“Etiquette” is a loan word in Russian, as in other languages, but the practice does not seem to have been borrowed along with the word by some Russian diplomats, particularly when assigned to the Baltic states. On March 29, Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, Boris Tsepov, refused to attend President Valdas Adamkus’ reception for the diplomatic corps on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Baltic states’ accession to NATO (ELTA, March 30). Five days earlier, Tsepov’s interview with the Vilnius daily Respublika stunned a Lithuanian public already accustomed to Russian diplomats’ breaches of etiquette.
“This is not a country, but a place of assembly for brawl-lovers who are running around trying to find some compromising material on each other,” Tsepov declared. “Many decisions are followed by scandals and a bad atmosphere. There is always someone who has eavesdropped on others or informs on someone else. Then they all sit there, dirty and happy that no one else has managed to stay clean.”
Tsepov to went on to imply that Moscow might resort to orchestrating a propaganda campaign against Lithuania: “Russians don’t have much information about Lithuania. If they knew what was going on here, their attitude would change, and not necessarily for the better. Current developments in Lithuania are far from worthy of applause. The Russian people would be disappointed to learn that the anti-Russian ingredient is ever-present here.”
Finally, the ambassador hinted at Russia’s leverage as the sole supplier of oil and gas: “[Lithuanians] should express appreciation to Russia for those energy supplies. Instead, they say that dependence on Russian energy endangers the national security. If so, Russia could sell that energy elsewhere” (Respublika, March 24, as cited by BNS and ELTA, March 24, 25).
Only two weeks previously, Tsepov had demanded that Lithuania’s leading daily, Lietuvos Rytas, publish an open letter in which he alleged that the paper served “political forces that are ferocious advocates of Russophobia and of international confrontation.” “You and the likes of you have not learned and will not learn to be honorable citizens of the civilized international community,” and will find no place in “united Europe,” the open letter said (see EDM, March 16). Its timing was closely related to Lithuania’s national day (March 11, the 15th anniversary of the restoration of state independence) and the first anniversary of the country’s accession to NATO (March 29).
Lithuanian officials reacted to Tsepov’s latest outburst (as they did to previous ones from the Russian embassy) with dignified restraint. President Adamkus commented that respect toward the country of accreditation is a basic diplomatic requirement; his adviser on foreign policy, Edminas Bagdonas, that any ambassador should observe the etiquette; Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, that he would not stoop to polemics; Deputy Prime Minister Viktoras Uspaskikh (a native of Russia), that a diplomat is supposed to represent his own country, rather than judge the host country publicly; and the parliamentary foreign relations commission chairman, Justinas Karosas, that instructing the host country what to do is unusual and undiplomatic (BNS, ELTA, March 24, 25). Senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wondered aloud whether Tsepov’s outbursts are spontaneous or delivered on instructions as part of a harder line in Moscow.
Personal style and etiquette aside, Tsepov is almost certainly expressing Moscow’s displeasure with three ongoing developments: First, the decision of Adamkus (along with his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel) to stay away from Moscow’s May 9 anniversary celebrations of the Soviet victory in the Second World War (Tsepov tried to downplay this issue in his Respublika interview). Second, the Lithuanian government and parliamentary officials’ recent cautionary statements about Russian diplomats on the prowl for classified information. And, third, the Lithuanian government’s efforts — following the destruction of the Yukos oil company in Russia — to reduce dependence on Russian oil supplies and to avoid an outright takeover of the Mazeikiai oil-processing and transport complex by Russia’s state-connected oil companies.