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LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, December 22, 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Ekspress Grupp fined EUR 140,000 for lrytas.lt acquisition infringement in Lithuania
  2. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023
  3. Nine irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus
  4. Lithuania's competition watchdog to announce decision on lrytas.lt acquisition
  5. President: there were no signals that Lithuania will not get ready to host German brigade
  6. Lithuania reports 798 new COVID-19 cases, one death
  7. Lithuania’s DefMin buying new optical sights for army for EUR 34 mln
  8. Lithuania's Constitutional Court opens case on diacritical marks in documents
  9. Ekspress Grupp fined EUR 140,000 for lrytas.lt acquisition infringement in Lithuania
  10. Lithuania's FinMin turns to SSD over Yellowstone lease deal
  11. Lithuanian journalist, philosopher, translator Drunga dies
  12. Lithuanian president vetoes Seimas' decision to legalize use of night sights in hunting
  13. Two Lithuanian committee chairs to go to Warsaw amid Ukraine aid shipment problems
  14. Lithuanian president vetoes Seimas' decision to legalize use of night sights in hunting (expands)
  15. Universal conscription, defense industry boost among Lithuania's HU-LCD's proposals
  16. Lithuanian formin calls president's move to name ambassadorial candidates 'unacceptable'

Ekspress Grupp fined EUR 140,000 for lrytas.lt acquisition infringement in Lithuania

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuania's Competition Council on Friday fined Ekspress Grupp, an Estonian media group that operates the Delfi news websites in the Baltic states, slightly more than 140,000 euros for breaking the law when it acquired the Lithuanian news website lrytas.lt.

The Council found that Ekspress Grupp violated the Law on Competition by acquiring Lrytas, the company controlling the lrytas.lt news website, without notifying the institution and obtaining its permission, if the revenue of the businesses involved in the transaction exceeds the legal thresholds.

The ruling can be appealed to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court.

The Competition Council launched the probe in this case following a complaint by 15min.

Ekspress Grupp acquired the lrytas.lt news website through a newly-established company in Lithuania for an undisclosed value in December 2022.

Until then, the news website belonged to Lrytas, in which Big Group, controlled by Benas Gudelis, owned 36 percent, 26.5 percent belonged to Gedvydas Vainauskas, 13.2 percent belonged to Vidmantas Strimaitis, and the rest was owned by minority shareholders.

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023:

PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to attend the ceremony of handover of the Flame of Peace of Bethlehem at 11 a.m.

THE CABINET to hold a virtual sitting at 10 a.m.

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

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours turned away nine migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Friday morning.

Latvia reported two attempts at illegal border crossings on Thursday, and 11 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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Lithuania's competition watchdog to announce decision on lrytas.lt acquisition

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – The Lithuanian Competition Council will on Friday announce its decision on the deal between Ekspress Grupp, an Estonian media group that owns the delfi.lt news websites in the Baltic countries, and Lietuvos Rytas, a Lithuanian company, on the acquisition of the lrytas.lt news website in Lithuania.

The competition watchdog looked into whether the transaction was in line the law that requires the parties to notify about planned concentration and receive authorization from the Competition Council, if the revenues of the businesses involved in the transaction exceed the legal thresholds.

The procedure was launched in August on the basis of a complaint filed by the company 15min.

Last December, Ekspress Grupp acquired the lrytas.lt news website from Lietuvos Rytas through its company in Lithuania for an undisclosed value. The agreement was signed for the acquisition of 100 percent of shares in Lrytas, a subsidiary of Lietuvos Rytas, and the deal was partly financed by SEB Bank.

Big Group, controlled by Ben Gudelis, owns a 36 percent stake in Lietuvos Rytas, and Gedvydas Vainauskas and Vidmantas Strimaitis own 26.5 percent and 13.2 percent respectively. The rest belongs to minority shareholders. 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 205 85 11, Vilnius newsroom


President: there were no signals that Lithuania will not get ready to host German brigade

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who met with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius a few days ago, says that there were no signals at the meeting that Lithuania would not be able to prepare to host a brigade, and that the social conditions of German soldiers are being discussed, but this does not indicate a reluctance to finance them.

"Mr. Pistorius visited Lithuania a few days ago and there were no signals that Lithuania is not able to do or will not do something. We have always been open with our partners that what is necessary militarily to host the brigade will be done by 2026," the president said in an interview published by the tv3 news portal on Thursday.

He also said that at present, it was difficult to talk about the social infrastructure for the troops who will arrive with their families because it was not known what the needs would be, and confirmed that Lithuania had asked whether these costs could be shared by both sides.

“Yes, it will cost extra money and we are saying that Lithuania will do its utmost to finance a large part of the cost, but we are only discussing and asking whether this could be done on a cost-sharing basis. This certainly does not imply that Lithuania is not willing to finance something," the president said.

Speaking about the possibility of introducing a new tax to finance defense, he said that if agreed during 2024, a defense tax could be introduced from 2025.

