Danger of lack of clarity in Brazauskas' Russian connections

  • 2001-07-26
  • Brent W. Walsh
Prime minister of Lithuania in 1999-2000, and currently first deputy chairman of the right-wing Homeland Union (Conservatives), Andrius Kubilius is well placed to offer an alternative insight into popular leftist Algirdas Brazauskas' recent snatching of the prime ministerial seat. Interview by Brent W. Walsh.

The Baltic Times: It is no secret you are considered by many to be a serious candidate for the next presidential elections and no secret that you are planning on running. What do you feel are your personal strengths to lead Lithuania in a stronger and more internationally visible position?

Kubilius: Well, I feel it is quite early for such a question, but let me begin by saying I think Lithuania must move ahead very rapidly with strategic integration into the EU and NATO. We are spending too much time currently looking deeply into our domestic agenda and not enough looking forward to what is happening in the world.

Embracing globalization and attempting to help create a knowledge-based economy are both extremely important movements. We have a good chance to experience huge growth and be among the future leaders; however, it is difficult to predict what will happen. After all, Lithuania has only been involved in the global market for the past few years.

I think future Lithuanian leaders need to be very active and effective in creating a global presence and financial growth in those fields. It is my hope that we should move in that direction. Of course, the presidential elections will be very important in the perspective of international growth.

It will be interesting to see if the existing political parties will be able to create what we call in the political community an "alternative to the left." The presidential elections as a political process is a great value for the right side of the political community to find the capability to meet the challenges we now face with the left-wing in government.

TBT: It is a possibility that each of Lithuania's right-wing parties will have its own candidate? As such, would you consider having a primary among those parties?

Kubilius: That's exactly correct. Last week, after long discussions with the representatives of all the rightist parties, five leaders (of the various parties) signed a letter. This letter appealed to parliamentary members who do not belong to the left-wing. It said that the best way to have a single candidate from the right is through the primary elections you mentioned.

It's difficult to predict whether all the parties will agree to such a procedure, but I hope it happens. It's the first step. It will be important for presidential elections, but it would also be making major strides to have a more developed political structure from the right side in general.

TBT: I understand you are in the pro-Yukos camp regarding the recent oil deals in Lithuania. What effect will the recent government changes have on the issue?

Kubilius: It is difficult to predict. Despite all my conversations with Brazauskas, I still cannot understand his way of decision making and thinking. It's very clear he doesn't want to make any clear statements at this time. One day he says one thing, the next day it's completely different.

I feel he wants to have free hands; this is the reason why the new government's program contains absolutely nothing concrete regarding those things that will be most important during the next year and a half. This is the basis of our criticism of their platform.

Specifically regarding the Mazeikiu Nafta-Williams-Yukos situation, Brazauskas has made no clear statements. It may develop with total unpredictability. Everyone in Lithuania knows about the good relationship between the local LUKoil people and (Brazauskas') Social Democrats. It is not very clear at this time, but it seems that something happened during Brazauskas's recent secret trip to Moscow regarding the relationship between his new administration and LUKoil – or all the oil companies involved.

We are now seeing a change in opinion since that visit. Other companies are now actively lobbying to show they are a better option than Yukos; how these companies can succeed in reaching Brazauskas, I don't know. It is very unclear. How influenced Brazauskas is by some national groups and other lobbyists is also difficult to say, but he is behaving very strangely and speaking in such a way that he is opening himself to very strong criticism.

This same type of opinion changing is prevalent in his comments about the privatization of Lietuvos dujos (Lithuanian Gas). He is currently saying things that are in direct contrast to backroom political decisions made in the past few weeks. It's difficult to speak with such a prime minister.

Brazauskas will need to address his role in these dealings; there is a lot of evidence that he can be influenced. Maybe it's possible he doesn't understand how he looks, or possibly he just doesn't care.

TBT: Regarding Yukos, is there a downside to having a Russian supplier that holds a large equity stake in such an important national industry?

Kubilius: I do not see a problem. Well, first of all, it's very clear there is no alternative for the foreseeable future. Our understanding the past few years is that we cannot avoid Russian oil coming into Lithuania. We desired a strong partner in the refinery who could aid us in holding back any unwanted actions from the east. We have this partner in Williams.

We continue to hope that the Russian attitude toward business becomes more business-oriented and less politically-connected. Lithuania is in a good position where we can find a balance between Western technology and Russian natural resources. That would provide a win-win situation for all involved.

We have always felt here in Lithuania that we are not afraid of what Russia is saying; we are not afraid of their threats and bravado; but we are afraid of what they do silently. The Russians are very good at manipulating public opinion and similar things. The best example is all the hysteria regarding Williams. That happened because LUKoil money was making a very good propaganda case against Williams. LUKoil was very clever and very effective.

TBT: What do you think about the new government's platform? Many are complaining that little from the old Social Democrat platform remains; that their stance is similar to the last government of Rolandas Paksas.

Kubilius: The program has a few good features. There are not so many social democratic promises as there were before the elections. But my other point is not so positive. I cannot understand Brazauskas; the new program is extremely nonspecific.

I have said that all future governments should study this program as a good example of how to write something that promises absolutely nothing. We have always been against progressive taxation. On a positive note, we feel that Dalia Grybauskaite, the new minister of finance, was a very good choice. She has said that there is no way to have any additional social spending, that no room exists in the current budget.