As Sunday’s referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea approaches, the visiting Lithuanian foreign minister called Russia’s de facto occupation of the territory an act of aggression against a sovereign nation and said the Baltic state will not recognize the election results.
Following what he described as “fruitful discussions” with several Japanese ministers and business leaders in Tokyo, Linas Linkevicius, 53, told The Japan Times that the result of the referendum conducted under the control of foreign troops is not legitimate.
He urged the international community, including Japan, to send a clear message to Russia.
“(The) situation in Crimea is deteriorating. It’s not getting better. (Russia’s action) is illegal and I’m sad to see that so-called referendum is going to take place this weekend,” Linkevicius said Thursday night in Tokyo as he wrapped up a five-day visit.
“Aggression or invasion of the territory of a sovereign state is unacceptable in the 21st century. (The) international community and international organizations should send out coordinated and clear messages to Russia in order to stop it (from annexing Crimea),” he said.
Linkevicius, whose country is a member of the European Union, said the EU plans to decide on the scope of sanctions against Russia at a meeting of foreign ministers Monday in Brussels.
According to media reports, the sanctions will include targeting Russian officials with travel bans and asset freezes.
“If the situation further deteriorates, if Russia will not take (measures) to de-escalate the situation, and it will not engage with (the) Ukrainian government, we will apply targeted (measures),” he said.
Asked about the possibility of Russia redrawing its border with Lithuania — a neighboring state and a former Soviet republic — Linkevicius said it has security guarantees from NATO.
“Lithuania is a member of NATO and a member of (the) EU. We have security guarantees. We trust these guarantees,” he said.
Meanwhile, Linkevicius called on Japan to provide economic support to the new government of Ukraine, noting the country is on the brink of economic collapse.
“We believe that Japan could play a really important role in this,” he said, noting Japan is a global economic power.
As for Lithuania’s ties with Japan, Linkevicius said he wants to cooperate with Tokyo in the field of energy, given that 100 percent of his nation’s gas and 99 percent of its oil come from Russia.
Lithuania signed a nuclear power plant deal with Hitachi Ltd. in March 2012. But the plan has been effectively on hold following a nonbinding referendum held in October 2012 asking citizens if they wanted an atomic power plant. About 60 percent voted against the plan.
However, given Lithuania’s current energy dependence on Russia, the minister said he wants to proceed with the plan and to continue cooperation with Hitachi.
Lithuania declared its independence on March 11, 1990, which the Soviet Union recognized the following year.
Maehara urges sanctions
A senior opposition Diet lawmaker and former foreign minister urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to impose sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine.
“It is important to be in step with the United States and European countries and join them in sanctions,” Seiji Maehara, former president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters Thursday during his visit to Washington.
Maehara criticized the Abe administration for having second thoughts about imposing sanctions against Russia over fears it would adversely affect negotiations with Moscow to regain control of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.
“We must treat this separately” from efforts to improve ties with Russia, settle the territorial dispute and sign a post-World War II peace treaty, Maehara said.
If Russia is allowed to try to control an area where Russian-speaking people live, areas under Russian influence could expand without limit, Maehara said. “We must not tolerate such a thing.”
He made the remarks after a series of meetings with U.S. government officials and members of Congress since earlier this week.