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LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, December 7, 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Lithuanian President Nauseda will seek re-election
  2. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 7, 2023
  3. Eighteen irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus
  4. Lithuanian president to announce Thursday if he'll run for re-election 
  5. Germany's 21st brigade starts rotation in Lithuania 
  6. Lithuanian PM calls 2024 budget 'good result' given limited resources    
  7. After whistleblower's testimony, Lithuanian intelligence body insists it followed law 
  8. Lithuania reports 1,280 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths
  9. If citizenship helps to bypass sanctions, we should consider taking it away- Lithuanian PM (expands)
  10. Improving China-Lithuania trade relations are fragile – minister
  11. Lithuanian panel to focus on 'dark money' allegedly used during last presidential election
  12. Sustainable defense funding in Lithuania can only come from taxes – ruling block
  13. Stalled US aid will still reach Ukraine – Lithuanian PM, defmin
  14. Minister sets up commission over Lithuanian passports of Abramovich's children 
  15. Over 32,000 Ukrainian soldiers trained under UK-led Operation Interflex – Lithuanian army
  16. Lithuania's conscription reform opens way for universal male draft – minister 
  17. Businesses transporting Russian food behave immorally but legally – Lithuanian PM
  18. New Russia sanction package to put more responsibility on EU firms – Lithuanian official  
  19. Government's promises to teachers will "hang in the air" – Lithuanian president
  20. Lithuanian President Nauseda will seek re-election
  21. Lithuanian president skeptical of draft amendments to revoke citizenship by descent
  22. Elections in US, other countries will affect Ukraine aid discussion – Lithuanian president
  23. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Friday, December 8, 2023

Lithuanian President Nauseda will seek re-election

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda announced on Thursday his decision to seek re-election next year.

"I am determined and committed to continue the started work. I will run for president in May 2024 and I hope that the people of Lithuania will give me a strong mandate of trust, as they did in 2019," Nauseda told a press conference at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.

Nauseda was elected president in 2019, defeating incumbent Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte in the runoff.

Public opinion polls show Nauseda, 59, is the clear favorite to win the presidential election next year.

His main rivals are Simonyte and lawyer Ignas Vegele. The latter has already announced his plans to run for president earlier this month.

In total, more than ten people have announced their plans to run for president in May.

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, December 7, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Thursday, December 7, 2023: 

THE SEIMAS' plenary sittings to start at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

SPEAKER OF THE SEIMAS Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen welcome participants of a Lithuanian-Belarusian journalists' forum at 10:30 a.m.; to attend a Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at Vilnius' Choral Synagogue at 2 p.m.; to attend a reception hosted by the Netherlands' embassy at 6 p.m. 

THE SEIMAS to host Baltic journalists' forum entitled "International conflicts and journalism:
the aim is to maintain the highest standards of journalism" at 10:30 a.m.  

PRIME MINISTER Ingrida Simonyte to give an interview to LRT Radio at 8:05 a.m.; 
to participate in the so-called "government hour" at the Seimas at noon.

OTHER EVENTS

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania to host, starting at 10 a.m., an international scientific conference on "The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 18th Century. Citizen. Family. Education".

 

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

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours turned away 18 migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Thursday morning.

Latvia reported eight attempts at illegal border crossings on Wednesday, and 16 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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Lithuanian president to announce Thursday if he'll run for re-election 

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda is expected to announce on Thursday whether or not he will run for a second term in next year's elections.

Nauseda, who has previously said he will announce his decision on December 7, is holding a news conference on Thursday.

Nauseda was elected president in 2019 after winning the run-off against Ingrida Simonyte, the current prime minister.

Opinion polls indicate that the 59-year-old incumbent is a clear favorite to win the presidential elections scheduled for next May.

Ignas Vegele, a lawyer who has recently announced his decision to stand in the elections, and Simonyte, who is running for the ruling conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, are seen as his main challengers.

So far, nine candidates have already announced that they will run in the elections.

