VILNIUS - Cooperation between Europe and Russia is necessary and essential, but Europe should not indulge Russia's departure from democracy, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas told a European-Russian business forum held in Austria on April 22 - 23.
"Russia is Europe's inevitable partner. But cooperation must not be based merely on practical principles. Values are equally important, and Lithuania's cooperation with Russia is based on the values of European democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights and national minorities," Kirkilas said.
"However, the situation in today's Russia poses a worrying question: does this country still follow the path of democracy? Regretfully, the term 'new democratic Russia,' in my opinion, seems to contravene the reality," the Lithuanian premier noted.
"Disproportionate expansion of the president's powers, constrained freedom of the media, the politicized case of the Yukos company, the increasing influence of power structures in the government, the unresolved conflict in Chechnya, constant violations of human rights, manipulation using energy resources, the special services' growing attention towards neighboring countries, mysterious and unsolved murders 's all this poses more questions than answers, which also opens our eyes," Kirkilas said.
"The democratic world must develop cooperation with Russia, but this should not turn into indulgence. We should keep Russia on the path towards democracy and constantly remind it of this," the Lithuanian prime minister stressed.
He also noted that the European Union must continue preparations for talks with Russia on a new partnership agreement, which last year was blocked by Poland over Moscow's embargo on Polish food imports. Kirkilas expressed hope that Russia will lift the embargo, which would remove the obstacles for negotiation.
But at the same time, stressing that agreement with Russia must take into account the interests of all EU members, the Lithuanian premier reminded his audience that the embargo on Polish imports is not the only problem with Russia.
"Lithuania believes oil supplies to Lithuania's [Mazeikiu Nafta] refinery will be resumed before the beginning of the negotiations. We firmly believe in the solidarity of our EU friends and partners," Kirkilas said.
A Lithuanian diplomat, speaking to journalists unofficially, last year hinted that the country could become a "second Poland," meaning it might veto an EU-Russian deal if Moscow does not resume the oil supply, which has been cut since July 2006 allegedly due to technical problems. The Foreign Ministry later said this was not Lithuania's official position, but the message was widely reported and discussed.
Kirkilas' speech in Austria indirectly suggested that such a possibility would not be ruled out.
"In negotiations with Russia we must install safeguards to ensure that countries not only officially declare their adherence to democratic values, but also demonstrate the practical results of such adherence," the prime minister said.
He also stressed that the EU and Russia must agree on energy safety issues, including Russia's ratification of the Energy Charter, which would ensure cooperation on equal grounds.
The Lithuanian premier also urged participants of the forum to pay more attention to Russia's Kaliningrad region, with an aim to integrate it into the Baltic region.
"I believe that Russia will be able to solve its political and economic problems 's it has resources for that. But first of all Russia itself must believe it, and should be determined to achieve this goal," Kirkilas said in the conclusion to his speech.
Speaking later to The Baltic Times, the prime minister said that his speech was not at all aimed at offending Russia.
"Russia is our neighbor and we closely follow what happens there. We believe that the situation today is not the one we would like to see, and we openly say this," Kirkilas said.