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LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, January 5, 2024

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus
  2. Head of new Orthodox exarchate of Constantinople to come to Lithuania Friday
  3. Parlt committee to look at Lithuanian Armed Forces' drone capabilities 
  4. Lithuanian PM invites party leaders, business, trade union reps to discuss defense funding
  5. Experts note lack of Lithuanian retailers' reaction to Viciunai labeling as war sponsor 
  6. Deutsche Bank considers opening service center in Lithuania, official confirms  
  7. Local authorities in Lithuania concerned about Ukrainians amid Russian school debate

Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Lithuanian border guards recorded no attempts to cross into the country from Belarus illegally for the fourth day in a row on Thursday, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Friday morning.

Latvia did not report any attempts at illegal border crossings on Thursday either. Fourteen irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Wednesday, 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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Head of new Orthodox exarchate of Constantinople to come to Lithuania Friday

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Justinus Kiviloo, an Estonian clergyman of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, is coming to Lithuania on Friday to head a new Orthodox Church structure that is in its final stages of establishment.

The head of the new Exarchate of the Patriarchate Constantinople is expected to lead the first service on Saturday. 

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople announced his intention to set up a church structure in Lithuania during his visit to the country last March.

The move followed the Patriarch's reinstatement of five former priests of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Lithuania, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Gintaras Sungaila, one of the priests, has told BNS earlier that the exarchate will seek the status of a traditional religious community.

Since Orthodox Christians are recognized in Lithuania as one of the nine traditional religious communities, the recognition of the exarchate of Constantinople will not require the parliament's approval. The decision on its registration will be made by the Justice Ministry.

Among other things, the exarchate's recognition would grant the organization access to state financial support allocated to traditional religious communities.

The five Orthodox priests, who now belong to the new exarchate, were accused of canonical offences and defrocked by Metropolitan Innokentiy of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church in 2022. 

The Patriarchate of Constantinople then ruled that the priests were removed for their stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, rather than for violating church rules.

The exarchate in Lithuania comprises ten clergy members and ten congregations in different cities and towns.

 

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Parlt committee to look at Lithuanian Armed Forces' drone capabilities 

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Lithuania's parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense (CNSD) is holding a meeting on Friday to look at the Armed Forces' planned drone capabilities.

Laurynas Kasciunas, the CNSD chairman, has said the committee will hear a presentation from Arunas Kumpis, a Lithuanian volunteer fighting in Ukraine, about the role of drones in warfare and the lessons learned in Ukraine.

"He will have a presentation on how to start integrating drone capabilities even more into our defense system and how to increase the number of drone operators in Lithuania," the chairman said.

The paramilitary Lithuanian Riflemen's Union will also present the capabilities they are developing, according to Kasciunas.

The CNSD is currently considering a draft national defense system development program for the next decade and will likely propose after the meeting to give more focus to unmanned aerial vehicles in this document, the chairman said. 

"We will need to place greater emphasis to further integrate the capabilities being developed by the riflemen so that they can be useful to our armed forces," the MP told BNS.

"We will need some legal amendments; we will discuss them as well," he added.

 

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Lithuanian PM invites party leaders, business, trade union reps to discuss defense funding

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has invited party leaders, business and trade union representatives to discuss sources of funding for national defense after the existing two-year bank solidarity levy expires.

"Taking into account the fact that amendments to tax laws should be adopted at least six months before their entry into force, it is appropriate to consult the widest possible circle on these issues in order to find a possible consensus on what proposals could be submitted to the Seimas in the spring session, with a view to ensuring the possibility of planning the country's defense resources in 2025," the prime minister said in a letter to the Seimas, seen by BNS.

Written on Thursday, the prime minister's letter was addressed to the chairs of all political parties represented in the Seimas, the chars of several parliamentary committees, the ministers of defense and finance, the heads of NGSs, trade unions, business and employers' confederations. The presidential office has also been informed about the meeting.

Simonyte points out that additional funds will be needed to create an army division and as ell as changes to the existing conscription system, which, starting in 2025, would require additional funding of around 0.4-0.5 percent of GDP, on top of the existing funding of 2.52 percent of GDP, agreed by political parties

"At the meeting, we could discuss ways to ensure the financing of these needs after the expiry of the temporary bank solidarity levy without additional borrowing," the prime minister writes in her letter.

Several possible dates are proposed for the meeting – January 22, 24 or 29.

The idea of a defense tax was raised by Laurynas Kasciunas, the chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense, after the presidential office earlier criticized the 2024 defense budget for not including funds for the plan approved by the State Defense Council to establish a land division within the Lithuanian army.

The ruling conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats have vowed to start pooling cross-party support to agree on such a new tax that could come into force in 2025. Politicians are considering raising VAT or corporate tax rates, for example, to boost funding for national defense.

2.75 percent of GDP has been allocated for national defense in Lithuania's this year budget. Of this, 2.52 percent will be the regular budgetary allocations and the remainder will come from the temporary bank solidarity levy to finance only infrastructure to host allies.