"We are certainly ready for discussions on a defense tax and it is possible to do it in 2024 and to have such a tax already in place in 2025," Nauseda said.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported earlier this week that, based on a leaked cable, the deployment of a brigade poses major financial challenges to Vilnius.

According to Der Spiegel, diplomatic correspondence from the German embassy in Lithuania, obtained by the publication, shows that Lithuania is convinced that it will only have to pay for the military infrastructure and would only contribute proportionally to the cost of accommodating the German troops.

According to the cable, Vilnius does not feel responsible for building schools and kindergartens for the soldiers’ families.

This information was made public after the Lithuanian and German defense ministers signed the brigade deployment roadmap on Monday as around 5,000 German troops are to be deployed in Lithuania.

The roadmap states, among other things, that the responsibilities and financial arrangements, including host nation support services as well as funding and operation will be agreed and detailed "in technical arrangements to be developed in 2024".

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 239 64 16, Vilnius newsroom


Lithuania reports 798 new COVID-19 cases, one death

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 798 new coronavirus infections and one death from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Friday morning.

The 14-day primary infection rate has dropped to 507.7 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 33.4 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.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 205 85 08, Vilnius newsroom


Lithuania’s DefMin buying new optical sights for army for EUR 34 mln

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – The Defense Ministry is buying new Canadian-made optical sights by Raytheon Elcan Optical Technologies for the Lithuanian Armed Forces for 34 million euros.

The sights will be designed for use with the army's existing 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm caliber firearms, the ministry said in a press release on Friday.

According to the ministry, they will improve the effectiveness of the rapid-fire weaponry of the Lithuanian troops, hitting targets during the day and night, and increase the survivability of the troops. The sights are designed to shoot and hit from 300 meters and beyond.

This procurement is being carried out through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), which is the main procurement platform for defense authorities in Lithuania and other NATO countries.

The first sights will reach Lithuania in the summer of 2024 and the rest will be delivered by the fall of 2025.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 205 85 08, Vilnius newsroom


Lithuania's Constitutional Court opens case on diacritical marks in documents

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuania's Constitutional Court on Thursday opened a case on the possibility to write personal names in Latin characters with diacritical marks in personal documents.

The court says it has started hearing the case in response to the Vilnius City District Court's request to rule whether the possibility of writing names and surnames in personal documents with diacritical marks, which is not in place right now, is in line with the Constitution.

The court will assess the provisions of the Law on the Spelling of the Name and Surname in Personal Documents as to what extend they do not allow writing the names of non-Lithuanian citizens of Lithuania using "Latin-based characters with diacritical marks in other alphabets formed on the basis of the Latin alphabet as well as in the Lithuanian alphabet".

The court has also been asked to rule on the government-adopted rules on the spelling of personal names.

The Vilnius City District Court turned to the Constitutional Court after hearing a civil case on the obligation to change the civil status record so that the name and surname of a certain non-Lithuanian citizen of Lithuanian nationality are indicated using a Latin-based character with a diacritical mark that is non-existent in the Lithuanian alphabet.

The Seimas has legalized the spelling of Lithuanian citizens' names in Latin characters without diacritical marks in documents in certain cases. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that such a procedure does not run counter to the Constitution. However, the spelling of names and surnames in personal documents with diacritical marks has not been legalized.

By Milena Andrukaitytė

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 239 64 16, Vilnius newsroom


Ekspress Grupp fined EUR 140,000 for lrytas.lt acquisition infringement in Lithuania

Updated version: updates throughout

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuania's Competition Council on Friday fined Ekspress Grupp, an Estonian media group that operates the Delfi news websites in the Baltic states, slightly more than 140,000 euros for breaking the law when it acquired the Lithuanian news website lrytas.lt.

The Council found that Ekspress Grupp violated the Law on Competition by acquiring Lrytas, the company controlling the lrytas.lt news website, without notifying the institution and obtaining its permission, if the revenue of the businesses involved in the transaction exceeds the legal thresholds.

The ruling can be appealed to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court. However, if it comes into force, Ekspress Grupp will have to apply for and obtain permission from the Competition Council for the transaction or sell its shares in the company that operates the lrytas.lt website.

Delfi CEO Vytautas Benokraitis did not comment on the Competition Council's decision on Friday.

"Delfi has nothing to do with this as this is Ekspress Grupp's business. (...) You need to talk to Ekspress Grupp as they are commenting on this decision. We continue to live as we have so far, nothing has changed for us," Benokraitis told BNS.

The Law on Competition stipulates that it is mandatory to notify the Competition Council about a planned transaction and obtain its permission if the combined total revenue of the companies involved in the concentration in the Republic of Lithuania in the last business year preceding the transaction exceeds 20 million euros, and if the total revenue of each participant in the transaction in the Republic of Lithuania exceeds 2 million euros.

