“Ukraine’s Sovereignty Cannot Be Compromised” - Lithuanian Foreign Minister
16 October, 2019

No matter the results of the Normandy meetings, sovereignty cannot be compromised, said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius in an interview to Hromadske. “We would really commend all the efforts to implement Minsk [Agreements], to reach a peaceful solution,” he added. Mr. Linkevičius sees the role of Lithuania as facilitators of this process. Vilnius will host the Ukraine Reform Conference in 2020. 

This interview was recorded during the Riga Conference, the biggest security and foreign policy forum in the Baltic Sea region, being held in Latvia’s capital on October 11 and 12. 

We are talking to the foreign minister of the Republic of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius. Welcome, Mr. Linkevičius! I’d like to start with another event that is being prepared as we are talking, the upcoming Normandy Format meeting. In Ukraine there are a lot of discussions about so-called “Steinmeier formula.” What is your opinion on it? Do you think it might be a trouble for Ukraine or a way to peace?

It is difficult to say. We need more details. On the other hand we don’t know precisely what was agreed because in general terms we are talking about implementations of Minsk agreements for a long time. There are some parts about elections, about special status for the region. But we all understand and that was the reading of Ukrainian leadership that the elections should be according to the Ukrainian law and it is important that foreign troops leave. Other conditions are free media, political parties and I am not sure if it is the same reading on the other side. It is only one of the issues I would like to raise and I don’t know what was agreed. In short we would really commend everything, all efforts in order to implement Minsk, to reach a peaceful solution but we really need more details. And at the same time we have to understand that anything that will be done should not be done at the expense of the sovereignty of Ukraine. But I believe it is shared by everybody and this is true. I cannot assume what will happen because I need more information.

Do you expect that there will be significant pressure on behalf of Germany and France during this Normandy format meeting, considering especially recent president Macron’s initiative to relaunch relationship with Russia?

I don’t know if pressure will be applied and how it could be done. It is not an efficient way to conduct normal negotiations. Pressure is not something that should be used in my view. Also we should understand that suffering side is Ukraine. Ukraine is in the war situation, Ukraine is undergoing reform process. This is really not so easy to reach any agreement under pressure. I hope it will not be the case. I believe the encounter by itself is useful unless it doesn’t lead anywhere, because it sometimes creates impression of the process but it is not leading anywhere. We have this precedent many times again. And I don’t know how it will happen this time. Reengagement, contacts, efforts are commendable. But we can judge about the results only upon the realization on the ground.

On the one hand Ukraine wants peace and we can see in the opinion polls that the majority of the Ukrainians want peace and support the initiatives of President Zelenskyy. On the other hand there is a huge distrust towards Russia, distrust that Russia will fulfill its obligations. Even if Ukraine make first step there is huge distrust that Russia will follow. So what do you think European Union can do? What security guarantees can it give to Ukraine that Russia will be somehow be held accountable and will fulfill its obligations?

International monitoring is important, you are right. When you have no trust it is impossible to agree on anything, and even if you agree it is difficult to rely on any implementation. Without international mediation or monitoring it is impossible to do. How efficiently it can be done it is another question. But there is no other way. Time is running and people are tired. Of course they want to have this peaceful solution and this war is too long and there are too many victims. And also, as I said, economic situation is not so good in order to feel the difference. And this, all in all, created the tension. And new leadership understands this responsibility. I believe, it is very important to mobilize all resources and really to implement what was promised. And this is not only external aggression. Also fight with corruption was mentioned. People probably won’t forgive if again there will be no results. It was also said during the elections recently. So we see many-many challenges here, and we also see our role but not as the owners of the process but as facilitators. And we are happy to be as active as possible. Economically for instance I am really happy to say, that we will be hosting next Ukrainian Reform Conference in Vilnius after London, Copenhagen, Toronto this year. This is also to do the same, to pull resources, prove project management capabilities, to make the process transparent without any corruption and also without any other obstacles which were the case in previous cases. This is not purely related with the security but it is related with the situation of the country and we really should be proactive in this regard to do this nationally and also collectively within the organization. Pressure, coming back to your question, will not help here and we believe that Ukraine will be in the position to explain its position clearly and international community to stand by.

Now to the relations with the United States, it is being discussed the alleged pressure of President Trump on President Zelenskyy for his political game. And in Ukraine there are fears of losing bipartisan U.S. support that has been vital for Ukrainians all these years especially since the start of Russian aggression. Do you think these fears are justified?

No, this is a mess, this situation. And it is quite embarrassing and in the end not helpful, definitely, but I hope it will be sorted out. And I hope bipartisan support of U.S. will be continued because we know the support in Congress, we know that the politicians are quite clearly supporting Ukraine, the same with regard to Europe. These are good lessons for the future for those who participated in the story and those who did not. But let’s hope it will not change in general the process and the nature…

Many people in Ukraine would disagree because they really see there is a huge damage to Ukraine – U.S. relations and say that instead Ukraine should turn to Europe more, and Europe should also focus on Ukraine more – stepping in and filling the void that might be created after the U.S. more reluctantly approaches relations with Ukraine.

These doubts can be dismissed only by doing things. Whether it is true or not we will see quite soon. I hope it will be sorted out. Of course there is some damage, evidently, it is not helpful what happened, but we have to go on and it is the only way.

From the 1st of November there will be new leadership in the European Commission, a new high representative on foreign policy. We heard her speech, it was quite encouraging for Ukrainians. It seemed much more firm that the previous high representative. Can Ukraine and other eastern neighbors hope for more engagement from the E.U. with this new leadership in the European Commission? Will there be more support, more engagement?

Definitely it is important. I don’t know what will happen in reality. I believe it won’t be worse definitely, whether it will be better, it will depends on all of us, not only on supporting side, but also on receiving side. So it is up to us, it is not given by default. But you are right, the change, I believe will be fresh blood and sufficient enthusiasm and we will continue in the same fashion as we did so far and maybe better because time is running. And time is not on our side, by the way. That is important to know, so let’s hope for better.

My final question would be: what do you think are the main three security priorities for the eastern neighbors now?

Three? Difficult to count. Instability, first of all. Also ownership of people. People must feel the changes if not they will be passive and won’t support political leadership. And external assistance for focused, motivated and really targeted, which is also not the case always. Because we have a lot of separate initiatives, but there is no consistent mechanism. And it would be my desire to make it really work. So maybe that would be just at first glance the way ahead.

/Interview by Olga Tokariuk

/Text by Natalia Smolentceva