By Milena Andrukaitytė

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Experts note lack of Lithuanian retailers' reaction to Viciunai labeling as war sponsor 

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Experts note a lack of reaction from Lithuanian retailers to the news that Ukraine has added Viciunai Group, a Lithuanian business group producing and selling seafood and other food products, to the list of international war sponsors.

Marketing and economic experts believe that the group's reputation will not sink any lower, nor will consumers' attitudes to its products change.  

Giedrius Juozapavicius, a marketing strategist and consultant, says that changes could be triggered by retailers' actions, yet they fail to clearly state their stance on the products of the group, which is 50/50 owned by Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijosaitis and his business partner Liudas Skierus, after it was labelled as a "war sponsor" for not withdrawing from Russia. 

"I wonder why retailers do not openly and clearly declare their position on this brand, this group," Juozapavicius told BNS. "They say they follow the norms and sanctions, support Ukraine and so on, but none of them say what they will do with that brand."

"They leave everything to the consumer, who will certainly not take any step without seeing any leadership or initiative from the retailer," the expert said.

"The most important thing is the company's backbone of values. If the values here are only efficient operations, profits and revenue, then there is nothing to talk about," he added.  

Algirdas Bartkus, an economist at Vilnius University, says that the inclusion of Viciunai Group in the list of war sponsors will not affect its sales in Lithuania or Russia, but could have an impact in Ukraine. 

"This will not affect sales in Lithuania, because this issue was discussed thoroughly here more than a year ago," Bartkus told BNS. "Those who did not want to buy Vichy's products are not buying them, sometimes not because the company operates in Russia, but because they do not like Matijosaitis." 

"For a Ukrainian buyer, the company's inclusion in the list of war sponsors sounds very strong. This may initially cause negative reactions and prompt some buyers to turn away from its products," he said.   

The Delfi online news site reported on Friday that Maxima, Iki, Norfa and Rimi are not changing their legal assessment of Viciunai Group and have no plans to do so, and that Lidl, another major retail chain, is planning to additionally label the products of the group's companies.

Andriy Poznyak of Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) told LRT Radio on Friday that every company included in the list of international war sponsors is also listed in the global World Check database of heightened risk individuals and organizations, which helps identify and manage financial, regulatory and reputational risks.

Juozapavicius told BNS that Viciunai Group's reputation in Lithuania cannot be damaged any more than it already is, noting that the group took a nosedive in the 2022 and 2023 national reputation index survey, affecting Kaunas Municipality as well.

"They are at the absolute bottom; there is no other brand or group of companies in Lithuania whose reputation is so low," he said. "Matijosaitis has also dragged the reputation of Kaunas municipality down with him." 

Viciunai Group's owners say they have been unsuccessfully trying to sell their business in Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad since the spring of 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

According to information available to BNS, once a potential buyer is found, the deal will have to be cleared by a Russian governmental commission controlling foreign investment.

Under Russia's regulations, foreign investors can sell a business for no more than 50 percent of its value, and they must pay the state a 15 percent tax on the total value of the assets.

The Sovetsk factory's net profit increased almost three-fold increase in 2022 from 2021 to 24.872 million euros for 2022, as revenue grew by 6.5 percent to 216.56 million euros. 

 

By Valdas Pryšmantas, Erika Alonderytė-Kazlauskė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Deutsche Bank considers opening service center in Lithuania, official confirms  

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS – Elijus Civilis, general manager of Invest Lithuania, the government's foreign investment promotion agency, confirmed on Friday that Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest lender, is considering opening a service center in Lithuania.

"They are evaluating various options, likely starting with a service center," he told BNS in an interview. 

The German bank's representatives were disappointed by last November's media reports about its plans in Lithuania, according to the official.

"For us, Deutsche Bank is one of the clients, but they are very sensitive to all matters because of their size and impact, and the sensitivity of their sector," he said. "They have visited Lithuania."

Civilis confirmed that talks with Deutsche Bank are ongoing, but he could not say when the bank might make a final decision.  

The agency's head did not directly link Deutsche Bank's plans to the planned deployment of a German brigade in Lithuania, but he acknowledged that military cooperation between the two countries gives a boost to business relations. 

"Take Poland as an example. After they decided to base all their armaments on South Korean manufacturers, naturally South Korea has become one of their biggest investors in the last two years," Civilis said. 

"This creates an interstate relationship that naturally brings countries closer together," he added. 

BNS reported in November, citing sources, that Deutsche Bank was considering opening a service center. 

According to the sources, the bank's representatives visited Vilnius in mid-October and met with officials from the president's office, the Economy and Innovation Ministry and Invest Lithuania.

The Germans briefed the Lithuanian officials on the investment potential of such a center and also looked for a suitable office.

According to the sources, Lithuania is one of two or three possible locations for such a service center.

Deutsche Bank would not comment on its plans.

Deutsche Bank operates in 58 countries worldwide and its strategy for the future is to focus on its position as a "global home bank" and to serve even more customers in all financial matters.