Ekspress Grupp held the opinion that it was not obligated to notify the Competition Council about the concentration because the combined revenues of the transaction participants did not exceed 20 million euros.

The company argued that the revenues of Lrytas from the sale of advertising space to foreign-registered clients should not be attributed to revenues obtained in the Republic of Lithuania.

Nevertheless, according to the assessment of the Competition Council, the revenues obtained by Lrytas from foreign-registered clients should be considered as revenues obtained in the Republic of Lithuania. This is because, in calculating total revenues, it is important to consider where the competition takes place rather than the registration address of advertising space buyers. According to the experts of the Authority, competition for advertising revenues among Lithuanian online news portals occurs in the Republic of Lithuania. This is because foreign-registered buyers of advertising space through the lrytas.lt website expect to reach the audience of our country, specifically interested in Lithuanian and international news.

The Competition Council concluded that Lrytas' revenues from foreign buyers of advertising space are to be considered as revenues generated in the Republic of Lithuania, and that the total revenues of the parties to the concentration in 2022 exceeded the limit of 20 million euros provided in the legislation.

The Competition Council launched the probe in this case following a complaint by 15min.

Ekspress Grupp acquired the lrytas.lt news website through a newly-established company in Lithuania for an undisclosed value in December 2022.

Until then, the news website belonged to Lrytas, in which Big Group, controlled by Benas Gudelis, owned 36 percent, 26.5 percent belonged to Gedvydas Vainauskas, 13.2 percent belonged to Vidmantas Strimaitis, and the rest was owned by minority shareholders.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +370 5 205 85 10, Vilnius newsroom


Lithuania's FinMin turns to SSD over Yellowstone lease deal

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuania's Finance Ministry has asked the State Security Department for full information on the developers of the Yellowstone business center amid plans for the business center to house the European Union's new authority for countering money laundering and financing of terrorism (AMLA).

The move comes as Yellowstone's investors have not been disclosed to the public, and one of them is linked to the former Lewben company.

"We have asked for relevant information available on the company that won the tender for the lease of the premises, its related companies and beneficiaries, which could affect the compatibility with national security interests and could have a negative impact on the execution of the lease agreement for the administrative premises," the ministry told BNS.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste said her ministry would ask competent authorities to find out the final beneficiaries of this lease deal amid growing public doubts regarding the reputational risk and other beneficiaries' ties. Once this information is received, the ministry will be able to assess the deal, she added.

She noted, however, that this would only be relevant if Lithuania won the EU competition. Lithuania is competing to host the AMLA with nine other cities, including Madrid, Paris, and Frankfurt, the minister said.

The five-year lease for Yellowstone was signed with Project RE 1 on November 27, with the option to terminate the contract if the EU Council and the Parliament decide to locate AMLA's headquarters outside Lithuania or if no decision is taken within 6 months. The decision on the host country of the new authority’s headquarters is expected in the first quarter of 2024.

The Finance Ministry did not disclose any information regarding the lease deal until this week when it made it public following media attention.

BNS reported earlier that Vilius Kavaliauskas, the founder of the Lewben Group and the largest shareholder of Noewe (former Lewben), is the final beneficiary of Project RE 1, according to the Center of Registers. However, 14 other beneficiaries –investors who are not publicly registered anywhere – do not want to disclose their identity, according to the developer.

Agnius Tamosaitis, the CEO of Project RE 1, told BNS on Monday he would disclose the names of those investors if they agreed. On Tuesday, however, he stated that due to confidentiality reasons he could not do so without their consent, adding that these are "reasonably well-known" investors whi are Lithuanian citizens.

The media has repeatedly raised questions about the Lewben group's links with various individuals from Eastern countries and the content of its services. In 2017, the State Security Department blocked the group's planned acquisition of a business center in Vilnius.

If the decision is made to base the AMLA HQ in Vilnius, Lithuania would cover the costs of renting and maintaining the building for five years, which will cost it almost 13.3 million euros.

By Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuanian journalist, philosopher, translator Drunga dies

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuanian journalist and public figure Mykolas Drunga has died at the age of 75, Vytautas Magnus University said on Friday.

Drunga was born in 1948 in Tubingen, Germany, and moved with his family to New York in 1959. He attended a private Catholic grammar school, then he graduated from the Lithuanian Institute of Education in Chicago In 1968, and then received a BA degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1969.

From 1969 to 1972, he studied philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and continued his studies at the Lithuanian Institute of Education in Chicago from 1981.

Later, he taught at Lithuanian Saturday schools in Chicago and Boston, and for a number of Lithuanian publications. He was the editor The Observer, a Lithuanian-American magazine, since 1984.

Since 2004, Drunga worked at the VDU Center for Immigration Studies in Kaunas and lectured at Vytautas Magnus University.

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Lithuanian president vetoes Seimas' decision to legalize use of night sights in hunting

to be expanded

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on Friday vetoed legislative amendments adopted by the Seimas last week allowing the use of night sights in hunting.