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union is fielding Aurelija Veryga, a former health minister and now an MP. The Democratic Union "For Lithuania" has named Giedrimas Jeglinskas, a former deputy defense minister and NATO assistant secretary general, as its candidate.

The Freedom Party is nominating Dainius Zalimas, a former president of the Constitutional Court, and the Freedom and Justice has named Arturas Paulauskas, its acting chairman, as the party's candidate.

Valdas Tutkus, a former chief of defense, Mantas Varaska, the mayor of Kazlu Ruda, a town in southern Lithuania, and Antanas Kandrotas have also announced their intention to run in the presidential race. 

Kandrotas, known by the nickname Celofanas (Cellophane), is on trial in a criminal case concerning the August 2021 riot outside the parliament building in Vilnius. 

 

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Germany's 21st brigade starts rotation in Lithuania 

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – The German Army's 41st Brigade, assigned to Lithuania since the fall of 2022, is being replaced by the 21st Brigade, the Lithuanian Armed Forces said on Wednesday.

The troops of the outgoing rotation were awarded Medals for Mutual Support by Lithuania's Chief of Defense General Valdemaras Rupsys.  

"It took only a few months until Commander Brig Gen Christian Nawrat and his troops with combat assets were in Lithuania after Germany took the decision to assign an enhanced Vigilance Activity Brigade to Lithuania in the summer of 2022," Rupsys told the troops.

"A few more months later, the Brigade had already reached Full Operational Capacity to be effective in the territory of Lithuania with our and Allied troops," the general said. 

"It is a vitally important signal of solidarity and an example of German and NATO unity materialized in concrete actions and deeds," he added. 

The incoming eVA Brigade, the 21st Armored Brigade of the Bundeswehr, led by Commander Marco Eggert, is taking "the baton of deterrence and defense tasks in Lithuania", according to the press release. 

The 4,000-strong brigade is one of the rapid response units of the German Armed Forces. 

Most of it is currently stationed in Germany. 

President Gitanas Nauseda and Chancellor Olaf Scholz last year signed a joint communiqué on the assignment of a German brigade to Lithuania. After debating for some time whether the unit should be deployed in the country only for exercises or permanently, the countries finally agreed on the latter option.

Berlin intends to deploy its brigade in Lithuania over the next few years, with an interstate agreement on this matter expected to be signed next year.

 

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Lithuanian PM calls 2024 budget 'good result' given limited resources    

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuania's 2024 state budget, passed by the parliament this week, is a compromise and a good result given the limited resources, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Thursday. 

"I think what we've achieved is a good compromise. I saw a comment somewhere saying the budget isn't perfect. I don't know if there ever is a perfect budget, because it is always about unlimited desires and limited resources," Simonyte told LRT Radio. 

"Under these limited resource conditions, I believe the government has achieved a good result," she added. 

According to the prime minister, the budget was adopted considering next year's uncertain economic situation, the Maastricht criteria, support for Ukraine, spending on Lithuanian defense, and the needs of many interest groups.

"The government really sought a balance between several fires burning at the same time while preparing the budget," she said. 

Vaidas Augustinavicius, an advisor to Gitanas Nauseda, said on Wednesday that the budget was "not perfect" and that the president Gitanas Nauseda had yet to decide whether to sign the bill, passed by the parliament on Tuesday, into law.

Next year's state budget is planned with a deficit of 3 percent of GDP, with revenue projected at 16.98 billion euros and expenditure at 20.6 billion euros.

 

By Valdas Pryšmantas

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After whistleblower's testimony, Lithuanian intelligence body insists it followed law 

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – After a whistleblower's testimony, the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD) reiterates that it followed the law when vetting the team of Gitanas Nauseda, then a presidential candidate.  

"The SSD strictly complies with the requirements of the law in its activities," the department told BNS in a comment after Tomas Gailius, its former employee, on Wednesday testified before a parliamentary inquiry commission about his whistleblower report. 

