipeline.
"Pure economic advantages of the NEP [North European Pipeline] are rather meager. In contrast to that, collateral damage has been rather large and quite distinct: the project weakens the position of Germany's Eastern neighbors vis-a-vis Russia and stokes fears and suspicions concerning Germany's foreign policy goals," commented Goetz.
The traditional continental gas transport route through Belarus, Ukraine and Poland has proven to be secure and can easily be expanded, Goetz argued.
Moscow, however, feels that the northern pipeline will provide the best guarantee for gas deliveries to Germany, the largest consumer of gas, and leverage against Belarus and Ukraine, with whom it has troublesome relations.
"German energy security will, in fact, not be increased by the pipeline, especially if compared to its alternative, the expansion of existing continental pipelines," Geotz said. "The traditional transit countries have expressed concern over the German-Russian move since they fear that their interests have not been taken into account. These concerns could be addressed by including transit countries into the German-Russian energy dialog," Goetz said.
"While the pipeline has become a highly politicized project, it should prompt German policymakers to better coordinate future energy policy in Eastern Europe and to devote more time and effort to explaining policy goals to Eastern partners," Goetz commented.