In the president’s view, the use of night sights in hunting is not necessary to achieve the objectives set out in the explanatory note to the law, such as the effectiveness of the fight against African swine fever or better preparedness for national defense.

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Two Lithuanian committee chairs to go to Warsaw amid Ukraine aid shipment problems

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – The chairs of Lithuania's two parliamentary committees will travel to Warsaw next week to raise the issue of easing procedures amid complaints from Lithuanian NGOs that shipments for Ukrainian troops are stalling in Poland.

"On 28 December, (Foreign Affairs Committee chair) Zygimantas Pavilionis and I are going to meet the new chairs of the National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committees. At least politically, I will raise the issue and I will ask them to pay attention as to whether it would be possible to introduce more flexible and simpler procedures in Poland," Laurynas Kasciunas, the chair of the Committee on National Security and Defense, told BNS on Friday.

On Friday, CNSD members met with members of NGOs taking aid to Ukraine, and the latter said that bureaucratic procedures for processing permits and other documents considerably lengthen the time it takes for aid to reach its intended recipients.

Haroldas Daublys, head of the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union's support group for Ukraine, told the CNSD meeting that bureaucratic red tape is a major problem when transporting dual-use or military goods, including thermal imaging cameras, drones, communications equipment, optical devices, and personal protective equipment.

"What you can buy in the EU legally, without any controls, such as thermal imaging cameras, our authorities tend to call them military goods, not even dual-use goods, which immediately complicates the process, meaning that you have to have a pre-received transit permit to cross Poland and a special convoy from a Polish company," Daublys said, adding that convoy services are not cheap.

He gave an example when 1,000-1,500 euros were asked for the transportation of a shoebox-size box.

"We have a shipment worth 30,000 euros stuck at the Polish border for two months as we need to sort out the paperwork," he said.

Jonas Ohman, the founder of Blue/Yellow, says speed has used to be the main advantage of taking aid from Lithuania to Ukraine.

"We have now calculated that with all the added Lithuanian, Polish requirements, and also some Ukrainian restrictions, it takes a month at best to do what we could actually in theory do in a day or two," he said. "This is a totally unacceptable situation."

Some NGOs admit to have even smuggled aid because of the bureaucratic requirements.

Kasciunas says it's normal for a state to want to prevent the uncontrolled transport of military equipment, but, he added, a review of potentially excessive rules is necessary.

"We will raise this regarding any potential flexibility," the CNSD chair told BNS.

He also plans to propose appointing a coordinator in Lithuania to help aid carriers with the necessary paperwork. This could be a deputy minister or an advisor to the prime minister, he said.

"It is very important to have a one-stop shop, that is, to know who to call in advance about Polish procedures, and tell them that we are transporting this and that, that much, how the Poles will treat this and that equipment. Our economic attaché in Poland is an essential point of contact, he could navigate, so that we don't have to go and then have problems," Kasciunas said.

The volumes of aid shipped to Ukraine went up after Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022.

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Lithuanian president vetoes Seimas' decision to legalize use of night sights in hunting (expands)

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on Friday vetoed legislative amendments adopted by the Seimas last week allowing the use of night sights in hunting.

In the president’s view, the use of night sights in hunting is not necessary to achieve the objectives set out in the explanatory note to the law, such as the effectiveness of the fight against African swine fever or better preparedness for national defense.

Nauseda believes that "this law contradicts the fundamental principle of lawmaking – expediency, which means that a bill should be drafted and the law adopted only if the objectives pursued cannot be achieved by any other means", according to a press release published by the presidential office.

“Moreover, the law adopted by the Seimas formulates the authorization of the use of night sights in a very broad manner, not on an individual basis but on a general basis. This means that, apart from the species of animals specified in the law and allowed to be hunted with night sights, the law does not contain any conditions restricting the use of night sights," the press release stated.

According to the president, the legalization of night sights in hunting would make it very difficult in practice to ensure control over the use of such tools, and would effectively render inapplicable the administrative and criminal liability for the illegal use of night sights in hunting.

By Augustas Stankevičius

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Universal conscription, defense industry boost among Lithuania's HU-LCD's proposals

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS - The presidium of the ruling Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats on Friday started discussing national defense priorities it will propose to all parliamentary parties to agree on as the region security situation deteriorates.

Drawn up by the party's Policy Committee, the plan includes proposals to introduce a model of compulsory universal conscription, give the national defense industry a boost, upgrading the army, stepping up the training of the army reserve, speeding up the creation of a division, ensuring the infrastructure for the reception of the German brigade, as well as carrying out a review of key defense-related laws.

Speaking after the committee meeting, Jonas Survila told reporters the plan has not been approved yet but there is agreement on the main directions. Once the party has approved its proposals, their package will be presented to other political forces, their proposals will be heard and agreement will be reached on their consider implementation.