The German bank's technology center has been operating in Romania since 2013.

 

By Giedrius Gaidamavičius

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Local authorities in Lithuania concerned about Ukrainians amid Russian school debate

VILNIUS, Jan 05, BNS - As Education, Science and Sport Minister Gintautas Jakstas mulls phasing out Russian schools in Lithuania, representatives of local authorities doubt whether this will not harm the children of Ukrainian war refugees who continue receiving their education in Russian schools in Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the Vilnius authorities doubt that a Russian environment is in the best interest of the families of Ukrainians who have fled the war.

For her part, Oksana Kietaviciene, the principal of the Versme Gymnasium in Lentvaris, Trakai District, which is about to celebrate its 130th anniversary, points out that the local Russian community has deep roots and wants to maintain the opportunity to communicate in their mother tongue.

"Our school has a multicultural mission as today we have 305 students and 81 of them are newcomers, including 69 Ukrainians and 12 Belarusians. Russian is the most important language as a means of communication," Kietaviciene told BNS on Friday.

Lots of things can be ruined

The Education, Science and Sport Ministry plans to draw up a proposal on gradually phasing out Russian schools over the next few weeks, and says national minority schools where the education process is done using the languages of EU countries or countries friendly to Lithuania could continue.

Klaipeda Mayor Arvydas Vaitkus says that municipalities will have to implement nation-wide decisions. However, he suggests against destroying the system, and also raises the question of where Ukrainian children would go to school as some of them currently attend Russian schools.

"As far as the Russian schools are concerned, we need to seriously consider these matters as lots of things can be ruined in life, but one of the questions that automatically arises is what are we going to do with the Ukrainian children who attend these schools," he told BNS on Friday.

"Klaipeda is a multicultural city and these schools did not emerge yesterday as they have been in place for many years, and we also have refugees from Ukraine, their families, their children who are attending them, I would like to see a system," Vaitkus added.

Arturas Zukauskas, who chairs the parliamentary Committee on Education and Science, is also skeptical of the education minister's proposal, saying that hostile propaganda comes from the family environment, not the educational establishments. 

"The problem is that some children are affected by Nazi propaganda and the issue needs to be addressed somehow, but I doubt very much that this propaganda comes from the school. It comes from the family where they receive information via satellite, internet, and that is where children get that information that is poisoning them. Closing Russian schools, in my opinion, is hardly the right thing to do as it will only stir up our society," Zukauskas told BNS on Friday.

He also points out that the situation in Lithuania is different from Latvia and Estonia, whose steps the Lithuanian education minister is considering following in by closing Russian schools, because "Lithuania is a stronger country with deeper traditions". However, he agrees that it would be better to teach more subjects in Lithuanian instead of using national minority languages as languages of instruction, including Russian.

Russian-speaking students on the rise in Vilnius

Vilnius Vice Mayor Arunas Sileris, who is in charge of education matters, says that the time has come for a discussion on how Russian-language education should change, but remains unclear what action municipalities should take until specific proposals from the Education Ministry.

"The time for this discussion has definitely come and the geopolitical situation makes one think about the situation in Lithuanian schools. I have not seen the detailed proposal itself, as far as I know, the ministry has not drafted it yet, but if such a proposal were to emerge, it could be considered," Sileris told BNS.

Data from the Vilnius Municipality shows there are currently 14 Russian-language educational establishments in the Lithuanian capital, and the number of children studying in Russian has increased from 9,500 to 11,500 since 2008.

According to the vice mayor, some of them - around 1,500 - are children of Ukrainians who have fled the war and of Belarusians who have fled the regime in Belarus. The number does not include those attending private schools.

"Here we see another strange thing and problem as people fleeing the terrorist regimes of Russia and Belarus are being brought into the Russian-speaking environment in Lithuania, and the question is whether this is in the best interests of both them and Lithuania," Sileris wondered.

Ukrainians in Lentvaris

Kietaviciene also says her school has become a refuge for Ukrainian children.

"I will have three Ukrainian teachers who are going to stay and are intensively learning the language, so it seems to me that taking away the language, the means of communication, would be too much. It is quicker for the Ukrainians who come here to understand, to communicate in Russian, at least in the beginning," she said.

The school principal also pointed out that it is easier to communicate in Russian for those who come from Ukraine and Belarus, at least at first, until they learn Lithuanian, which they will have to do in order to integrate.

"Some of them will leave and have already left, but some of them are going to stay. I see their parents buying real estate, so obviously they could not stay without the Lithuanian language," she added.

The Lentvaris school was founded in 1896 and has been attended by generations of local Russian-speakers because this community is well-established here, Kietaviciene said.

"The community is there, you can't eradicate it, you can't destroy it, it's a local community, my own grandmothers, my parents are locals, and my mother tongue is Russian, and I wouldn't want to have it taken away from me," she said.

Russian class difficulties in Visaginas

Veronika Voitekian, principal of the Atgimimas Gymnasium in Visaginas, northeastern Lithuania, refrains to comment on the idea of scrapping Russian-language schools as there are no concrete proposals to comment on.

