Last weekend, the winner of the last year’s parliamentary elections in Lithuania, the Peasants and Greens Union, held a congress with a view to elect a new leader, but, as was expected, the Union re-elected Ramunas Karbauskis, who is supposed to guide the country in the next two years and who is believed to be one of the key presidential hopefuls in 2019. In the meantime, for several months already, the Lithuanians have witnessed real hysteria: one of their most successful politicians has been facing charges of being “Moscow’s agent.”
In a hail of charges
Last autumn, the Peasants and Greens Union won 56 of the 141 parliamentary seats and formed a ruling coalition. Today, the Union’s men are at the head of the Cabinet, the Seimas and most of the ministries and the parliamentary committees. The party has as many as 4,000 members and enjoys political dominance in its country.
However, for several months already, its leader, former businessman, Ramunas Karbauskis, has been facing a hail of charges. Karbauskis is 47 years old. He is the biggest landowner in his country. In 1996, he declared property worth 0.47mn LTL. In 2015, it was already 100 times bigger.
Stories about his collaboration with the Russian special services first appeared before the elections. Among the authors was even quite popular 15min.lt. The sources referred to the Ukrainian special services and claimed that Karbauskis was a Russian spy nicknamed Karabas and that he was very close to Putin’s team and agents in Europe.
Karbauskis said that the lies had been fabricated by his opponents – the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats and their leaders Gabrielius Landsbergis and Andrius Kubilius. The Conservatives failed to discredit Karbauskis and his party won the elections. But they persist and keep claiming that Karbauskis does have close contacts with Russia.
Where did you get your money from?
Even though Lithuania’s State Security Department says that it has received no compromising materials from Ukraine, “patriot” journalists keep attacking Karbauskis and not only him but also his brother, Artistic Director of the Moscow-based Mayakovsky Academic Theater Mindaugas Karbauskis. In his article about Mindaugas, political scientist Marius Laurinavicius claims that being Putin’s protégé, Mindaugas can influence his brother’s foreign policy. According to Laurinavicius, Mindaugas Karbauskas is part of “Putin’s propaganda machine,” the enemy of the West and the betrayer of his own nation, while his brother Ramunas was once an opponent of Lithuania’s membership to NATO.
In his article in Delfi.lt, political analyst Rimvydas Valatka calls Ramunas Karbauskis “an oligarch controlled by Russia” and urges the Lithuanians not to let him run for presidency in 2019. “He is suspected of being close to the Kremlin and therefore poses a serious threat to our security,” Valatka said. Karbauskis parried by saying, “The wait is over! My political opponents have lost their temper and have done exactly what I expected them to do – they have begun talking trash about my brother, Mindauskas. If you have nothing to pin on me, you better admit your defeat and the fact that it was because of people like you that over 1,000,000 people have left our country over the last two decades. Aren’t you satisfied?”
It turned out that they weren’t as they took a “heavy gun”: in a TV interview, former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius quoted some U.S. analysts as saying that the Kremlin used the practice of bribing businessmen in some EU member states and ushering them into big politics. Kubilius shared his surprise with the fact that being just 24 years old, Karbauskis already dealt with Russian oligarchs in Poland and Lithuania. “He must explain to his people where his contacts with the Russian business come from and where he got his money from. Aren’t those contacts a threat to our security and isn’t that money the Kremlin’s reward?” Kubilius said. It was not the first time he said that. Local comic writers have even made a film about Kubilius giving the same answer to whatever question asked: “Where could a 24-year-old guy have got such money from?”
“The Kremlin’s agent” vs “Moscow’s agent”
Karbauskis makes no secret about his biography. In an interview he said: “In 1993, I established Agrokoncernas. Today, it is the Lithuanian representative of BASF of Germany, Birchmeier and Felco of Switzerland and Acron of Russia.” But here too vigilant Kubilius has found what to get at: “Acron is one of the biggest fertilizer producers in the world. It is controlled by Russian oligarch Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, who is close to the Kremlin. For the third consecutive time, he has been elected the President of the European Jewish Congress. And during his meeting with Kantor that Putin said that Russia might become refuge for European Jews fleeing the new wave of anti-Semitism.” Karbauskis parried by saying: “I have not visited Russia for over ten years already. And I did that on purpose so as now to be able to answer such questions.”