"For it not to be a one-party decision by a temporary-majority, especially when it comes to those decisions that require additional funding and need to be effective, they need to be continuous and implemented," Survila said.

For his part, Mindaugas Linge, who chairs the Policy Committee, says once the priorities and objectives are set, the need for funding will become clear.

However, there are no discussions yet on how defense funding could grow in the coming years, he said.

HU-LCD leadership launched a review of defense priorities after the party's leader, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, sais that the existing support given to Ukraine might not be enough to win against Russia, and the latter could rebuild its capabilities for a new offensive against NATO countries within a few years. Lithuania should not be apathetic in thinking that NATO's Article 5 will protect it, he said, and called for strategic changes in the country's defense.

By Jūratė Skėrytė

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Lithuanian formin calls president's move to name ambassadorial candidates 'unacceptable'

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – As Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has disclosed the names of the considered candidates for the position of ambassador in Poland, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says such a situation is unacceptable and undermines foreign partners' confidence in Lithuania. 

His comment came in response to Nauseda's interview with the TV3 television when he disclosed that Kestutis Kudzmanas and Petras Zapolskas had been considered for the position.

"For the time being, we are looking into the situation. It is not acceptable as the exposure of people, real or alleged, in public is unequivocally harmful," Landsbergis told the Lietuvos Rytas TV on Friday.

As the presidential office, the Foreign Ministry and the ruling majority are embroiled in public debate on the stalling appointment of the country's ambassador to Lithuania, Nauseda told the TV3 television on Thursday he wanted answers as to why the ministry's prior competition for the country's ambassador to Poland had been deemed invalid.

"I would like answers to the questions why he was not suitable. Whether because of his professional competences or other things since Petras Zapolskas speaks Polish and has worked at other embassies, as well as Mr Kudzmanas," Nauseda said.

Landsbergis believes people taking part in competitions for diplomatic appointments or even being considered should not be named in public because of legal restrictions, "even if there's no restricted-use label on their name".

Such disclosure of the diplomatic appointment process, he said, is to the detriment of Lithuania internationally as well.

"I would like to say that our partners we are talking about have their own embassies, they have ambassadors in place who certainly write memos, press reviews and send back to the capitals where all our discussions are discussed. This is not, I would say, a good way to defend Lithuania's interests," Landsbergis argued, adding that not only the appointment of the country's ambassador to Poland is problematic.

Lithuania has "three embassies flashing red", meaning that they do not have ambassadors, Landsbergis said, and, according to the existing practice, the nomination process is started at least a year before the expiry of the incumbent diplomat's term of office.

According to the foreign minister, there are currently 14 diplomats who have been waiting for "signals of approval, in particular from the president" since October.

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.

By Ignas Jačauskas

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Dec 28 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, December 21, 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Nine irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus
  2. Lithuania's Vinted announces Canadian market exit (expands)
  3. Conscription reform to be submitted to Seimas of Lithuania
  4. Lithuania reports 981 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths
  5. Lithuanian MP Gapsys brought in to parlt from prison to face impeachment
  6. Balzekas, partners' 4 Bees becomes sole shareholder of Lithuania's 15min
  7. Lithuanian defmin plays down leaked cable on brigade-related costs
  8. Lithuanian defmin plays down leaked cable on brigade-related costs (expands)
  9. Lithuania plans to acquire mobile short-range air defense system from Sweden
  10. More clarity on German families' accommodation once their number is known – Lithuanian PM
  11. Lithuanian finmin: revised EU fiscal rules will allow more investment in defense
  12. Lithuanian parlt fails to strip imprisoned MP Gapsys of his mandate
  13. Lithuanian parlt gives initial OK to proposed conscription reform
  14. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023

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

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours turned away nine migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Thursday morning.

Latvia reported no attempts at illegal border crossings on Wednesday, and 32 irregular migrants were 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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Lithuania's Vinted announces Canadian market exit (expands)

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Vinted, a Vilnius-based online second-hand fashion marketplace and Lithuania's first unicorn, is pulling out of the Canadian market.

"Vinted will be closing in Canada for now on February 12, 2024, which means it’s no longer possible to register," the company told its Canadian customers in a notice posted on its Canada-based site.

The company said that back in 2021, it launched Vinted in Canada using a different technical platform than in other countries.

"Historically, it has been built on a different platform to the main one. Running a separate platform was not sustainable or efficient," Vinted said.

"After careful and thorough consideration, we have decided to discontinue this platform, which means that we are pulling out of the Canadian market for now," it added.

The company points out that this decision allows it to focus on other markets and strengthen its positions in the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

Starting December 11, 2023, the company no longer accepts new member registrations in Canada due to its upcoming platform closure.

From January 12, 2024, users will not be able to buy, sell, list or favorite new items, write public comments, make or accept offers or follow members.

Until February 12, 2024, users will be able to finalize any ongoing transactions and settle payments, and the customer service team will continue working.

