On Lithuanian-Belarus Relations
The success of any country’s foreign policy is often measured by its relationship with its neighbors. Lithuania shares a border with Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Russia’s exclave, the Kaliningrad Oblast.
For a long time Lithuania lived in the “shared compartment” of the Soviet Union which suppressed the national identity of the Lithuanian people and inhibited the development of the State.
The restoration of independence in 1990 brought not only long-awaited freedom but challenges as Lithuania sought to develop its foreign policy. Maintaining good relations with all neighboring countries was not an easy matter for Lithuania. Fruitful relations have developed with Latvia but relations with Poland need improvement and, as might be expected, Lithuania and Russia do not have a positive relationship. However, progress in bilateral relations have improved between Belarus and Lithuania
“Belarus is an important partner of Lithuania in all areas, including in agriculture,” Lithuania’s Vice Agriculture Minister Vilius Martusevicius said as he met with a Belarusian delegation on February 1st. According to the Vice Minister, trade with Belarus accounts for a significant share in Lithuanian foreign trade in agricultural products and foodstuffs.
In 2014 Belarus was sixth in terms of export among Lithuania’s 122 partners. In terms of imports Belarus was 14th among 109 countries. The parties signed a protocol on cooperation in agriculture which included fishing, land improvement, investments, agricultural universities, and veterinary and phytosanitary measures. These issues will be high on the economic forum’s agenda in Belarus in March.
The significance of the Lithuanian-Belarus relationship goes beyond ordinary neighborly relations. They share a common history but have different approaches to modern geopolitical situations.
Some experts say that two countries are on opposite sides of some issues: Lithuania is a member of NATO and the EU and Belarus is a member of CSTO and EEU. Matters of dispute include building a nuclear power plant in Belarus and NATO’s expansion to include the Baltic States.
Nevertheless, there is interest in further deepening economic ties as well as a joint commitment of cooperation in the military sphere.
On February 4th, Lithuanian Ministry of Defense, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Brigadier General Vilmantas Tamošaitis paid a visit to Minsk and met with Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces, Major General Oleg Belokonev. At the meeting Vilmantas Tamošaitis and Oleg Belokonev exchanged views about the current security situation in the region and discussed the possibilities of continued bilateral cooperation.
Positive examples of neighborly relations are not trendy now. However, Lithuania and Belarus are among those who are not afraid to seek mutually beneficial projects and wider cooperation.
Regional military and economic security along with border control are matters of mutual concern. Wise political decisions and collaboration will help the countries be good neighbors despite their differences. Taking into account the Belarus economic difficulties, Lithuania may not only benefit economically, but may also gain a grateful partner.