"The SSD has provided information on the totality of actions carried out in the context of the 2019 Lithuanian presidential elections both to the CNSD, which conducted its investigation at that time, and to the current temporary inquiry commission, based on the questions presented," the intelligence agency said.

It did not comment in more detail on the whistleblower's testimony. 

Gailius told the parliamentary commission that the top SSD officials might have committed a disciplinary offense or even a crime by asking the department's employees to vet Nauseda's inner circle and possibly sharing information with unauthorized persons. 

The parliamentary inquiry is looking into where the vetting was justified and at whose request it was conducted. 

The commission has until March 10 to present its findings.

It was set up after the Prosecutor General's Office stated last spring that the report submitted by the whistleblower, then an intelligence officer, to Vytautas Bakas, who chaired the Committee on National Security and Defense (CNSD) of the previous parliamentary term, in 2019 had not been properly examined.

The whistleblower's story was recorded in a book by journalists Dovydas Pancerovas and Birute Davidonyte, titled The Whistleblower and the President. 

The former SSD officer told the journalists that in July 2018, he received several sheets of paper with many names and a verbal instruction from Remigijus Bridikis, the intelligence agency's deputy director, "to vet the electoral team of one candidate and the list of possible supporters".

It turned out that the list contained the names of supporters and associates of the then-presidential candidate Nauseda.

Having looked into the situation at the time, the CNSD stated that the SSD had acted lawfully in vetting people close to the presidential candidates, but urged refraining from verbal instructions in such situations.

While SSD officials said that all presidential candidates' teams had been vetted, the whistleblower claimed that only Nauseda's team had been subjected to checks and that Bridikis confirmed to him that the lists had been obtained from Nauseda.

The president categorically denies having asked the SSD to vet his team. 

Gailius testified publicly to the parliament commission on Wednesday, having opted to stop hiding his identity.

The man also said that he had been subjected to psychological pressure at work, such as not being invited to leadership meetings and having his vacation request denied, after it became known that he was a whistleblower. 

 

By Saulius Jakučionis

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Lithuania reports 1,280 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 1,280 new coronavirus infections and no deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Thursday morning.

The 14-day primary infection rate has risen to 490.3 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 39.2 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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If citizenship helps to bypass sanctions, we should consider taking it away- Lithuanian PM (expands)

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS - If citizenship is acquired to circumvent international sanctions, it can be stripped by means of changing the country's laws, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Thursday after it emerged that two children of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who has close ties with the Kremlin, have Lithuanian citizenship.

"It certainly doesn’t look good for our country when people close to the regime have some legal documents of residence and can use these documents to circumvent international sanctions. So I really think that this issue needs to be resolved, and if amendments are needed, they will be initiated," the prime minister told the public radio LRT on Thursday.

"Apparently, there is a need to discuss whether laws should be changed. (...) Usually, in such cases, people have more than one citizenship, even on the grounds of descent, and we could talk about the grounds for stripping them of citizenship in the Seimas as well, but, of course, that would require amendments to the law," Simonyte said.

Many people close to the Kremlin obtained residence permits in EU countries before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and openly expressed support for the Russian leadership, which is a problem, the Lithuanian prime minister added.

On Wednesday, Lithuania's Migration Department confirmed that two of Abromovich's children have Lithuanian citizenship, but he's not a Lithuanian citizen. 

Also speaking on Wednesday, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said that legislation was being drafted that would allow stripping persons of Lithuanian citizenship on the grounds of a threat to national security, including for those who have acquired their passports on the basis of their descent.

Her comment came after Siena, a Lithuanian investigative journalism center that contributed to an international investigation, reported on Wednesday that Abramovich's children Anna and Arkady Abramovich, who may have helped their father circumvent the existing international sanctions, have Lithuanian passports.

