Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 4

Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, Konstantin Mozel, called on President Valdas Adamkus yesterday in an attempt to defuse the current row in bilateral relations between the two countries. The controversy was triggered by the ambassador’s demarche to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry just before Christmas. Mozel expressed concern at the time about the well-being of hardline Communist leaders currently on trial in Vilnius for their role in the 1991 Soviet crackdown; made reproaches about the situation of Russian and other ethnic minorities in Lithuania, particularly with regard to language use in schools and public life; and complained about the transfer of Russian broadcasts from prime time to nonprime time on Lithuanian state television.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry described the criticisms as unfounded and unhelpful, yet passed them on to the government agencies concerned. The local press took up the cudgels, prompting Mozel to complain about an “overreaction” to his statements. Official Vilnius reacted with notable restraint, as did Adamkus’ office yesterday after the president’s meeting with Mozel. Lithuania also played down the recent exposure of a Russian spy operating under the cover of the Russian embassy in Vilnius (BNS, Itar-Tass, January 5, 6; on the espionage case see the Monitor, December 8).

The row is uncharacteristic of overall Russian-Lithuanian relations, and Mozel is an uncharacteristically suave and conciliatory figure among Russian ambassadors in the region. His Christmas Eve demarche seemed to diverge from Moscow’s general policy to spare Lithuania from criticism in the hope of separating it from the other two Baltic states. Mozel’s fence-mending effort seeks to return that differentiation policy to its track. The policy reflects the limited usefulness of the “ethnic card” in Lithuania, whose “Russian-speaking population” is proportionately far smaller than it is in Latvia and Estonia. However, Moscow’s relatively conciliatory attitude toward Lithuania is bound to change as the country progresses toward NATO membership. That is the decisive factor shaping Russian policy toward the three Baltic states, behind the smokescreen of rhetoric about human rights.