Amid the what seems like never-ending election cycle in Ukraine, Lithuania – a staunch supporter of Ukraine – has also just elected a new president. According to the 98.72% of ballots, former chief economist of Lithuania's Swedish SEB Bank Gitanas Nausėda has gained a comfortable victory over his rival Ingrida Šimonytė.
Nausėda scored 65.86% of the votes, while Ingrida Šimonytė, Lithuania's former finance minister, gained half as many – 32,86%, Lithuania’s Supreme Election Commission website shows.
Nausėda will take over the presidential seat from Dalia Grybauskaitė who served 10 years in two 5-year terms in the office, a maximum that's allowed in Lithuania. Grybauskaitė's presidency was favored by most Ukrainians after the Lithuanian politician repeatedly showed her support of the country’s territorial integrity following the illegal annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Grybauskaitė famously referred to Russia as a“terrorist state.”
Nausėda, on the contrary, is viewed as more pragmatic. During the presidential campaign, he suggested Lithuania softens its rhetoric towards its Eastern neighbor speaking to Lithuania’s Public Broadcaster (LRT) – without changing Lithuania's overall stance on the conflict in Ukraine. Nausėda also previously noted that Lithuania should develop economic, as well as cultural, ties with Russia in order to improve the country’s image by the Russians who “sympathize” with Lithuania.
Citizens of Lithuania cast their ballots in the presidential and European parliament elections at the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow, Russia on May 26, 2019. Photo: MFA of Lithuania
Referring to Grybauskaitė's rhetoric, Nausėda said that, by calling Russia a “terrorist” or a“mafia” state, Lithuania only works in favor of Russian propaganda, while at the same time it is negatively affecting the opinion of the ordinary Russians about Lithuania. Nausėda, however, calls the military conflict in Ukraine as the main issue in Lithuania’s relations with Russia.
He said that he believes an official visit to Moscow – similar to that of the Estonian president’s in April where she held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin – would be “hardly possible.” On the election day, Nausėda reiterated that no substantial changes in Lithuania’s relations with Moscow would take place unless Russia shifts its rhetoric and actions toward Ukraine.
Lithuanian political experts almost unanimously agree that there shouldn't be any major shifts in the country’s foreign policy – especially with regards to Ukraine – when the new president takes office. Kęstutis Girnius, a political scientist of Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science, in an op-ed for news site Delfi, described Nausėda as the most collected of all the first-round candidates. In that way, the rhetoric of Lithuania might become more diplomatic, but its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty should remain unwavering, he said.
During his campaign, Nausėda emphasized that he will concentrate on promoting a good relationship between Lithuania and Poland (with his first Warsaw state visit already planned), as well as the country's relations with Scandinavian countries. The former economist also spoke in favor of improving Lithuanian ties with all other European Union states. Nausėda also said that he does not support the U.S.' relocating its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Nausėda saw success in every Lithuanian voting region, including capital Vilnius and second-largest city Kaunas, both perceived as Šimonytė’s strongholds.
/By Dziugas Kuprevicius