She also sees a trend that Russian-speaking or mixed families are increasingly enrolling their children in Lithuanian schools.

"As far as Visaginas is concerned, the tendency is that more and more (Russian-speaking - BNS) families are choosing Lithuanian schools, starting from the first or fifth grade. It is becoming more and more difficult for us to form three ninth grades every year"," Voitekian told BNS.

Under the existing law, local authorities in areas with traditionally large national minorities guarantee education in the language of the national minority at the request of the local community.

National minority schools mostly operate in southeastern Lithuania where children receive education in national minority languages in nearly 100 schools in nine municipalities.

According to the National Agency for Education, over 47,000 children attended educational establishments for national minorities, from kindergartens to schools, in the academic year of 2020-2021.

Around 14,000 pupils are now attending general education schools with Russian as the language of instruction, mostly in Vilnius, Visaginas and Klaipeda.

By Milena Andrukaitytė

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Jan 09 2024

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, January 4, 2024

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, January 4, 2024
  2. Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus
  3. Lithuanian parlt speaker to visit US troops in Pabrade 
  4. Ex-Lithuanian president calls president, ForMin's public ambassador dispute 'unnecessary'
  5. Lithuania expects answer on remaining frozen RRF funds within months – minister
  6. Lithuanian parlt may get back to tax reform when considering individual taxes – minister
  7. Vilnius' ex-mayor Simasius to run for European Parliament 
  8. Over 27,000 on Lithuania's 2024 military conscription lists compiled amid reform debate
  9. Lithuanian watchdog receives 65 pct more reports of negative info for children in 2023
  10. Ex-mayor of Lithuania's Alytus named suspect in municipal funds misuse probe 
  11. Lithuanian parlt speaker visits US troops, discusses combat training plans
  12. Lithuania's Viciunai Group labelled 'international war sponsor' by Ukraine  
  13. Lithuanian MP fails again in his bid to have prison sentence execution suspended
  14. Lithuania's Viciunai Group keeps mum after Ukraine labels it 'international war sponsor'
  15. Lithuania's ForMin expresses strong protest over Russia's drone, missile attack on Ukraine
  16. Lithuania's EducMin mulls phasing out Russian schools – minister
  17. Head of Belarusian sanatorium stripped of Lithuanian residence permit (media)

Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, January 4, 2024

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Thursday, January 4, 2024:

EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND SPORT MINISTER Gintaras Jakstas to meet with Indian Ambassador to Lithuania Devesh Uttam at 2 p.m.

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Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuanian border guards recorded no attempts to cross into the country from Belarus illegally for the third day in a row on Wednesday, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Thursday morning.

Latvia did not report any attempts at illegal border crossings on Wednesday either. One irregular migrant was not allowed into Poland on Tuesday, 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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Lithuanian parlt speaker to visit US troops in Pabrade 

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, on Thursday is to visit rotational US troops in Camp Herkus at the General Silvestras Zukauskas Training Area in Pabrade, close to Vilnius. 

At Camp Herkus, Cmilyte-Nielsen will be shown the US troops' combat training and living conditions and their equipment and weapons. 

The speaker of the Seimas will be accompanied on the visit by Tamir Waser, chargé d'affaires ad interim at the US embassy to Lithuania, Ilona Petrove, her spokeswoman, has told BNS.  

The current rotation consists of troops from the Hounds of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment (3-67) and the Battle Kings, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery (1-9),

They have brought M1A2 Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, trucks, ATVs and other military equipment to Lithuania.

The American troops deployed for the nine-month rotation from their home base in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

In the wake of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Washington last year stepped up its military presence in the Baltic countries and changed the status of American forces in Lithuania to "a persistent rotational presence".  
 
 

 

 

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Ex-Lithuanian president calls president, ForMin's public ambassador dispute 'unnecessary'

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – The ongoing public dispute between the presidential office and the Foreign Ministry over the appointment of ambassadors is unnecessary, ex-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus says.

"I don't think that the ongoing dispute is about protecting or advancing one's position. It seems to me that it is an unnecessary public debate," Adamkus said in an interview with the public broadcaster LRT's "Dienos Tema" (The Topic of the Day) on Wednesday.

Adamkus, who served two terms as president, said he would try to discuss problems privately during his terms to avoid stirring up confrontation in public.

"Of course, there were various misunderstandings, but since we felt that this could lead to unnecessary talk and confrontation, we tried to discuss the whole matter during meetings and find the best solution," the former president said. "If this was true today, instead of the attempts to cause confrontation in public and necessarily making one's views public, we would not have that tension."

The Foreign Ministry and the presidential office are at loggerheads over who should be Lithuania's ambassador to Poland.

The presidential office says the candidates put forward by the Foreign Ministry so far were not suitable and has recently proposed changing the ministry's existing rules for selecting ambassadors.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says President Gitanas Nauseda has not named candidates he could have put forward to the relevant Seimas committee. Also, the ministry sees in the president's recent request for information on the selection of candidates for Lithuanian ambassadors a possible overstepping of constitutional powers.

