Adamkus explores Putin's Russia

  • 2001-04-05
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus became the first leader in the Baltic states to visit the Russia of President Vladimir Putin. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis called the official visit of March 29 to 31 a "breakthrough." He emphasized that Putin recognized the sovereign right of Lithuania to choose its own security arrangements.

Putin said he did not support Lithuania's drive to join NATO, but he also stated that Lithuania is free to decide about its own model of security. Russia welcomes Lithuania's membership in the European Union, he said, before asking Lithuania and the EU to ensure the economic interests of Russia's beleaguered Kaliningrad enclave.

Putin chose not to resort to the Kremlin's usual hard-line rhetoric against the probability of Lithuanian membership in NATO.

"We have some differences of opinion on European security issues, because we assess the creation of a European security architecture somewhat differently and believe that the latest news from the Balkans confirms that NATO expansion doesn't bring greater security for a region.

"We do, however, recognize that each state can set its priorities in the realm of security independently," Putin said after meeting with Adamkus.

The two presidents signed a joint declaration stating that each country can choose its own security model. This joint declaration was praised by Conservative MP and Lithuanian independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis.

"There are positive moments in the declaration and there are no negative moments there," Landsbergis commented in a press conference in the Lithuanian Parliament on April 2.

On March 29, Adamkus gave an interview to the Russian NTV channel. "In my opinion Lithuania is a good neighbor to Russia, and it will remain this way after we enter NATO," Adamkus told NTV. He emphasized that Russia's relations with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have become even better since they joined NATO.

After leaving Moscow and arriving in Kaliningrad on March 31, Adamkus spoke about his meeting with Putin. "There was no pressure on issues relating to NATO and the EU. Russia, from the lips of its president, said, 'You are a sovereign state and you can chose the way you want to go.'"

"Russia greets the expansion of Europe" were Putin's words about Lithuania's plans to enter the EU. At the same time he said that the EU, Russia and Lithuania should respect the needs of Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by the EU after Poland and Lithuania join the union.

Originally, Putin wanted to include some sentences about the necessity of drafting special rules on Kaliningrad-Russia transit via Lithuania in the joint declaration.

But the Lithuanian delegation convinced him against it. The joint declaration says vaguely that transit issues could be discussed in the future.

"We are very thankful and appreciative of the decision taken by the Lithuanian leaders to establish a civilized procedure granting Lithuanian citizenship to the Russian-speaking community," Putin said during a briefing after the signing of the joint Lithuanian-Russian declaration.

A decade ago Lithuania granted citizenship to all applicants permanently residing in the country, while Latvia and Estonia refused to give automatic citizenship to immigrants from the Soviet Union who had arrived after 1940. This was because the number of such people in Lithuania was far more manageable than in the other two Baltic states.

Since then, the Kremlin has had a much more friendly and productive relationship with Lithuania than it has with Latvia or Estonia.

Adamkus presented Putin with a gift, which he said symbolized Lithuanian tolerance. It was a copy of a document dating from 1563 issued by Lithuanian Grand Duke Zygimantas Augustas.

The document granted Orthodox Christians equal rights with Catholics in Lithuania, which at the time included large areas of what is today Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, down the Black Sea.

Adamkus spoke mostly Lithuanian and English in Moscow, but on a couple of occasions he demonstrated a reasonable command of basic Russian. He learnt this in Kaunas during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania between 1940 and 1941.

Adamkus taught Russian to U.S. Army officers during the Korean War. Later he visited Moscow several times as a high ranking U.S. environmental official.

Adamkus invited Putin to visit Lithuania. Putin promised he would.

On Adamkus' visit to Kaliningrad on March 31, the third and final day of his visit to Russia, he met the enclave's Governor Vladimir Yegorov, who is a good friend of Lithuania's.

Admiral Yegorov, head of Russia's Baltic military fleet, said many times in public that he was not afraid of Lithuania's membership in NATO and the EU.

During elections for governor last year, Putin supported Yegorov. Posters of the two men were posted on walls throughout Kaliningrad.

Adamkus and Yegorov have both spoken about the necessity for Brussels to create possibilities for the people of Kaliningrad to communicate with the outside world when the EU surrounds their territory.

On the eve of the Adamkus visit, Yegorov gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel. He expressed his concerns that the EU will oblige Poland and Lithuania to introduce a visa regime on Kaliningrad's residents. At the moment, people who live in Kaliningrad do not need visas to enter Lithuania, unlike other Russians.

In the same interview Yegorov said that Kaliningrad's membership in the EU is not an issue for the near future, for obvious economic reasons.

"Our living standards are far behind Lithuania and Poland. And I don't want to even talk about a comparison with Germany," Yegorov told Der Spiegel.

During Adamkus' visit, the Lithuanian magazine Veidas published an opinion survey by the Spinter polling company on Vilnius-Moscow relations.

Some 24 percent described Lithuania's relations with Russia as rather good but with some drawbacks, while 18 percent said the relations are satisfactory, and almost 16 percent replied relations are excellent. No respondents described Lithuania's relations with Russia as poor.