TAKING THIS WALTZ: Vygaudas Usackas is a good communicator with perfect PR skills. On Dec. 15, in the Vienna Opera House, he congratulated Violeta Urmana, Lithuania's world-class megastar opera singer who received an award from the Austrian government. Very active participation by Usackas in public life could cause some fear of competition in the current presidential palace.
VILNIUS - On Jan. 21, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas presented a resignation letter to Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. The latter was not in a very big hurry to confirm the resignation, giving Usackas the possibility to go to the European Union foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Jan. 25. It was his last trip in the post of foreign minister. Usackas said he was quitting after Kubilius’ meeting with President Dalia Grybauskaite on Jan. 20.
“The president is forced to state that a minister cannot have a personal foreign policy and go about implementing it without coordination with the head of state and even, on occasion, with the prime minister,” Linas Balsys, Grybauskaite’s spokesman, said about Usackas at the briefing after Grybauskaite’s meeting with Kubilius. However, the prime minister did not criticize Usackas after the meeting with the president.
“Usackas in my eyes is an experienced and professional diplomat. I regret that because of the emerged circumstances Usackas cannot continue his work,” Kubilius said. Usackas is not a member of any party. Now the ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats (commonly known as the Conservative Party), led by Kubilius, has its own favorite for the foreign minister’s post - current parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee’s Chairman Audronius Azubalis. However, after the victorious parliamentary election in the fall of 2008, Kubilius decided to choose Usackas because of internal squabbles inside his party. Azubalis is more a man on the side of current Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene, who is kind of a competitor to Kubilius in the ranks of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
“The president informed the prime minister that further work with Usackas would be impossible,” Balsys said pointing out to Usackas’ “ultimate statements to a neighboring country.”
This neighboring country is Belarus. On Jan. 12, Grybauskaite said that she will invite all heads of European Union states as well as presidents of Russia and Belarus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the March 11 act which reestablished Lithuania’s independence. On the same day, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry handed a note to Belarus demanding extradition of General Vladimir Uskhopchik and pro-Moscow communist Stanislava Joniene. Both persons are suspected by Lithuanian prosecutors of participating in the failed pro-Kremlin coup of Jan. 13, 1991. Both suspects live in Belarus now. Usackas also stated in public that he is not sure if it is the right time to invite Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Vilnius.
Grybauskaite and Usackas also expressed different opinions about the president’s decision to fire Mecys Laurinkus, Lithuania’s ambassador to Georgia, for engaging in politics at home as well as over the interpretation of a parliamentary report on the alleged CIA-built prison sites for al Qaeda terror suspects in Lithuania.
Observers agree that such a cacophony was not good for Lithuania’s foreign policy. Rajinder Chaudhary, retired wing commander of the Indian Armed Forces and successful restaurant businessman in Vilnius, commented with an Indian saying on a Lithuanian Internet site, “When two elephants fight, the earth suffers.”
According to Algirdas Paleckis, former employee of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and current leader of the marginal leftist party Frontas, and Audrius Baciulis, former spokesman for Kubilius and current pro-Conservative political analyst with the magazine Veidas, Grybauskaite and Usackas experienced mutual tensions in their working relations during long years of common work in the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and such psychological discomfort could be the main cause of their conflict.
According to Usackas, Grybauskaite refused to contact him directly since September 2009, when no disagreements were yet seen in public. On Jan. 21, Usackas said at his final press conference in the Foreign Ministry that he has no idea why Grybauskaite is against him. “It would be important for me, my family and my foreign colleagues to know it,” Usackas said.
Usackas is a good communicator with perfect PR skills. Rumors about his possible presidential ambitions could make the current presidential office feel a little bit nervous. Usackas was a rather easy target because he had no support from the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. Its Chairman, Azubalis, a devoted member of the Conservatives, could have some bad feelings towards Usackas because he had ambitions to occupy the post of foreign minister himself.
According to Justinas Karosas, Social Democrat MP and member of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Usackas was too bright a diplomat and somebody could fear that he could “overshadow the sun which, according to some, could be just one in the state.” Grybauskaite was nicknamed the Sun Queen by the daily Lietuvos Rytas. Regardless, it was obvious that such a cacophony in foreign affairs could not last for long.
Usackas, having a lawyer’s diploma, joined the Lithuanian foreign service in 1991. In 2000-2001, he was Lithuania’s chief negotiator with the EU in the negotiations about Lithuania’s entry to the EU; in 2001-2006, he was Lithuania’s ambassador to the United States; in 2006-2008, he was Lithuania’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Now Usackas, 45, has rather unclear perspectives on his further diplomatic career. Grybauskaite stated in public that she has no trust in him. A diplomat, having no trust of the president, can hardly expect some post of ambassador.
On Jan. 25, the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats’ leadership expressed its gratitude to Usackas for his work and decided to nominate Azubalis to the post of foreign minister. Azubalis, 52, is a former journalist. In 1990-1992, he was spokesman for Vytautas Landsbergis, then head of the Lithuanian parliament. Azubalis was an MP in 1996-2000 and 2004-2008. In the parliamentary election of the fall of 2008, he won his seat in parliament again.
Now it is up to Grybauskaite to confirm his candidature or not. On Jan. 25, she stated that her main requirement for a would-be foreign minister is the candidate’s faithfulness to article No. 84 of the Lithuanian constitution. The article reads: “The President of the Republic shall decide the basic issues of foreign policy and, together with the Government, conduct foreign policy.” The article implies smooth cooperation between the president and the Foreign Ministry.