Adamkus says public discussion on candidates would not solve the problem.

"Exchanging opinions in public that one is good, the other is bad, one is suitable, one speaks languages, the other does not, adds nothing to the solution," the former president point out.

Landsbergis has indirectly confirmed that the candidate rejected by the president was diplomat Giedrius Puodziunas. 

Nauseda has also revealed that there have been internal discussions on appointing diplomats Kestutis Kudzmanas or Petras Zapolskis as ambassador to Poland.

In Lithuania, ambassadors are appointed by the president, on the nomination of the government and with the approval of the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs.

By Saulius Jakučionis

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Lithuania expects answer on remaining frozen RRF funds within months – minister

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – A decision on whether Lithuania will be allowed to use the rest of the frozen Recovery and Resilience Facility funds is expected within a few months, Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste says after the European Commission released almost 9 million euros of the frozen 26 million euros in RRF funds in December.

More than 17 million euros remain frozen due to Lithuania's failure to achieve a target related to tax relief, she said.

"The European Commission has unfrozen 8.5 million euros related to the real estate tax and environmental taxes. On another indicator, which was related to the review of tax relief, (the EC - BNS) asked for additional information, we have provided that information, we have provided additional information, so we expect to have a final answer within the next few months," Skaiste told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Thursday.

The higher amounts to be paid during the later stages of RRF payments have to do with the adoption of these tax laws, so an agreement on the necessary tax changes needs to be found before the end of 2026 as the RRF funds is planned for this period.

The Finance Ministry said earlier Lithuania expected to receive around 230 million euros in RRF funds under the second application. However, her spokesman Paulius Baniunas said in December that Lithuania would not be able to submit the second application, if it had failed to meet three of the 19 indicators.

By Giedrius Gaidamavičius

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuanian parlt may get back to tax reform when considering individual taxes – minister

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS - The Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas, may still return to the tax reform during its spring session, but this would require the ruling coalition's joint agreement, Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste says, adding that coalition partners have been offered the possibility to make decisions on individual taxes rather than on the whole package.

"I can say that I am personally open to discussions, and we have offered to the coalition partners to consider individual solutions. Perhaps we can try to solve the tax package in separate pieces, but this probably requires a joint agreement as more than half of MPs need to vote to pass laws in the Seimas, so without the participation of at least one of the interested parties, clearly, it's impossible to make that decision," Skaiste told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Thursday.

The tax reform was one of this government's key goals. The Seimas gave its initial backing to the reform last summer, but the reform has since stalled as ruling coalition partners disagree on a number of issues. The reform included, among other things, higher taxes for holders of individual activity certificates and a broader real estate tax base.

Skaiste says the debate on tax reform is ongoing, adding that the current ruling coalition could make a decision on the issue without leaving it to others.

By Valdas Pryšmantas

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Vilnius' ex-mayor Simasius to run for European Parliament 

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Remigijus Simasius, a former mayor of Vilnius and now a member of the capital's municipal council, on Thursday announced his decision to return to active politics and run for the European Parliament this year. 

"Last year's retreat from active politics has made me even more aware of its lack of competence, genuine humanity and responsible leadership," he posted on Facebook.

Simasius, one of the founders of the liberal Freedom Party, served two terms as mayor of Vilnius between 2015 and 2023. He ran only for councilor in last year's municipal elections and was elected, and later took up positions in two think tanks.

As the duties of a municipal councilor and a member of the European Parliament are incompatible, Simasius would have to give up one of the mandates if elected to the parliament.

This week, the Freedom Party started the registration of candidates for the ranking of its list for the European Parliament elections scheduled in Lithuania for June 9.

 

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Over 27,000 on Lithuania's 2024 military conscription lists compiled amid reform debate

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Over 27,000 young men are on Lithuania's 2024 draftee lists compiled by the Defense Ministry on Thursday, most likely for the last time under the current model as politicians are considering reforming the military conscription system. 

"This year's draftee list includes 27,291 Lithuanian citizens," Arunas Balciunas, head of the Military Conscription and Recruitment Service, said after the conscription lists were randomly generated by a computer program in the presence of independent observers. 

The draftee lists are to be published online at https://sauktiniai.karys.lt by January 10.

A total of 3,845 men aged between 18 and 23 years will be actually called up for a nine-month military service this year.  

The first conscripts are expected to start their service at the Air Defense Battalion in Radviliskis in early February.  

Higher education students are not included in the lists, but they can be called up for one year after graduation until the age of 26. They can suspend their studies during their compulsory military service or complete junior officer command training over three years while studying. 

There is also an option to perform voluntary non-permanent military service in the National Defense Volunteer Force.

All men and women aged between 18 and 38 can volunteer for enlistment in the Armed Forces. 

