Envoy talks Lithuania, Azerbaijan freedom fight, ties and co-op

As Azerbaijan will this week mark the 26th anniversary of the January 20 tragedy of 1990, Trend has spoken with Lithuania’s ambassador in Baku, Valdas Lastauskas about those events and the similar ones that took place in his country in January 1991. The ambassador spoke about the role these events have played in the fight for freedom in Lithuania and Azerbaijan, as well as answered questions regarding the prospects for the two countries’ relations and cooperation in trade, transportations, communication and information technologies, and other areas.

Q: Lithuania and Azerbaijan gained their freedom and independence in early 1990s. Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare its withdrawal from the USSR in March 1990, and in less than a year, in January 1991, Soviet tanks entered the country’s capital. Prior to that, Azerbaijan too went through bloody events in January 1990 as it was aspiring for independence. What can you say about the fateful January events on Lithuania’ path to freedom?

A: This week Azerbaijan will mark the 26th anniversary of the day of the tragedy of January 20. Twenty-six years ago it became clear that the Soviet Empire was unable to survive any longer, since its foundation was based not on the free will and free choice of people. The tanks in the cities and towns during the peace period since the events in Budapest and Prague, and in Tbilisi in 1989, in Baku in 1990 and in Vilnius in 1991 didn’t scare people. It strengthened people‘s will to become free and choose the future of the country themselves. The Baku events made some impact on Lithuania and encouraged its people to seek independence courageously and consistently.

Lithuanians fully understand the people of Azerbaijan, since less than in one year after January 20, the similar events happened in Lithuania. Last week Lithuania marked the 25th anniversary of the deadly dispersal of pro-independence demonstrators in Vilnius by Soviet troops in 1991, one of the catalysts of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Marches, gatherings, church services, and other events were held across the country on January 13.

In order to remember people who sacrificed their lives and to honor those who courageously withstood coming tanks singing national songs and holding Lithuanian flags on January 13, 1991, this day was named Lithuania‘s Freedom Defenders‘ Day. The flower forget-me-not – a flower for remembering, for reminding and for the freedom, was chosen as a symbol of this day.

Events of January in 1990 and 1991 even stronger bridged Lithuania and Azerbaijan. Those days show us that Lithuanians and Azerbaijanis are the nations of the same tragic fate. They also show that both countries can be proud of the courage of their peoples, their strength of mind, their self-sacrifice to put up peaceful resistance to the aggressor and to stand against tanks for the freedom of their motherlands, for the dignity of their nations, for independence. That is why today we enjoy achievements of our countries and see wide perspectives for cooperation.

Q: The next meeting of the Azerbaijan-Lithuania Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation is expected to be held in late January. What kind of issues are on the meeting’s agenda?

A: The fifth annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission of the Government of Lithuania and the Government of Azerbaijan will be held at the end of this week. Lithuania and Azerbaijan enjoy close cooperation, that is why the range of the discussions during the meeting is quite wide and will include further development of trade and economic cooperation, cooperation in energy, agriculture, youth and sports, health, culture, tourism, education, transport, communications and IT.

Lithuania pays particular attention to cultural cooperation development, which is one of the stimuli of life, as well as to the development of tourism as a tool of cognition of the world and our countries. Development of sports is another field on which both countries put special emphasis. Last year, quite a large delegation of Lithuanian sportsmen participated in the Baku 2015 European Games.

Q: Today, Azerbaijan is becoming an important player in cargo transportation. What can you say about the prospects of cooperation in this area between your country and Azerbaijan?

A: I foresee a big success in development of our cooperation in transportation sector, partly in development of cooperation in railway transit. Lithuania, as well as Azerbaijan, has big opportunities for development of railway transit connecting east and west, north and south. Further development of railway transit coincides with the interests of both countries.

Azerbaijan Railways plans to join the transportation project Viking, which was initiated by Lithuania. The participation of Azerbaijan Railways in the Viking project will make it possible to extend the container train route to more distant Asian countries, an alternative route to reach Kazakhstan and China. It is expected that once Azerbaijan Railways joins the project, more freight will be transported to the Baltic region from Kazakhstan and China, and the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be used to transport containers from Turkey to Ukrainian ports.

Q: How has Lithuania suffered from the recent closure of Russian market? Is Azerbaijan in the list of countries where Lithuania directs its exports?

A: Soon after the introduction of Russian sanctions on import of the products of the EU countries, Lithuanian entrepreneurs reoriented their export to other countries, expanding export mainly to the EU countries and to others as well, including Azerbaijan. I would like to emphasize that Lithuanian entrepreneurs have had long-standing trade relations with Azerbaijan long ago before Russian sanctions were introduced.

In 2014, the export of Lithuania to Russia plunged by 16 percent, but in 2015 it slid even more, though the reason was not the sanctions, but the economic crisis in Russia – the decrease of purchasing power of consumers and devaluation of ruble.

Of course, our entrepreneurs have had some losses due to the sanctions as well, but it was not very significant. On the other hand, the Russian sanctions gave stimulus for finding other markets for our products. The markets of remote countries, i.e. the US, China, the Southeast Asia, Middle East and Arab peninsula countries were opened for the Lithuanian products.

Q: What areas of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Lithuania might be a priority in the context of global instability? Do Lithuanian investors have interest in Azerbaijani market? And what areas might be of interest for them?

A: I am sure that there are plenty of spheres of cooperation between Lithuania and Azerbaijan. For example, there are untapped possibilities of cooperation in the sphere of communications and information technologies.

Azerbaijan is a country with significant energy resources, and Lithuania being a member of the EU and having recently built an import-export terminal for liquefied petroleum gas will continue to cooperate with Azerbaijan in energy sector. Despite the fact that the trade relations between the countries are increasing every year, they might be expanded even more significantly. Trade volume of January-November 2015 increased by more than 28 percent. As for the investment in Azerbaijan, I think that it might be [put] in advanced technology industry sector, renewable energy and others.

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