Lithuania remains the main threat to the normalization with the West
Last week, two events evidenced that Vilnius remained among major culprits hampering the normalization process between Minsk and the EU and halting Belarus’ efforts in improving her international reputation.
Firstly, following Lithuania’s proposal, the EU member states, parties to the Espoo Convention, voted to consider the information provided by Belarus regarding the choice of a construction site for the nuclear power plant insufficient in order to recognize Belarus’ compliance with the convention requirements. The solidarity of the EU member states predetermined the outcome of the voting not in Belarus’ favour. This decision is likely to strengthen Lithuania’s arguments in terms of the lack of safety at the Belarusian NPP under construction. In response, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry published an extensive and sharp comment accusing Lithuania of manipulating the Convention and misleading the international community.
Secondly, the Lithuanian State Security Department published a policy paper analyzing threats to national security in 2019, in which it named Belarus and her cooperation with Russia among the threats. The paper described Belarus as a Moscow-dependent state, which could become a springboard for a Russian attack on Western countries. This document also prompted a sharp response by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
Overall, last week’s events clearly demonstrated the existence of a public conflict between Minsk and Vilnius, which not only further enhanced mistrust in bilateral relations but also threatened with a long-term blocking of improvements in relations with the European Union as a multilateral institution. Contrary to Minsk’s expectations that the EU would bear down on “controversial” Vilnius, a reverse process is ongoing - the EU member states, in accordance with their internal rules, solidarize with Lithuania and anticipate that Belarus would resolve the dispute with Lithuania in a bilateral format. Having said that, Minsk’s emotional public response seems inappropriate and attracts additional unnecessary attention (including from Brussels) to the lingering conflict.