French-Lithuanian Relations Renewed
Last summer, France deployed several hundred troops to the German-led NATO battalion in Lithuania and participated in the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission. In return, at France’s request, Lithuania sends troops to Mali. Traditionally, France is also one of the strongest supporters of EU integration. Lithuanian and French positions on Russia often differ as Lithuania urges the West to take a tougher position towards Moscow and place it under diplomatic isolation, while France is in favour of closer ties and dialogue.
The visit by Emmanuel Macron on September 28-29, 2020, was the first bilateral visit by a French head of state to Lithuania in nearly two decades. During his stay, the French president also met with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and visited Vilnius University. The last stop of Macron’s visit was Rukla military base, where he met with French troops stationed within the NATO Forward Presence Battalion.
In a joint news conference with Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda, E. Macron touched on several important topics. He noted that the last official visit by a French president in a bilateral format took place with Jacques Chirac in July 2001 – 19 years ago. He congratulated Lithuania on the progress it has made over that period of time. “Your expectations of freedom, peace, security, economic and social welfare have become a reality. Since then, Lithuania has joined the EU and NATO, the Schengen area and the euro area and lived through an excellent process of economic convergence, ” said President Macron.
He emphasized that even during the pandemic, he “arrived with a delegation that, despite the ongoing health crisis, includes several ministers, also a delegation of the members of parliament, several friends of your country, my family, which proves that the relations between France and Lithuania are very important for us, as is our cooperation in a bilateral format.”
He expressed the hope that although Lithuania suffered very painfully in the 20th century, and seeking a strategic dialogue with Russia is understandably difficult, the 21st century may bring resolution to “many conflicts related to our neighborhood”. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda noted that the French president‘s attitude to relations with Russia is realistic but underlined that one should be ready for disappointment while pursuing strategic dialogue with this country, because despite all the efforts that have been made are not giving any results, because Russia has “other goals that are incompatible our goals”.
President Macron characterized the poisoning of Alexei Navalny as an attempted killing, an act of aggression conducted in Russia against a Russian opposition politician using a Russian chemical material, saying: “Hence Russia has to provide an explanation over this situation. The international community has to ask for these explanations and then make decisions … An investigation is ongoing. …And it is crystal clear to us that this case involves the use of a chemical weapon with prohibited chemical materials. Technical work will be performed now and decisions will be made and then we will have to take measures. First and foremost, a clarification is required.“
Regarding Belarus Mr. Macron stated that “We have proposed that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should make a commitment, also, France will also spare no effort to ensure this mediation so that we could move forward… Our priority today is condemnation and sanctions. What we need to avoid is the geopolitization of this conflict. That transition has to be peaceful and should not involve other countries.“ He noted that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya acted very bravely, both personally and as a member of her family, and thanked her for her courage and that of all people who have mobilized in Belarus. “Our stance has been very clear from the very beginning – we do not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as the president of Belarus.“ He believes that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could undertake a mediation mission in Belarus in the coming weeks.
Visit at the Rukla military base:
As to elections, he said: “We have adopted a joint declaration of France, Lithuania and Latvia on the protection of democracies. This declaration aims to strengthen European mechanisms in fight against cyber-attacks and various forms of information manipulation… We are committed to that and it is very important for us.”
In a discussion with Vilnius University students, Mr. Macron pointed out that European defense is a phrase one could not utter five or ten years ago. Although it was thought that defense was in the hands of NATO, “we have already established a fund for the implementation of joint programs and we have structural cooperation on defense…We cannot always rely on the power that is on the other side of the Atlantic, which is probably focusing more on China and cannot give us so much attention. Therefore, it’s very important for us to be able to protect ourselves,” the French leader said.
The ministers in the delegation accompanying Emmanuel Macron on this official visit signed cooperation agreements with their Lithuanian counterparts in Vilnius before leaving on September 29. The ministers of finance will undertake to enhance cooperation in the FinTech area while the foreign ministers will make updates to the strategic partnership action plan.
President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Linkevičius, paid tribute to those who died for the freedom of Lithuania at the Antakalnis cemetery:
With information from BNS