After exiting Canada, Vinted will be available in 19 markets, including Lithuania, the UK, France, Germany, the US, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Hungary and Romania.

In 2019, Vinted became Lithuania's first unicorn, a highly successful start-up valued more than 1 billion euros.

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Conscription reform to be submitted to Seimas of Lithuania

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – A reform of conscription into the armed forces is scheduled to be presented to the Seimas of Lithuania on Thursday.

Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas will present a new version of the Law on Military Conscription and accompanying draft legislation.

Under the new model, the conscription age limit would be set at 18-21 years, instead of the existing 18-23 years, and studies in higher education establishments would not be seen as an exception to postpone military service.

Volunteers would be able to serve so between the ages of 18 and 38, unchanged from now.

Higher education students will be required to perform their service, either by attending the Junior Officer Commanders' training or by joining the National Defense Volunteer Force, thus combining it with their studies. They could also suspend their studies and perform normal service.

The reform also includes the reduction of the existing 9-month service time to six months for some conscripts.

The amendments are also aimed at enabling those who want to serve but are unable to perform compulsory military service because of their health condition. They will have to declare their willingness to serve, and the duration and form of service will be decided by the chief of defense.

In addition, it is proposed to increase the duration of alternative service from 10 to 12 months.

The army estimates that up to 7,000 young men graduate from school each year and are fit for service.

Plans to reform conscription in Lithuania were announced in February, respective bills were registered in August and approved by the government in December.

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Lithuania reports 981 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 981 new coronavirus infections and two deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Thursday morning.

The 14-day primary infection rate has dropped to 520.5 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 34.2 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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Lithuanian MP Gapsys brought in to parlt from prison to face impeachment

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – MP Vytautas Gapsys, a member of the Labor Party political group who was convicted of corruption last month and is serving a prison sentence in Kaunas, was brought in to the Lithuanian parliament on Thursday as lawmakers are set to vote on his impeachment.

Under the Statute of the Seimas, a person subject to impeachment has the right to attend the Seimas sitting personally or represented by a lawyer. 

At least 85 of the 141 lawmakers need to vote in favor for an MP to be stripped of their mandate.

As Gapsys is serving a prison sentence, the impeachment process is simplified, i.e. taking place without the need to turn to the Constitutional Court.

Last month, 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.

The court found that Raimondas Kurlianskis, a former vice president of MG Baltic (now MG Grupe), had asked Gapsys 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.

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Balzekas, partners' 4 Bees becomes sole shareholder of Lithuania's 15min

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS - 4 Bees, a holding company owned by Tomas Balzekas, Martynas Basokas, Gabriele Burbiene and Tomas Bindokas, has become the sole shareholder of the 15min group in Lithuania, the company said on Thursday.

4 Bees has acquired the remaining 60 percent of the shares from Estonia's Postimees Grupp. The two have co-owned the 15min group since September 2021.

15min owns the namesake news website and the print magazines Zmones, Legendos and Ji.

Up until now, 4 Bees has held a 40 percent stake and had the control of 15min.

BNS, which operates a news agency under the same name, will remain a subsidiary of 15min.

The value of the transaction has not been disclosed, but Toomas Tiivel, CEO of Postimees Grupp, says 4 Bees made an acceptable offer for the remaining shares.

"The 15min group's management team has been successfully developing the group's companies and its willingness to buy all the shares demonstrates its confidence in the future of the Lithuanian media business," he said.

Balzekas, the largest shareholder of 4 Bees and CEO of 15min, points out that the recent deal is part of a bigger vision.

"The first return in 2021 to 15min, which my friends and I founded in 2005, in my vision, had to do with greater ambition to outgrow our competitors, to buy other companies, to merge the media market and shape a strong Lithuanian media group. Today's event is part of that vision. I feel like I have returned home after a long journey and I am ready to roll up my sleeves even more," Balzekas said. "My partners and I believe that media is a very local business. We do believe that its transparency and sustainability are very important for our society. We do believe that running this business requires high values and ideals. Being able to do so is a great responsibility."

"Together with our team, we believe that we will be able to develop digital subscriptions well and that this business will not only make sense, but also be stable in the long term," Balzekas added.

Shareholders' and borrowed funds were used of the transaction.

4 Bees, a holding company that manages media businesses, also owns the Pasaka cinema and the ZMONES Cinema home cinema platform, the Prenumerata.lt subscription platform, and is a co-owner of the Manodaktaras.lt health service platform, the Medipresa book distribution company, the Patogupirkti.lt online bookstore, and the Bookswap LT book exchange platform.

Balzekas owns 56.67 percent of 4 Bees, Basokas owns 25.67 percent, and Burbiene and Bindokas have stakes of 10 and 7.67 percent respectively.

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Lithuanian defmin plays down leaked cable on brigade-related costs

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas played down a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel based on a leaked cable saying that the deployment of a brigade poses major financial challenges to Vilnius.

