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LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, December 19, 2023

Dec 22 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 19, 2023
  2. Two irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus
  3. EU Energy Council to decide on gas price cap, synchronization declaration due on sidelines
  4. Presidential advisor sees possibility of agreeing on Lithuania’s new ambassador to Poland
  5. Lithuania reports 1,866 new COVID-19 cases, four deaths
  6. EU should not stop tightening sanctions against Russia – Lithuanian presidential advisor
  7. Satunas to replace Neliupsiene as foreign vice minister in Lithuania
  8. Ukraine’s Join UP! launches direct flights from Vilnius to Sri Lanka
  9. Majority of Lithuanians back deployment of German brigade in Lithuania – survey
  10. EU Commission unlocks EUR 9 mln to Lithuania out of frozen RRF funds
  11. KTU: hackers got access to employee data – Lithuania's KTU
  12. EC, Baltics, Poland agree on synchronization in February 2025
  13. Lithuania wants to ban troops from traveling to Belarus, China, Russia without permission
  14. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Upcoming events in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 19, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 19, 2023:

PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to meet with Klaipeda Mayor Arvydas Vaitkus in Klaipeda at 10.30 a.m., to attend a meeting at the Klaipeda State Seaport Authority to discuss issues related to the maritime economy, the infrastructure of the Port of Klaipeda, and the port's preparedness to act in the event of a crisis or a threat at 1.30 p.m., to give comments to the media at the Port Authority at 2.40 p.m.

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Two irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours turned away two migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Tuesday morning.

This follows five straight days of no recorded attempts to enter the country illegally.

Latvia reported two attempts at illegal border crossings on Monday, and 40 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Sunday, according to the latest available information.

More than 2,500 irregular migrants have been barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated places so far this year.

Lithuanian border guards have prevented a total of almost 22,000 people from crossing in from Belarus since August 3, 2021, when they were given the right to turn away irregular migrants. The number includes repeated attempts by the same people to cross the border.

The influx of irregular migrants to the EU's eastern member states from Belarus began in 2021 and is blamed by the West on the Minsk regime.

Almost 4,200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally in 2021. However, the vast majority of them fled Lithuania once they were allowed to move freely.

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EU Energy Council to decide on gas price cap, synchronization declaration due on sidelines

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – The European Union’s (EU) energy ministers will seek to extend the period of application of the emergency measures adopted last December to tackle the energy crisis, including the gas price cap, at the meeting of the Union’s Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Energy) in Brussels on Tuesday.

In addition, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and the energy ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland are expected to sign an updated political declaration on the synchronization of the Baltic countries' electricity grids with Western Europe in February 2025 on the sidelines of the meeting.

According to the Council, the market correction mechanism, which entered into force on February 1 this year and was due to remain in effect for one year, and which also provides for a 180-euro per megawatt-hour (MWh) gas price ceiling, is to be extended for another year, until January 31, 2025.

The trigger conditions for the gas price cap, approved by the Community’s energy ministers last December, are that the benchmark TTF front-month contract price exceeds 180 euros per MWh and is also at least 35 euros per MWh higher than a reference global LNG price for three consecutive working days.

EU energy ministers are also expected to agree on Tuesday to extend for one year the other two measures adopted last December to address the energy crisis.

In particular, the solidarity-enhancing mechanism providing for joint gas purchases should be extended until December 31, 2024, and the measure to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy – until June 30, 2025.

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Presidential advisor sees possibility of agreeing on Lithuania’s new ambassador to Poland

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – Presidential advisor Asta Skaisgiryte sees possibilities for the head of state, the government and the Seimas to agree on the country’s new ambassador to Poland whose appointment procedures have stalled.

“Our ambassador to Poland ended his term in September and there is definitely a search for his successor going on. We would think that there is a possibility to reach an agreement, but we need to keep looking and we will find the most suitable, the most professional candidate, which is what the president would want," she told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Tuesday.

Lithuania's Ambassador to Poland Eduardas Borisovas was recalled on September 7 after his term expired, and the embassy is currently headed by Minister Plenipotentiary Audrone Markeviciene.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said last week that the appointment of Lithuania's new ambassador to Poland was being stalled by the presidential office. According to him, the Foreign Ministry submitted the first nominations for the post on time almost 18 months ago.

