Lithuania’s new prime minister, Rolandas Paksas, paid on June 29 a landmark visit to Moscow, the first by a Lithuanian head of government in four-and-a-half years and the first ever by a Conservative Lithuanian premier. Still more significant, the Russian side–departing from entrenched habit–did not voice objections to Lithuania’s determination to join NATO. Such restraint on the part of Russia’s Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and other officials seemed all the more noteworthy in view of two contextual factors. First, Lithuania’s perceived status–in Washington and in the Baltic region–as a frontrunner candidate for NATO membership. And, second, Paksas’ clear-cut statement in a Russian press interview, published on the day of his visit, that Lithuania will exert every effort to join NATO by 2002. Moscow’s ensuing restraint, therefore, seemed to vindicate the three Baltic states’ argument that Russian resistance is best handled by stressing the irreversibility of the process of Baltic accession to NATO and accelerating that process.
Regarding Paksas’ proposal, Stepashin agreed to soon begin negotiations toward a long-term agreement on Russian crude oil supplies to Lithuania. Earlier this year, Moscow twice stopped those supplies, starving off the Mazeikai refinery in the hope of forcing Lithuania to cede part-ownership of its oil sector to the LUKoil company. Vilnius, however, stuck by its preference for the Williams International company of the United States. It will now be up to the Russian side to keep or to lose the Lithuanian market for crude oil. The rebounding international oil prices may also account for Moscow’s consent to begin negotiations on a straight commercial deal with Lithuania.
Vilnius has initiated parallel negotiations with Kazakhstan on oil supplies. At the Central and East European Economic Forum in Salzburg yesterday, Paksas and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev resolved to work out an agreement on oil deliveries and transit. Lithuania offers its Butinge maritime terminal–due to be enlarged and completed by Williams–for the transit of Kazakhstani oil.
Vilnius did not allow the success of this visit to relax its vigilance on national security. Simultaneously with the dialogue in Moscow, Lithuania–citing violations of safety and transit regulations–stopped a Russian military unit from travelling to the Kaliningrad region and denied an overflight permit to the commander of Russian forces in that region (BNS, June 29, 30; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 29).
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