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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lithuanian-Russian Ties Haunted By Past

VILNIUS, Lithuania - Ten years after leading his country's historic break with the Soviet Union, Lithuanian independence hero Vytautas Landsbergis says relations with Russia are still haunted by the past.

Landsbergis, who this week marks 10 years since Moscow's crackdown of January 13, 1991 which killed 14 people but failed to stop his independence movement, said post-Soviet ties had reached their high during Boris Yeltsin's first Russian presidency.

"I can say they were better in the first Yeltsin period when we cooperated frankly, openly and feeling that we are creating democracy together in Lithuania as well as in Russia," Landsbergis told Reuters in an interview.

Since then there have been concerns that Cold War thinking has made a comeback in the Kremlin, said Landsbergis, who was chairman of Lithuania's parliament, and de facto head of state, when it declared independence from Russia. He is now a member of parliament.

The most recent example came in reports that Moscow had sent tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad -- an isolated Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.

"It is again a shadow of the past, of the militarised and Cold War past," Landsbergis said.

"(It is) an anachronism, militarisation and nuclear militarisation of this region in the very heart of Europe. It has to be a matter of European concern and we as a part of Europe are concerned."

A U.S. official said last week that there had been some movement of tactical nuclear weapons into Kaliningrad, but Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed this as "rubbish".



RELATIONS STILL OKAY

Still, Landsbergis tempered his criticism of Moscow by saying in general he thought relations with Russia were good.

Lithuania has enjoyed better ties with Russia than Baltic neighbours Latvia and Estonia, since it has fewer disagreements over the treatment of its smaller Russian-speaking minority.

But Lithuania's bid to join NATO has upset Moscow, which opposes any expansion of its former Cold War foe into the ex-Soviet Union.

Although politicians here have almost unanimously supported joining the alliance, as well as the European Union, polls suggest many ordinary Lithuanians have misgivings about it.

Analysts say the hesitance comes from a fear of surrendering part of their hard-won sovereignty, which they regained in full in September 1991.

"It's the result of a lack of exact information and of influence of disinformation or misinformation," said Landsbergis, adding that he did not see current levels of support as a major problem and thought they would improve.

He said that people were beginning to understand the advantages of both EU and NATO membership.

Polls late last year showed Lithuanian support for joining the EU at 39.4 percent and 48.9 percent favoured joining NATO.