Presidential spokesman Ridas Jasiulionis said earlier that the last nominated candidate was rejected because of his qualifications and because he did not speak Polish.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has said that the selection process leads him to believe that "certain people" are being pushed through to fill ambassadorial positions, bypassing other people who "may not be to the liking of the ministry's leadership".

Skaisgiryte says that, in addition to knowledge of the Polish language, candidates are required to have knowledge of Polish history and culture.

"Poland is a really special ally of Lithuania, so sending a person who quickly learns Polish is probably not an option, because it's not just about the Polish language, it's about a whole complex of qualities that an ambassador must have," she said.

According to the advisor, the absence of an ambassador does not fundamentally harm bilateral relations, as the Lithuanian and Polish presidents are currently in frequent and direct contact.

Speaking about the relations between Lithuania and Poland after the approval of the new government of Donald Tusk, Skaisgiryte stressed that Nauseda's meeting with Tusk at the EU Council was a hopeful sign that this would be the beginning of "good and close communication".

She also stressed that Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski should not be pre-judged either. Sikorski was the head of Polish diplomacy in Tusk's previous government and often reproached Lithuania on national minorities and other issues at the time.

"People change, and those historical circumstances are different. Let's take our time with the circumstances and wait for the new minister to get to work and let those works show what the situation is. But it is clear that the historical, geopolitical and security situation in the region has changed a lot, and it is in the interest of both Poland and Lithuania to work together," she said.

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Lithuania reports 1,866 new COVID-19 cases, four deaths

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 1,866 new coronavirus infections and four deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Tuesday morning.

The 14-day primary infection rate has dropped to 534.4 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 37.2 percent.

The number of new coronavirus cases hit the peak in Lithuania in early February 2022 when more than 14,000 new infections were recorded daily. Around 1.36 million people in Lithuania have tested positive for COVID-19 at least once.

COVID-19 incidence in Lithuania took an upward turn in mid-September after having stayed at a low level since May. 

Two-thirds of the country's population have received at least one coronavirus vaccine jab so far, according to the statistics.

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EU should not stop tightening sanctions against Russia – Lithuanian presidential advisor

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – The European Union (EU) should not stop working out new sanctions after the adoption of the 12th package of sanctions against Russia on Monday, Asta Skaisgiryte, President Gitanas Nauseda's chief foreign policy advisor, has said.

"The cherry on the cake of this package is Russian diamonds, which will finally be sanctioned, because it has been talked about for a year and never got done, but now it has ... It is probably obvious that the sanctions are working, but we should not stop at the 12th package, I think as soon as it comes into force, we should prepare the 13th package," she told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Tuesday.

According to her, as Russia's war in Ukraine drags on, more and more representatives of the Russian authorities should continue to be sanctioned.

The EU on Monday adopted a new package of sanctions on Russia that include an import ban on Russian diamonds.

The package is the 12th packet leveled at Moscow since it sent Russian troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in a full-scale invasion.

The EU ban on Russian diamonds covers natural and synthetic varieties as well as in jewellery from January, and Russian diamonds cut in other countries as from September next year.

The package also provides for a ban on provision of software for the management of enterprises and software for industrial design and manufacture.

In addition, the sanctions package extends EU efforts to restrict technology Moscow can get its hands on for military purposes, adding 29 more companies to a list of entities prohibited from exporting products able to help Russia's arms industry.

The EU is also seeking better enforcement of previous sanctions hitting Russian oil exports, which place a price cap on its crude.

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Satunas to replace Neliupsiene as foreign vice minister in Lithuania

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS - Diplomat Simonas Satunas will take up the positions of a foreign minister in Lithuania from the beginning of 2024 and will replace Jovita Neliupsiene who has been appointed head of the EU mission in the United States, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Satunas will be responsible for EU policy shaping and implementation, EU trade policy, relations with EU institutions, as well as sanction coordination issues. The diplomat will also be responsible for bilateral relations with European countries, as well as Lithuania's development cooperation policy and its implementation.

