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Election in Russia's Crosshairs: Without Sensation, But with Intrigue

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Photo Caption: Current Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has the best chance of winning the elections for this post on May 12. He considers all forms of military support for Ukraine to be possible. Source: president.gov.ua
Photo Caption: Current Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has the best chance of winning the elections for this post on May 12. He considers all forms of military support for Ukraine to be possible. Source: president.gov.ua

In the largest Baltic country - Lithuania - presidential elections will take place on May 12. Observers do not expect sensations, but certain changes in the foreign policy of this key Baltic state are entirely possible.


Lithuania has a crucial geopolitical location on the eastern flank of NATO. It is situated between Belarus to the south and the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia to the northwest. Hot heads in Moscow have repeatedly called for military strikes on the so-called Suwalki Corridor on the border of Lithuania and Poland to cut off all three Baltic states - namely Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia - from Western Europe.


One of the new and significant factors in Lithuanian political life is the presence of migrants from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Vilnius has been closely monitoring events in neighbouring Belarus for quite some time. For example, the leader of the Belarusian democratic forces, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been granted political asylum in the Lithuanian capital.


It is worth noting that over 80,000 Ukrainian refugees not only outnumber Russians and Belarusians but also garner more sympathy from Lithuanians. Therefore, in recent months, there have been numerous diverse and quite specific legislative initiatives on which Lithuanian politicians are trying to earn pre-election points.


The political backdrop in Lithuania this year is quite loud. The fight against "Lithuanization," i.e., against the claims of Belarusians to the political and historical heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (yes, this problem exists). The investigation against Russian and Belarusian intelligence agents, echoes of the migration crisis of autumn 2021. The stakes are quite high because the country is set to elect a president, members of the European Parliament, and a new Seimas (parliament). All these elections will take place in a matter of months.


Lithuania is not only a parliamentary republic where the president is elected by the people but also the only one of the Baltic republics where there is no category of non-citizens. Voting on May 12 in the first round of presidential elections will be held in parallel with a referendum on legalizing dual citizenship.


The political palette in the country is quite diverse, and there is a high probability that in the final of the presidential elections, economist Gitanas Nauseda (unaffiliated with political parties, centrist in views) and financier Ingrida Simonyte (a member of the Christian Democrats) will once again compete, albeit with different political prospects.


Almost all the sociological surveys conducted in Lithuania during the presidential campaign give preference to Nauseda. Although his popularity has waned on the eve of the voting day, and it is premature to speak of victory in the first round, he is unlikely to yield the lead in the second round.


Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with winning in the second round. Even last year's admission by Nauseda of his membership in the Communist Party of Lithuania in the late 1980s, during perestroika, did not harm him. The incumbent head of Lithuania is highly likely to retain his status, remaining at the helm of power for another 5 years.


Ingrida Simonyte, who currently heads the government and previously lost to Nauseda in the final of the previous presidential race, may lose her prime ministerial portfolio in the autumn. The parliamentary coalition led by her, consisting of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, as well as the Freedom Party and the Liberal Movement, is highly likely to lose the parliamentary elections. Last time, they received 50, 11, and 13 seats in the parliament out of 141 possible, respectively.


The right-wing and centrist parties are likely to be replaced by the Greens, farmers, and social democrats, who are expected to pursue a more socially oriented policy and moderate actions. Last time, these parties received 32 and 13 seats, respectively. Given the volatility of Lithuania's political landscape, the future coalition is also expected to consist of at least three participating parties.


However, the situation may turn out to be quite dramatic for Simonyte's further political career, as she currently trails in the rankings behind another Christian Democrat, who is running as an independent candidate - Ignas Vegele. He is considered the wealthiest among the presidential candidates, and his family is suspected of bypassing sanctions against Belarus. Vegele advocates for "very pragmatic relations" with Russia and criticises Lithuania's position on Belarus after the political crisis there in 2020.


Vegele can be seen as a supporter of softening the tough anti-Kremlin policy advocated by the Baltic states. Nauseda, for example, considers all forms of military support for Ukraine, including sending instructors, and accuses NATO and EU colleagues of double standards in assessing aggression against Ukraine and Israel. And although Vegele's victory in the presidential elections is unlikely, these elections could serve as a convenient springboard for him to strengthen his position in the autumn parliamentary elections, competing with Simonyte.


The 2024 presidential elections in Lithuania are unlikely to bring a new figure to the presidential chair, but the head of state will have to work with a new government. And this is a considerable challenge. Therefore, difficult times may lie ahead for supporting Ukraine and fighting for leadership among the Baltic "sisters".


Lithuania expects in the next few years the deployment of a Bundeswehr brigade and an enhanced US Army battalion to its territory. This expectation does not reduce the level of anxiety caused by the threatening actions and statements of the Kremlin. But understanding the scale of the threat can help consolidate the Lithuanian nation. It is extremely necessary for counteracting Russia's hybrid aggression, which is actually already happening, at least indirectly.

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