Are good-neighborly relations possible? Conference report
Konferencijos pranešimų medžiaga
|Autorius||Robert van Voren|
|Leidykla||Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas|
In October 2021, an international conference was organized by the Andrei Sakharov Research Center under the Patronage of the President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda. The subject was the development of diplomatic ties between Lithuania and Russia, which were analyzed from different angles and over different time periods, beginning with the signature of the Treaty on the Foundations of Interstate Relations between Lithuania and Russia in 1991. When Lithuania re-established its independence in March 1990, Russia was still part of the USSR. Diplomatic relations between the two countries took a turning point with the signing of a Treaty on July 29th, 1991. This agreement remains an outstanding example of how international law can be the basis for re-establishing new and productive relations. The Treaty contained the principles that guide relations between Lithuania and Russia: the non-use of force and non-interference in internal affairs; respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the inviolability of borders; cooperation in economic fields and other spheres. The Treaty was a significant step forward, particularly considering that the Soviet Union was still in place when it was signed, although Russia was beginning to establish an independent foreign policy. Moreover, in the agreement, Russia publicly acknowledged the violation of Lithuanian borders in 1940 and the illegality of Soviet occupation, a result that no other Baltic country had obtained. The 1991 Treaty was partially the result of developments in international relations between the East and West that followed the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975. The negotiations took place in an atmosphere of great excitement and desire for change, and despite some eventual friction, the Russian and Lithuanian people and their leaders demonstrated mutual respect and commitment to the ideals of democracy and freedom.
After this historical achievement, positive relations were maintained for some years. However, while Lithuania remained on the path towards democracy and integration in Europe, Russia, unfortunately, regressed to an autocratic regime guided by the authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin. Lithuania was soon faced with a neighbour that was becoming hostile and threatening. Indeed, the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas; the consequences of the political crisis in Belarus; and the negative attitude of the current Russian leadership toward the West continue to demonstrate the Kremlin does not share the respect for international law that prevailed under Boris Yeltsin. Is there any possibility of evolving the present situation? There is always hope, but it would take great commitment on both sides. Putin’s regime appears to off er no prospect for growth or development and therefore any breakthrough in the near future seems unlikely. Outcomes are difficult to predict, however, and one thing seems certain: the Russian population will not always remain passive. As the past has shown, the role of Western democracies, and countries like Lithuania in particular, may stimulate a broader understanding of human rights, civil society, and the rule of law in the region, thus fostering the basis for a new and open dialogue.