Some of the charges laid against Karbauskis are simply ridiculous. Valatka is suspicious even of his wish to fight mass alcoholism among the Lithuanians: if Karbauskis wants to raise the excise tax on low alcohol drinks, it means that he is Putin’s agent. “When 26 years ago I was signing the Independence Act, I believed that it was the last day that the Lithuanians would have to drink vodka and that from that day on, they would be able to act like normal Europeans – to drink wine when celebrating their birthdays with friends. But the Lithuanians have elected Karabas and his men and their country has been thrown back into the kingdom of Russian vodka. This was the fate Sir Karabas from Naisiai (the patrimony of Ramunas Karbauskis - EADaily), the seller of Russian pesticides, chose for Lithuania when he suggested placing Russian vodka in the same category with European wines,” Valatka said.
This all forced Karbauskis to ask prosecutors to find those spreading such lies. “I am ready to stand constructive criticism – even if it is aggressive. But I am not going to stand lies. I am happy to see that our people have not reacted to these manipulations,” Karbauskis said and hit the ball back by calling his opponents “Moscow’s agents.” In his opinion, the campaign launched against him is very much like “the second phase of the hybrid war” where ill-wishers are deliberately “misleading local politicians.” So, the Lithuanians may well face a battle between two “Moscow’s agents.” It seems that official idiocy in Lithuania is gathering pace and here that country may already rival with Ukraine, where such fights have long become normal practice.
Will good sense win some day?
After the victory of the Peasants and Greens Union, some Russian experts expressed hope that it was not the worst outcome. There is an “anti-Russian consensus” in Lithuania, which means that none of the local political forces dares to defy the directives about “an aggressor in the east” and “the need to reinforce the western border.” But even in this atmosphere, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats was exceptional in its Russophobia. And had they won the elections, Lithuania’s relations with Russia would have become even worse. In this light, the Union looked the best option.
But even if Karbauskis has some hidden leanings towards Russia, displaying them would mean political death for him. So, he is forced to act in line with his predecessors’ militarist policy. He is not very enthusiastic about it and two months ago, he told LRT that he is not ready to allot 2% of the GDP for defense right now. “Our program says that we should raise the financing to 2% of the GDP by 2018. This is our obligations to NATO partners. On the other hand, we should optimize the system of military purchases and to rationalize the use of the available equipment so as to avoid unnecessary costs,” Karbauskis said, reminding the journalists of the recent scandal when the Defense Ministry found out that the army had paid for cooking things a price that was eight times higher than on the market.
Before the elections, Karbauskis objected to high military expenses and said that his priority was the social sector rather than the army, but after the victory, he changed his mind as he did not want to face new charges by anti-Russian forces.
Some of his men have proved to be more decisive. His Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis suggested imposing universal military service in Lithuania and even said that the Soviet-time model – “leave the school and join the army” – was ideal. “We will not let 1940 recur. We will defend ourselves,” Skvernelis said.
BaltNews.lt quotes Karbauskis’s another comrade, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis as saying that if the Government uses the budget rationally and honestly, it will be able to allot 2.2-2.4% of the GDP for the army. U.S. Senator John McCain would be happy to hear this. Nor did Karbauskis object to the appointment of Linas Linkevicius, one of the most odious Russophobes of the Baltics, as foreign minister. So, we should stop cherishing hopes that under “Moscow’s agent” Lithuania will become more balanced and less aggressive.
There still is a little hope
Here we should listen to Alexander Udaltsov, a very experienced diplomat, Russia’s Ambassador to Lithuania: “We have scrutinized the program of the new Lithuanian government and have analyzed the first statements by the new prime minister and his cabinet members. And, unfortunately, there we have seen no big wish to improve our relations. On the contrary, the new Lithuanian authorities are going to make us answerable for our refusal ‘not to use force and military aggression,’ ‘to respect the international law,’ ‘to compensate for the damages caused to the international security architecture and to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring states,’ and so on. Our Foreign Ministry could not ignore the groundless charges by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius and has qualified them as one more attempt to spoil the atmosphere of Russian-Lithuanian relations and to cloud their future.”
“On the other hand, we know that program statements and practical steps are two different stories. So, we have certain hopes as in the same documents, Lithuania expressed readiness to have ‘pragmatic contacts’ with us and to develop contacts in economy, trade, investments, transit and tourism ‘to the extent complying with the key goal of Lithuania’s policy on Russia.’ I think the best way for the sides to improve their relations would be to stop using a patronizing accusatory tone in their dialogue and to start showing mutual respect at least on expert, parliamentary and regional levels,” Udaltsov said.
“It seems to me that the Lithuanians are trying to use any pretext just to cause harm to the Russians even at the expense of their own benefit. When resigning, previous Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius admitted that Russia’s countermeasures had caused serious damages to the Lithuanian economy. In 2015 alone, Lithuanian milk producers lost 75mn EUR, while transport companies lost over 220mn EUR. This is a very big sum for a country like Lithuania. So, I still hope that the leaders of that country will come to their senses,” Udaltsov said.