Lithuania, Relations with

Lithuania, Relations with
   During the late 18th century, most of modern-day Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empire as part of the larger dismantlement of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. An independent Lithuania emerged in the 1920s after wars with both Poland and Soviet Russia. Along with the other Baltic States, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and became one of the union republics. Under perestroika, a Lithuanian reform movement known as Sąjūdis emerged as the dominant political force in the republic. Lithuania began to emerge as the leading force for political change within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) by 1989. During that year, Lithuanians along with Estonians and Latvians created a nearly 600-kilometer human chain known as the Baltic Way to protest against the actions of the USSR 50 years before at the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which paved the way for annexation of the Baltics. After World War II, the Kremlin ordered the deportation of more than 100,000 Lithuanians to Siberia and other parts of the USSR.
   In 1990, the opposition Democratic Labor Party of Lithuania declared the republic’s independence and suspended the Soviet Constitution, laying the groundwork for the ultimate dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Vytautas Landsbergis, the new president, emerged as the popular face of struggle against Moscow, particularly after Mikhail Gorbachev ordered Soviet troops to seize communication installations in Vilnius during the so-called January Events of 1991. The subsequent bloodshed impugned Gorbachev’s international image, allowing Landsbergis and other independent-minded local politicians to push for international recognition and hold a referendum on independence (in an election that polled three-fourths of the voters, 90 percent favored cutting ties with Moscow).
   Shortly after the August Coup, Vilnius was granted full independence by the Russian government, now under the direction of Boris Yeltsin. Russia completed its troop withdrawal on 31 August 1993, a year ahead of Russia’s Northwestern Group of Forces evacuation of the other Baltic republics. The country’s post-Soviet relations with Russia deteriorated sharply in the 1990s as Lithuania moved toward accession to the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Lithuania joined both organizations in 2004. Since admission to NATO, a number of events have chilled relations, including the crash of a Russian spy plane near Kaunas in 2005 and the arrest of a Russian official on charges of espionage for Lithuania in 2006.
   Unlike its northern Baltic counterparts—Estonia and Latvia— Lithuania chose not to pass restrictive citizenship laws on its ethnic Russians, who comprise less than 10 percent of the population. Due to its geopolitical situation within the Schengen zone of visafree countries, Lithuania’s policy on the transit of Russian citizens between Kaliningrad Oblast and Russia proper remains a critical issue on the bilateral and European levels; Kaliningrad’s dependence on Lithuania for foodstuffs and energy is also a factor in the MoscowVilnius relationship. Lithuania’s criticism of Belarus’s political leadership also complicates matters, as the latter is a stalwart ally of the Russian Federation. Vilnius, backed by the United States and European powers, has sought to assist the development of a new, oppositionary political elite in Belarus through educational exchanges and support of nongovernmental organizations, as well as support for opposition media.
   Lithuania’s support for NATO admission of Ukraine and Georgia has rankled Moscow; however, in early 2009, Vilnius became the first EU state to push for warmer relations with Russia in the wake of the South Ossetian War. Unlike Latvia to its north and Belarus to its south, Lithuania is not a major transshipment partner for EUbound Russian oil and natural gas, thus allowing a certain level of normalcy in energy relations between the two states. Vilnius has, however, backed a common Baltic strategy to avoid Russian hegemony on energy, in part due to the Kremlin’s iron-fisted negotiations over the purchase of refineries in 2006, which resulted in a Lithuanian portion of the Druzhba pipeline being shut down.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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