Analyst: Lithuania takes Baltic foreign policy lead

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Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs (from the left), Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Foreign Ministry of Ukraine

Lithuania has become the most outstanding Baltic state in terms of foreign policy, while this should not make Estonia jealous as the country has much to gain, Estonian Foreign Policy Institute researcher Piret Kuusik finds.

"The emergence of Lithuanian foreign policy has not gone unnoticed in Estonia. Both the previous government of Jüri Ratas (Center) and the current coalition under Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has been criticized for their sluggish reaction to events in Belarus and indecisiveness in China relations," Kuusik writes in an article published on the institute's website.

It took Estonia several days to make a decision after a number of countries had already banned Belarusian aircraft from their airspace. This kind of slow reaction to such events is unusual for Estonia, Kuusik finds. At the same time, Lithuania has become one of the leading voices on Belarus after Vilnius rushed to support its pro-democracy opposition after the August presidential elections and opened its border to opposition figures. Lithuania also publicly left the 17+1 cooperation format between China and Eastern and Central European states.

Kuusik writes that talking to Lithuanians or Latvians, it often feels they see Estonia as a competitor. Estonia does not see the other two Baltic countries as its competitors and rather tries to compare it to the Nordics. However, this might change in the wake of Lithuania's rise.

"Is it a bad thing?" Kuusik asks. "No. It is good if every Baltic state can develop its own strength. Lithuania shares a border with Belarus, and it is only natural it takes a deeper concern in its neighbor's affairs," the analyst notes.

Latvia is trying to promote closer ties with Central Asia and develop corresponding competency.

Estonia has been known for its cyberspace and IT achievements, even though the world catching up begs the question of how long can we maintain our lead. Estonia has also been seen as the contact point of the region. Kuusik writes that a survey in the EU from a few summer back saw many Europeans admit they see Estonia as the leader of the Baltics. Because Estonia has close ties to Latvia and Lithuania and also understands Nordic cast of mind, Tallinn makes for a good partner for entering the region," Kuusik finds.

Still, Estonia should not view Lithuania's rise as a loss. All three Baltic countries are growing out of self-centered foreign policy. There are other topics in the world besides Russia and the security situation in our region. While the latter will remain our priority, opening our portfolio to other topics can only strengthen our position in the eyes of allies and partners," Kuusik finds.

Tallinn should support Vilnius, it should even be our strategic goal, the research fellow writes. Recent criticism of the Estonian government's foreign policy that has been considered conformable is deserved as foreign policy shows little in terms of strategic thinking and runs more along the lines of carelessness, Kuusik remarks.

"Foreign policy today cannot be based on the hope that everyone is friends with everyone else, which is why we don't need to pick sides and protect our values and principles. On the contrary: the time to do that is now. Talking about the weakening of the world order based on international law, human rights and democracy cannot save it. Actions help. It seems that Lithuania has realized as much," Kuusik concludes.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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