Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 114

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov paid a six-hour visit to Lithuania on June 13. Primakov described the mere fact of the visit as a demonstration that Russian-Lithuanian relations are “much better than relations with the other two Baltic countries.” Estonia and Latvia, in his view, oppress their Russian populations. Nevertheless, Primakov made no distinction between the Baltic states on the issue of NATO’s enlargement: “Lithuania’s, or indeed any Baltic state’s accession to NATO is unacceptable to Russia. This would definitely threaten our security and jeopardize our geopolitical interests.” Primakov dusted off his own and President Boris Yeltsin’s 1997 proposals that the Baltic states accept some form of security guarantees to be negotiated outside NATO.

Primakov announced that Moscow accepts Lithuania’s aspiration to join the European Union–a move that “would harm no one.” He withheld, however, a similar endorsement from both Estonia (the Baltic frontrunner for EU membership) and from Latvia, alleging that they do not meet “EU standards” on the treatment of “national minorities.” Primakov met with Lithuania’s top leaders, except Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis. An October date was tentatively set for an official visit by Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius to Moscow–a type of favor that Russia has been withholding from Estonia and Latvia. (Itar-Tass, BNS, Radio Vilnius, June 13).

Primakov’s visit virtually coincided with Lithuania’s Day of Sorrow and Hope, observed on June 14. On that date in 1941 Soviet authorities began the deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia, a process that was to affect more than 300,000 Lithuanians after the war. The Lithuanian parliament recently defined the war-time and post-war deportations as a crime of genocide not subject to a statute of limitations, and amended the penal codes accordingly. The USSR KGB, in which Primakov eventually rose to prominence, bears a major share of responsibility for the deportations.