According to him, Lithuania and Germany are still discussing the costs, which will be detailed later.

"Everything will be detailed in technical agreements," the minister told reporters in the Seimas on Thursday.

"We can say how much we are spending on infrastructure, on the Rudninkai training ground, but all other costs, summa summarum, we still need to calculate," he added.

According to Der Spiegel, diplomatic correspondence from the German embassy in Lithuania, obtained by the publication, shows that Lithuania is convinced that it will only have to pay for the military infrastructure and would only contribute proportionally to the cost of accommodating the German troops.

According to the cable, Vilnius does not feel responsible for building schools and kindergartens for the soldiers’ families.

The report followed the signing of an action plan on the deployment of a Bundeswehr brigade by the Lithuanian and German defense ministers in Vilnius on Monday.

The plan states inter alia that the responsibilities and financial arrangements, including host nation support services as well as funding and operation will be agreed and detailed "in technical arrangements to be developed in 2024".

"We speak openly, we do everything in trust with each other, not behind the scenes," Anusauskas said.

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.

Discussions on the deployment of such a brigade in Lithuania started after Russia invaded Ukraine. Germany announced its specific commitment in June.

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Lithuanian defmin plays down leaked cable on brigade-related costs (expands)

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas played down a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel based on a leaked cable saying that the deployment of a brigade poses major financial challenges to Vilnius.

According to him, Lithuania and Germany are still discussing the costs, which will be detailed later.

"Everything will be detailed in technical agreements," the minister told reporters in the Seimas on Thursday.

"We can say how much we are spending on infrastructure, on the Rudninkai training ground, but all other costs, summa summarum, we still need to calculate," he added.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Defense Ministry had expressed any concerns about the deployment of the brigade during the official talks.

"… it was stated that we do not see any obstacles, everything will be provided and we will do everything as quickly as possible to allow the brigade to settle in Lithuania," he told reporters on Thursday.

According to Der Spiegel, diplomatic correspondence from the German embassy in Lithuania, obtained by the publication, shows that Lithuania is convinced that it will only have to pay for the military infrastructure and would only contribute proportionally to the cost of accommodating the German troops.

According to the cable, Vilnius does not feel responsible for building schools and kindergartens for the soldiers’ families.

The report followed the signing of an action plan on the deployment of a Bundeswehr brigade by the Lithuanian and German defense ministers in Vilnius on Monday.

The plan states inter alia that the responsibilities and financial arrangements, including host nation support services as well as funding and operation will be agreed and detailed "in technical arrangements to be developed in 2024".

"We speak openly, we do everything in trust with each other, not behind the scenes," Anusauskas said.

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.

Discussions on the deployment of such a brigade in Lithuania started after Russia invaded Ukraine. Germany announced its specific commitment in June.

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Lithuania plans to acquire mobile short-range air defense system from Sweden

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS - Lithuania plans to acquire a mobile short-range air defense system from Sweden, Lithuania's Defense Ministry said after Vic Minister Greta Monika Tuckute signed a preliminary agreement with the Swedish Armed Forces Defense Materiel Administration (FSM) in Stockholm on Tuesday.

With this document, Lithuania has joined the Swedish institution's contract for the acquisition of short-range air defense systems.

"The short-range air defense system will significantly enhance the protection of our airspace. In cooperation with the FSM, we are initiating further procurement procedures which will clarify the exact price, scope and all other details of the acquisition," Tuckute.

The first components of the short-range air defense system are expected to be delivered to Lithuania in 2025 and the whole system should be delivered by 2027.

The Defense Ministry did not disclose the potential acquisition cost.

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More clarity on German families' accommodation once their number is known – Lithuanian PM

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says more details on the need for civilian infrastructure for the families of German troops will be available when Berlin provides more detailed information on how many of them plan to come to Lithuania during the deployment of the German brigade.

"The key question that needs to be answered, which we are still discussing, is what will be the composition of the people who will arrive, how many people with families and children will want to move here," the prime minister told reporters at the Seimas on Thursday.

"We cannot guess how many places we will need in schools and kindergartens as that is something our partners have to tell us. Once we have the parameters of the family situation of these people, I think we will solve all these issues," she added.

According to the prime minister, the recently leaked information published by the German publication Der Spiegel, stating that the deployment of the German brigade in Vilnius poses significant financial challenges, "does not show anything".

The prime minister says Lithuania's planned spending on military infrastructure "is much higher than any imaginable civilian infrastructure that might be needed for people arriving with their families".

"Actually, it is not clear which period it (the leaked information - BNS) is from, and of what authenticity. I can certainly confirm there have been discussions, and they are ongoing, on civilian infrastructure, but they are not taking place the way they are depicted and not because the way it was depicted there," she said.

According to Der Spiegel, correspondence from diplomats at the German embassy in Lithuania states that Lithuania is convinced it will only have to pay for the military infrastructure and will only contribute proportionally to the cost of accommodating German troops.