"With more than 20 years of working in the diplomatic service, Satunas is an experienced diplomat with an excellent knowledge of EU policy shaping and implementation. Having previously worked in the fields of energy and trade policy, he has a wide range of experience in inter-institutional coordination and in managing large teams," Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pointed out.

Up until now, Satunas has led Landsbergis' office.

Before returning to Lithuania, he was the head of European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius' office. From 2019 to 2022, Satunas served as Lithuania's deputy permanent representative to the EU in Brussels (a COREPER1 ambassador), and later became an acting permanent representative to the EU and a COREPER2 ambassador.

The diplomat has also worked at the US State Department, the Lithuanian Embassies in Washington and Riga.

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Ukraine’s Join UP! launches direct flights from Vilnius to Sri Lanka

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – Join UP!, Ukraine's leading tour operator, launches direct flights from Vilnius to Sri Lanka on Thursday.

Ukraine’s SkyUp Airlines will fly tourists to Mattala Airport, while Join UP! will offer charter flights, the company said in a press release.

"This winter, we are seeing an increased demand for exotic destinations in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, especially during the Christmas holidays when most of the trips to other countries are already sold out. In response to this demand, we have started to offer trips to Sri Lanka from Vilnius," the press release quoted Sabina Saikovskaja, Join UP! Baltic executive director, as saying.

A flight from Vilnius to Sri Lanka will take around 12 hours, with a one-hour stopover in Bahrain for refueling.

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Majority of Lithuanians back deployment of German brigade in Lithuania – survey

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS - The majority of the population in Lithuania support the deployment of a German brigade in the country, according to a new survey published by the Lithuanian army on Tuesday.

According to the poll conducted by Spinter Tyrimai, 82 per cent of Lithuanians support the permanent deployment of a German brigade in Lithuania, while 83 percent have a positive view of German soldiers.

76 percent believe that the German brigade will contribute to strengthening Lithuania's defense, and more than half of them believe that it will make a significant contribution.

The Lithuanian and German defense ministers signed an action plan on the deployment of a Bundeswehr brigade in Vilnius on Monday, and it sets out deadlines for the relocation of military units and commitments on living conditions for soldiers' families, including schools and kindergartens for children.

Under the signed agreement, the brigade's key deployment to Lithuania will take place between 2025 and 2026, and the brigade should be fully deployed by 2027.

The core of the German brigade will consist of five battalions, including tank and artillery battalions. Berlin intends to deploy a total of around 5,000 German brigade soldiers and civilians in Lithuania, with families expected to come with them due to the long rotation period.

The German troops will serve in Rudninkai and Rukla, some will live in Vilnius and Kaunas, and additional logistic points will be created in other parts of Lithuania.

The German-led NATO multinational battalion deployed in Lithuania since 2017 will also be integrated into the brigade, which is expected to be done by 2026.

Commissioned by the Lithuanian army's Strategic Communication Department, the survey was conducted on November 17-29.

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EU Commission unlocks EUR 9 mln to Lithuania out of frozen RRF funds

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS – The European Commission (EC) on Tuesday adopted a positive preliminary assessment, which will result in unlocking to Lithuania the amount of almost 9 million euros out of frozen 26 million euros in the Recovery and Resilience Facility’s (RRF) funds, the Finance Ministry reported.

According to the ministry, the Commission’s decision was taken after assessing additional information provided by Lithuania, in view of which the Commission deemed the milestone, related to environmental taxes and taxation of other sources less detrimental to economic growth, fulfilled satisfactorily.

A total of 8.7 million euros will be disbursed for this milestone and the funds will reach Lithuania in February or March 2024 as the Commission’s assessment still needs to be discussed by the EU Council.

The remaining part of the subsidy will be the subject of a further two months of dialogue, after which a final decision will be taken.

The Commission has also concluded that Lithuania made progress towards achieving the milestone related to the abolition of tax exemptions or special tax regimes but the progress remains insufficient for the Commission to assess the milestone as satisfactorily fulfilled.

Therefore, the Commission has asked Lithuania to present its observations within two months, following which the Commission will take a final decision on the remaining frozen amount. 