Up to 5,000 to be conscripted in future 

"This year, the conscription system is still operating under the current regulations," Deputy Defense Minister Zilvinas Tomkus told reporters after pressing a symbolic button launching the computer program. 

"We expect that the Seimas will approve the proposals to amend the Law on Military Conscription (...) to create the legal prerequisites for moving towards universal conscription," he said. 
 
The draft subscription reform, which would allow drafting more young men, passed the first reading in the parliament at the end of the fall session.  

The latest proposal tabled by the government calls for drafting men aged 18 to 21 after school and does not allow deferring service for higher education students.    

The reform will also allow conscripts to choose either six months or nine months of compulsory military service. 

The Defense Ministry expects that up to 5,000 young men could be conscripted each year once the reform is implemented.   

"There is a need and there are possibilities," Tomkus said. "If we switched to the new system in 2025, it does not mean that we would reach 5,000 (conscripts) immediately. The Lithuanian Armed Forces have to adapt to this change, which takes time." 

The ministry estimates that calling up around 5,000 young men would require an investment ranging from three million to five million euros.

The finalization and approval of the conscription reform has taken almost a year. However, the ruling conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats expect to reach an agreement with other political parties on universal conscription as well. 

"Universal conscription would require significantly greater resources because we would be talking about a new structure, new infrastructure," the vice-minister said. 

The parliament reintroduced the nine-month permanent compulsory initial military service in 2015.

 

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Lithuanian watchdog receives 65 pct more reports of negative info for children in 2023

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuania's Communications Regulatory Authority received 65 percent more reports of online content that is banned or has negative impact on minors, the watchdog reported on Thursday.

Its internet hotline svarusinternetas.lt (cleaninternet.lt) received a total of 2,516 reports last year

Irma Kazliene, who leads the authority's Digital Services Regulatory Group, says the majority of the reports had to do with sexual abuse of children. There were 669 such cases last year, up from 272 in 2022. 

The authority followed up 1,475 cases, of which 643 had to do with children's sexual abuse.

"34 reports were forwarded to the Police Department for further investigation and 32 reports were forwarded to the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics for further investigation amid suspicion of a negative impact on minors," Kazliene said.

Several hundred notifications were sent to online hotlines in other countries, to members of INHOPE is a global network of hotlines committed to combating child sexual abuse material, to ISPs in different countries, to website owners, to social media operators with Notice and Take Down notifications regarding banned content on their websites or networks, with a request for such content to be removed immediately.

Social media account hackers were particularly active in the second half of the year, Kazliene said.

The authority also consulted 17 percent more of social media users in 2023.

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Ex-mayor of Lithuania's Alytus named suspect in municipal funds misuse probe 

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuania's Special Investigation Service (SIS) has brought formal suspicions against Algirdas Vrubliauskas, a former mayor of the southern district of Alytus, in its ongoing investigation into councilors' use of allowances for office supplies. 

Vrubliauskas, a member of the conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats who currently serves as a councilor, is suspected of abuse, fraud and falsification and use of documents, the anti-corruption agency said in a press release on Thursday.

According to the investigation, Vrubliauskas may have declared his personal fuel and vehicle repair costs as expenses related to his activities as a councilor.  

It is suspected that the former mayor submitted forged documents to the municipal administration, thus fraudulently obtaining almost 20,000 euros during the previous term.

The SIS is currently conducting investigations regarding allowances to councilors in 19 municipalities.

As part of the investigations, formal suspicions have also been brought against three other persons, including Jonava Mayor Mindaugas Sinkevicius, who has stepped down as president of the Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania.

 

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Lithuanian parlt speaker visits US troops, discusses combat training plans

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, met with rotational US troops in Camp Herkus at the General Silvestras Zukauskas Training Area in Pabrade, close to Vilnius, and discussed combat training plans.

"Today in Pabrade, I was shown the allied equipment and weaponry. I familiarized myself with the training and living conditions of American soldiers. I talked to the troops and learned about their needs," Cmilyte-Nielsen said.

"We also discussed plans for combat training and the development of the Pabrade training area," she added.

The speaker emphasized the importance of ensuring the best service and living conditions for the allied troops stationed in Lithuania in bolstering the forward defense of NATO's eastern flank, the parliament's public relations office said in a press release.

Cmilyte-Nielsen was accompanied on the visit to Pabrade by Tamir Waser, chargé d'affaires ad interim at the US embassy to Lithuania.  

The current US rotation, stationed in Pabrade since late September, consists of troops from the Hounds of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment (3-67) and the Battle Kings, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery (1-9),

They have brought M1A2 Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, trucks, ATVs and other military equipment to Lithuania.

The American troops deployed for the nine-month rotation from their home base in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

In the wake of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Washington last year stepped up its military presence in the Baltic countries and changed the status of American forces in Lithuania to "a persistent rotational presence".  

 

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Lithuania's Viciunai Group labelled 'international war sponsor' by Ukraine  

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) announced on Thursday that it has added Lithuania's Viciunai Group, the owner of the Vici food brand, to the list of international war sponsors because it continues to operate in the Russian market.