Diplomats say Vilnius does not feel responsible for building schools and kindergartens for the families of incoming German troops.

This information was made public after the Lithuanian and German defense ministers signed the brigade deployment roadmap on Monday as around 5,000 German troops are to be deployed in Lithuania.

The roadmap, among other things, states that states that the responsibilities and financial arrangements, including host nation support services as well as funding and operation will be agreed and detailed "in technical arrangements to be developed in 2024".

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Lithuanian finmin: revised EU fiscal rules will allow more investment in defense

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Finance ministers of the European Union (EU) on Wednesday sealed a political deal to reform the bloc's fiscal rules, which, according to Lithuanian Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste, will give more room for investment in defense.

"We stressed during the discussions that, in addition to flexibility for investment and reforms that increase growth potential and fiscal sustainability, we must also provide reasonable flexibility for investments in defense capabilities," Skaiste said in a press release.

"The revised rules reflect the changed geopolitical reality and will create more room for investment in this vital area," she added.

The rules should also deliver real debt relief for EU countries with high debt, while Lithuania and other low-indebted countries should maintain fiscal sustainability.

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Lithuanian parlt fails to strip imprisoned MP Gapsys of his mandate

VILNIUS, Dec 21, BNS – Lithuanian lawmakers on Thursday failed to strip imprisoned MP Vytautas Gapsys, representing the opposition Labor Party, of his mandate.

The votes on four separate criminal offense episodes did not result in the minimum number of votes - 85 - needed to revoke his mandate.

As Gapsys was convicted of four criminal offenses, MPs voted separately to revoke the mandate for each of them but the highest number of votes for one of them was 75. However, at least 85 out of 141 MPs had to vote in favor of at least one of the four resolutions for the mandate to be revoked.

Gapsys was also brought in from the prison in Kaunas to the parliament to attend the impeachment proceedings.

Addressing his fellow lawmakers, Gapsys said he was not guilty of bribery and influence peddling, saying that he was convicted for his statements.

Under the Statute of the Seimas, a person subject to impeachment has the right to attend the Seimas sitting personally or represented by a lawyer.

As Gapsys is serving a prison sentence, the impeachment process is simplified, i.e. taking place without the need to turn to the Constitutional Court.

Last month, 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. He is also disqualified for five years from being elected or appointed to any elected or appointed position in state or municipal institutions and establishments, companies or non-state organizations.

The court found that Raimondas Kurlianskis, a former vice president of MG Baltic (now MG Grupe), had asked Gapsys 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.

By Milena Andrukaitytė, Jūratė Skėrytė

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Lithuanian parlt gives initial OK to proposed conscription reform

VILNIUS, Dec 13, BNS – The Lithuanian parliament on Wednesday gave its initial backing to the Defense Ministry's proposed conscription reform after 72 lawmakers voted in favor, one was against and 25 abstained.

The bill will now be considered by parliamentary committees and will return to the main hall in the spring.

Under the new model, the conscription age limit would be set at 18-21 years, instead of the existing 18-23 years, and studies in higher education establishments would not be seen as an exception to postpone military service.

Volunteers would be able to serve between the ages of 18 and 38, unchanged from now.

Higher education students will be required to perform their service either by attending the Junior Officer Commanders' training or by joining the National Defense Volunteer Force, thus combining it with their studies.

The reform will also include the reduction of the existing 9-month service time to six months for some conscripts.

Also, conscripts who have acquired a qualification in a profession that is in short supply in the army could serve for three months. The conscription age for such persons would be up to 30 years.

Young men on the conscript lists who are studying and living abroad will have the same choices as those studying and living in Lithuania.

There are also exceptions planned as conscripts who have been deferred on an individual basis would be called up to the age of 22 after the end of the foreseen circumstances. Also, in order to prevent the evasion of service, a conscription age of 30 years would be introduced for persons who have been called up for service but failed to report for service.

According to the ministry, the amendments are also aimed at enabling those who want to serve but are unable to perform compulsory military service because of their health condition. They will have to declare their willingness to serve, and the duration and form of service will be decided by the chief of defense.

In addition, the proposal is to increase the duration of alternative service from 10 to 12 months.

The changes would also extend the length of service in the active reserve and it would last 15 years instead of the existing 10 years. During this service, reserve troops would be periodically called up for repeated reserve training. 

"Nevertheless, the 18-19-year-olds who finish school and start compulsory military service immediately after leaving school will remain the priority and ideal option," the Defense Ministry says.

The army estimates that up to 7,000 young men graduate from school each year and are fit for service.

Plans to reform conscription in Lithuania were announced in February and the bill was registered in August. The government approved them earlier this month.

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 22, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Thursday, December 22, 2023:

PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to attend the ceremony of handover of the Flame of Peace of Bethlehem at 11 a.m.

THE CABINET to hold a virtual sitting at 10 a.m.

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Dec 22 2023

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