Membership in NATO and EU: Has Lithuania Become Safe?
Foreign policy methods are changing because of globalization. Thus, Russia can turn Lithuania into its vassal by taking over the country’s energy sector, its public information domain, and other areas.
More than three years have passed since the architects of Lithuanian foreign policy announced through interim President Arturas Paulauskas the concept of Lithuania as the region’s leader. This vision led to various stereotypes in the evaluation of Lithuanian foreign policy. In the domain of public information and among the political elite a cliché has been established that Lithuania is a bridge between East and West, that Lithuania is a mediator that has the capacity to mediate between the new and old EU countries, that Lithuania is an expert in the EU and NATO Eastern policy, and the like.
Without a doubt, there is some common-sense geopolitical logic behind these clichés, which often remind us of public relations campaigns. The impulse for the vision of Lithuania as the region’s leader appeared with Lithuania’s membership in the EU and NATO, which, at least in theory, was supposed to open the door of new possibilities for Lithuania to develop the security and stability domain further east. In other words, the integration into the EU and NATO turned Lithuania from a “security-exporting state” into a “security-importing state”. However, there is still a question of whether by being active in the EU and NATO structures Lithuania has acquired more opportunities to control the country’s historical reality, and it still needs to find out how to change its status so that Lithuania ceases to be a peripheral European state.
According to a formal evaluation, Lithuania’s membership in the EU and NATO symbolizes the country’s escape from the “gray” security zone. Indeed, Russia has minimal opportunities to intervene directly in Lithuania’s domestic affairs. However, considering the current globalization conditions, in the times of major changes in economy and other public policy areas, foreign policy methods also change. It is possible to control the countries effectively, even when they are not under the jurisdiction of the country that is trying to control them. According to Margarita Seselgyte, deputy director of Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Science Institute, Russia can “vassalize” Lithuania by taking over the country’s energy sector, public information domain, and other areas.
For example, Russia is carrying out a strategy of total domination with respect to the Lithuanian energy sector, meaning it creates the vertical levers for the control of the Lithuanian energy sector. The companies controlled by the Russian capital may become the tools of Moscow’s political pressure. Moreover, this can influence the “merging” of the Russian capital and the Lithuanian political elite. Russia may use its protégés in the political parties and state institutions to influence the political processes in our country. It is quite likely that by using its channels to affect Lithuania’s domestic policy, Russia could turn Lithuania into its influence agent in the Western transatlantic and European structures.
But what is more important right now is that that Russia has been maintaining its ability to influence Lithuania by exerting its influence through the NATO and EU structures or by trying to cause an internal erosion inside these organizations. Seselgyte claims that Russia is basing its relations with the EU and NATO on the two-way strategy: either it is trying to limit the influence of these organizations on the certain international policy issues that are important to Russia, or it is seeking to infiltrate the decision-making processes of these organizations. It is the second Russian strategy toward the EU and NATO that is the most dangerous to Lithuania.
New Security Dilemmas
For example, by participating in the activities of the NATO-Russia Council, Russia is contributing to NATO’s transformation into an inefficient political forum. On the other hand, Russia could intensify its foreign policy efforts to create a decision-making mechanism for the deliberation of the most important international security tasks that would have nothing to do with the current NATO structures. In such a case, Russia would seek to transform NATO into a multi-level organization, in which it would gain stronger or weaker decision-making powers. This scenario would mean that Lithuania’s membership in the Alliance would be a formality, because this would inevitably weaken NATO’s role in the European security system. Thus creating the situation in which Lithuania would return to the “gray” security zone.
As far as the EU is concerned, Russia also has two visions. For Russia, the best EU development model is the disintegration of the EU as political union, which would mean the return of the European security system to the member states’ national policy balance. Such a change would create the conditions for Russia to influence the EU decision-making process through the EU member states’ capital cities. On the other hand, Russia is also interested in the so-called two-speed EU development, because then Europe’s integration would develop in accordance with the centre (Western Europe’s nucleus) and periphery model. In this way, Lithuania’s integration into the European structures as a full-fledged member would be limited. The leitmotiv of this Russia’s vision of the EU is: the less Europe in Lithuania, the more Russia.
Considering these newly surfaced security problems that Lithuania may have to face, we can conclude that Lithuania’s membership in the EU and NATO has not yet changed Lithuania’s status, and it remains a country on the periphery of Europe.