"After the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, representatives of Viciunai Group promised that the company would leave the Russian market; nevertheless, Vici continues to operate its facilities in Russia, looking for new employees and paying significant taxes to the aggressor's budget," the agency said in a press release.  

"This was the reason for the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) to add Viciunai Group to the list of international sponsors of war," it said.

Hundreds of Western companies exited he Russian market in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Kyiv has publicly criticized those that stayed, adding them to the list.

"Back in March 2022, after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the head of the Lithuanian group, Sarunas Matijosaitis, said that the company would leave the Russian market within 3–4 months," the NACP said on Thursday. 

"Instead, it was revealed that Viciunai does not stop its work in Russia and remains one of the most favorite brands of Russian consumers," it said. 

The Lithuanian group "is conducting its business in Russia as usual without any layoffs, successfully defending the Russian trademark in court, and continuing to recruit staff for its subsidiaries, supporting the labor market in Russia", it said.

"As long as well-known brands such as Vici continue to be on the Russian market, despite all the aggressor's war crimes, the world is getting the wrong signal that Russia remains part of international economic processes. And the people of Russia see that the democratic world has not turned its back on them, and they are doing everything right," Oleksandr Novikov, head of the NACP, was quoted as saying in the press release. 

"Many companies have already made the right choice in favor of the values of democracy and integrity by leaving the Russian market. However, Viciunai Group was not one of them and failed to go beyond its empty promises," he added.  

Viciunai Group's owners say they have been trying to sell their business in Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad since the spring of 2022, but unsuccessfully so far.

The group's factory in Sovetsk posted a net profit of 24.872 million euros for 2022, almost a three-fold increase from 2021, as revenue grew by 6.5 percent to 216.56 million euros. 

Visvaldas Matijosaitis, mayor of Lithuania's second-largest city of Kaunas, and his business partner Liudas Skierus each hold 50 percent of shares in VG Holding, the owner of Viciunai Group. 

 

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Lithuanian MP fails again in his bid to have prison sentence execution suspended

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuanian MP Vytautas Gapsys' second bid to have the execution of his prison sentence in a high-profile political corruption case suspended has failed as the country's Supreme Court has once again rejected his request.

"The request has been rejected," Rimante Kraulise, spokesperson for the court, told BNS on Thursday.

The court ruled that the suspension of the execution of a court sentence is an exception to the general rule and is possible only in exceptional circumstances.

The judicial panel agreed that securing an MP's so-called free mandate (unrestricted performance of one's duties) is incompatible (hardly compatible) with the actual execution of a prison sentence, but disagreed with Gapsys' defense lawyer that this was a ground for suspending the execution of a verdict in force.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, a final court judgment and ruling are binding on all state and municipal authorities and officials, companies, institutions and organizations and individuals and must be enforced without objection and without hindrance throughout the territory of Lithuania, the Supreme Court said.

Gapsys once again asked for the execution of his prison sentence suspended after Lithuanian lawmakers failed to strip him of his mandate last December and cited that "new circumstances emerged".

In November, the Lithuanian Court of Appeal sentenced Gapsys to four years and six months in prison for corruption offenses, and he is currently serving his time in Kaunas Prison. Several days later, he appealed and asked for the execution of his prison sentence to be suspended, but the Supreme Court rejected his request.

Gapsys was convicted for taking a bribe from Raimondas Kurlianskis, a former vice president of MG Baltic (now MG Grupe) to use his position as an MP and influence his fellow MPs to influence other civil servants, including the then speaker of the Seimas, members of the Labor Party group in the Seimas, the leadership and members of the Seimas Committee on Budget and Finance, and the agriculture minister, when performing their duties, to act legally and illegally as Kurlianskis requested.

Other convicts in the high-profile corruption case include the Labor Party, the Liberal Movement, MG Grupe, Kurliansis, former MPs Eligijus Masiulis, Gintaras Steponavicius and Sarunas Gustainis.

Politicians are now considering amending the Constitution to abolish MP's legal immunity from prosecution and to automatically revoke their mandates upon conviction.

By Ingrida Steniulienė

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Lithuania's Viciunai Group keeps mum after Ukraine labels it 'international war sponsor'

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Viciunu Grupe (Viciunai Group), a business group producing and selling seafood and other food products, owned by Visvaldas Matijosaitis, mayor of Lithuania's second-largest city of Kaunas, and his business partner Liudas Skierus, has refrained to comment on a recent decision by Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) to add it to the list of international war sponsors because it continues its operations in Russia.

"This time, Viciunu Grupe refrains from commenting," the company told BNS when asked to comment on such a decision and also asked at what stage it is in its efforts to exit the Russian market.

According to the Ukrainian agency, the Lithuanian group "is conducting its business in Russia as usual without any layoffs, successfully defending the Russian trademark in court, and continuing to recruit staff for its subsidiaries, supporting the labor market in Russia".

The Lithuanian group's owners say they have been unsuccessfully trying to sell their business in Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad since the spring of 2022 when Russian invaded Ukraine.