In May, the Commission disbursed the first tranche of 542.3 million euros to Lithuania from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which was made possible by Lithuania's fulfillment of around 30 milestones linked to the first installment. 

At the same time, 26 million euros was temporarily withheld for two outstanding milestones.

There are 191 milestones in the plan and progress towards their fulfillment is being monitored together with the Commission’s experts.

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KTU: hackers got access to employee data – Lithuania's KTU

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS - Hackers got access to the personal data of employees at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) as it was hit by a cyber-attack in early December, the university said on Tuesday.

The data included names, surnames, personal identification numbers, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, and car license plates.

"Although information with specific images of documents of members of the university community has appeared in public, KTU assures that the university did not store copies of these documents in the information systems that were affected by the cyber-attack. Such information may have been lost from the affected workplaces," KTU states.

The university stresses that the breach of confidentiality of this data may expose community members to cases where, unbeknownst to them and without their consent, attempts may be made to act on their behalf, or even to misappropriate their identities and take over both their work and personal accounts.

Therefore, KTU employees are urged to change their passwords for logging into KTU systems and personal accounts, to carefully evaluate incoming e-mails, to be vigilant in monitoring activities in information systems, not to open unknown links, and not to confirm suspicious authentication messages or notifications on their phones.

KTU was hit by a cyber-attack on December when its website went down, and email and several other systems were down.

KTU says it continues to investigate the incident and is working with the State Data Protection Inspectorate and the police. The university is also gradually restoring all systems affected by the incident.

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EC, Baltics, Poland agree on synchronization in February 2025

VILNIUS, Dec 19, BNS - The European Commission, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland on Tuesday signed a political declaration on the synchronization of the Baltic states electricity grids with Western Europe by February 2025.

Signed in Brussels on the sidelines of the EU Energy Council, the document also includes a commitment to accelerate the implementation of the Harmony Link electricity link between Lithuania and Poland and to explore an onshore alternative, the Energy Ministry said.

"The operators have been tasked to examine in detail an onshore alternative to the previously planned offshore link. We hope that next year this will allow us to make final decisions on the implementation of this project," Lithuanian Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys said in a statement.

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson says synchronization will allow the Baltic states to take full control of their electricity networks, integrate into the European market and strengthen the region's energy security.

"Today is a historic moment when we mark the significant progress made towards the integration of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into our internal energy market and pave the way for the completion of the Baltic synchronization project by February 2025," Simson said in the statement.

The EU has spent more than 1.2 billion euros on the synchronizations of the the Baltic electricity grids with continental Europe over the past 12 years.

In August, the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian prime ministers signed a declaration and committed to synchronize the Baltic electricity grids with Western Europe by February 2025. the initial plan was to do so by the end of 2025.

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Lithuania wants to ban troops from traveling to Belarus, China, Russia without permission

VILNIUS, Dc 19, BNS – Lithuania's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it is proposing banning professional soldiers from traveling to Belarus, China and Russia without special permission.

These countries are listed in a draft government resolution.

In early December, the ministry published an initial list of countries professional troops would be ban from traveling to and it included Russia and its occupied Crimea, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, the Transnistrian region of Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the Abkhazian and South Ossetian regions of Georgia.

The latest proposal is to only keep Belarus, China and Russia on this list.

Last week, the Seimas adopted amendments that will prevent professional troops from traveling for off-duty purposes to countries posing a threat to Lithuania's national security. The law stipulates that the list of such countries would be approved by the government.

The resolution will also set out the cases and exceptions when a soldier would be allowed to travel to Russia, Belarus and China. These would include a serious illness or death of family members, the exercise of parental or guardianship rights, and the settlement of property matters that cannot be resolved without traveling to the countries or territories concerned.

The ban is due to enter into force early next year.

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 20, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 20, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 20, 2023:

PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to visit Silute.

SPEAKER OF THE SEIMAS Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen to have a virtual conversation with 

Marshal of the Polish Senate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska at 10.50 a.m.

PRIME MINISTER Ingrida Simonyte to chair a Cabinet meeting and sitting at 1 p.m.

By Jurgita Andriejauskaitė

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