According to information available to BNS, once a potential buyer is found, the deal will be considered by the Russian government's commission controlling foreign investments.

By Erika Alonderytė-Kazlauskė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuania's ForMin expresses strong protest over Russia's drone, missile attack on Ukraine

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuania's Foreign Ministry on Thursday expressed its strong protest to Russia over the recent missile and drone attacks on Ukraine.

A representative of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius was summoned to the ministry on Thursday to express strong protest over Russia's recent missile and drone attacks against Ukraine, one of the largest since the start of its large-scale invasion in February 2022, the ministry said.

"Lithuania strongly condemns Russia's war against Ukraine, including these brutal acts of aggression, and calls on Russia to put an immediate end to it," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Over the past few days, Russia has launched a total of more than 500 missiles and Shahed 'kamikaze' drones at Ukraine, mostly targeting Ukraine's civilian and critical infrastructure, according to Kyiv. The Ukrainians have shot down most of the missiles but residential buildings, maternity homes, hospitals, houses of worship and schools have still been damaged. Four people have reportedly been killed.

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Lithuania's EducMin mulls phasing out Russian schools – minister

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Lithuania could gradually phase out education in the Russian language, while national minority schools where the education process is done using the languages of EU countries or countries friendly to Lithuania could continue, Education, Science and Sport Minister Gintautas Jakstas says.

"Our neighbors, the Latvians and Estonians, have not only renounced schools where the language of instruction is Russian, but they are also going down the path of not teaching Russian as a foreign language. (...) Apparently, we should learn from our neighbors. One thing is that we should focus on EU languages, so that the education of national minorities takes place in their own language, and we might have bilateral agreements with other countries, if they are a friendly country, such as Ukraine," Jakstas told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Thursday.

In his words, the ministry is currently looking into ways to suspend the use of Russian as a language of instruction, with a proposal expected over the next few weeks.

"We need to start thinking about what those solutions would be. It is too early to say what they would be. We are now immersed in the assessment of schools, and I hope to have a proposal over the next few weeks," Jakstas said.

According to the minister, the question is why general education schools in Lithuania use the languages of unfriendly countries as languages of instruction.

Moreover, he says, teaching all subjects in the language of a national minority does a disservice to children by making it harder for them to integrate into society.

The education minister pointed out that Russian schools would not be closed, especially as there is a shortage of schools in Vilnius and Klaipeda, but the language of instruction should be changed, either by teaching more subjects in Lithuanian or by switching to Lithuanian education, but that would be done for children just starting their education.

"If we wish to start making changes, it should be done consistently, starting with the formation of new classes," Jakstas said, adding that it should not be difficult for teachers at Russian schools to switch to teaching in Lithuanian because they speak the state language.

The minister also urged not to link the renewed debate on national minority schools with the recent incident when teenagers at a Russian school fired a pneumatic weapon at a classmate because he was against the war in Ukraine.

"I do understand that those children are remorseful for what they did. You can be wrong and we can't label them," Jakstas said.

For her part, Vaiva Vezelyte-Pokladova, head of the National Minorities Policy Analysis and Information Division of the Department of National Minorities, told the Ziniu Radijas radio station she was against the closure of schools of one national minority.

"If we talk only about Russian-language schools, we would be against the marginalization of one nationality. Closing schools of one nationality and completely denying children the opportunity to cherish their nationality would certainly not be a decision that should be made at this time," she said.

Under the existing law, local authorities in areas with traditionally large national minorities guarantee education in the language of the national minority at the request of the local community.

National minority schools mostly operate in southeastern Lithuania where children receive education in national minority languages in nearly 100 schools in nine municipalities.

According to the National Agency for Education, over 47,000 children attended educational establishments for national minorities, from kindergartens to schools, in the academic year of 2020-2021.

Around 14,000 pupils are now attending general education schools with Russian as the language of instruction, mostly in Vilnius, Visaginas and Klaipeda.

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Head of Belarusian sanatorium stripped of Lithuanian residence permit (media)

VILNIUS, Jan 04, BNS – Belarusian citizen Ilya Epifanov, head of Belorus, a Belarusian-owned sanatorium in Lithuania's southern city of Druskininkai, has had his residence permit in Lithuania revoked, the 15min news website reported on Thursday. 

Epifanov was refused entry to Lithuania before Christmas because his residence permit had been revoked.

"The permit was revoked on December 15 due to a threat to national security," Rokas Pukinskas , spokesperson for the Migration Department, said. 

Epifanov is currently in Belarus. He has called the decision 'political' and says he has already appealed.

Up until mid-June 2021, Belorus was owned by the Main Economic Office (GHU), directly subordinate to the Belarusian president's administration and led by Viktor Sheiman, who was put on the EU sanctions list more than a decade ago. But after his retirement in June 2021, the sanatorium was transferred to the Republican Center for Health Improvement and Sanatorium Treatment of the Population of Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko's order.

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Jan 05 2024

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