By Valdas Pryšmantas

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Improving China-Lithuania trade relations are fragile – minister

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS - Lithuania's bilateral trade situation with China is stabilizing two years after Beijing imposed trade restrictions on Lithuania, Lithuania' Economy and Innovation Minister Ausrine Armonaite says, warning, however, that this stability is fragile.

"Right now the situation is stabilizing, but as always when you do business with communist regimes or other regimes, you cannot be sure of your own ownership or the stability of that partnership," Armonaite told the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Thursday.

"We don't have the final figures for this year's exports yet. We had for January-September, and we see recovery in exports," the minister added.

She also pointed out that Lithuania's exports to China were not very high even before the deterioration of relations with Beijing.

Earlier, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that Lithuanian and Chinese officials were talking about normalizing diplomatic relations. In an interview with Bloomberg in late November, he said that Lithuanian business remained cautious about trading with China.

By Greta Zulonaitė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuanian panel to focus on 'dark money' allegedly used during last presidential election

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – As the State Security Department's whistleblower Tomas Gailius on Wednesday testified to the Seimas' temporary inquiry commission about the possible non-transparent financing of the 2019 presidential election, the commission now plans to pay more attention to investigating whether the campaign in question could in fact have been financed by dark money.

Gailius, a former SSD officer, claimed he had seen information on the possible non-transparent financing of the 2019 presidential election campaign when he worked for the intelligence service.

"Yes, I saw such information while working for the department," Gailius, who decided to no longer hide his identity, told the commission in public testimony, asked by Vytautas Bakas, who chairs the commission.

Neither Bakas, nor Gailius named a particular candidate.

Gailius said he could not comment further on the question during a public hearing as it was classified information, and he only confirmed that he was really talking about the 2019 presidential election. The commission now plans to go deeper into this issue when Gailius testifies in private.

The public will know

Speaking with BNS on Thursday, Bakas said that the possible non-transparent financing of the 2019 presidential election campaign will now be an investigation priority.

"That line of inquiry, I think, will now be a priority, and we will go deeper into it, it is one of the serious versions of the commission's investigation that dark money may have been used during the presidential election campaign," Bakas said.

He said he could not answer where the suspicious moment came from, from Lithuania or outside, and only said that if the commission confirmed that, the public would be informed about this, despite the material currently under investigation being confidential.

He also could not say whether President Gitanas Nauseda or other candidates' election campaigns were referred to in the context of non-transparent financing.

Set up in October, the commission is, among other things, tasked to assess the financing costs of all candidates during the 2019 presidential election campaign and compare information to the monitoring data made public at the time.

The commission is also expected to find out what influence persons involved in Belarusian fertilizer business had on Nauseda, his election campaign staff and advisers, and what role they played in the campaign.

Nauseda checks

The temporary parliamentary inquiry commission is also looking into the whistleblower's provided information about the SSD leadership's actions in checking Nauseda's inner circle when he was running for president.

Gailius told the commission on Wednesday he turned to politicians four years ago because he suspected that his superiors might have committed "a disciplinary offense or even a crime".

Gailius also said that when presenting to Darius Jauniskis, the SSD director, the material collected by his team on Nauseda's inner circle, he realized that the confidential information could be disclosed to a person who had no right to access it

Following Gailius' testimony, the SSD confirmed on Wednesday that it followed the law when it vetted Nauseda's team when he was still a presidential candidate.

The issue of transparency of Nauseda's election campaign financing is raised in The Whistleblower and the President a book published early this year and partly based on Gailius' testimony.

By Milena Andrukaitytė

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Sustainable defense funding in Lithuania can only come from taxes – ruling block

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS - Sustainable defense funding can only come from one source – taxes – but a broader consensus among political parties on specific measures is needed, say the prime minister, the parliament speaker and the defense minister.

The idea of a defense tax has recently been raised by Laurynas Kasciunas, chair of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense, after the presidential office earlier criticized next year's defense budget for not having funds for the State Defense Council's approved plan to create a land division within the country's army.

"We have no other sources, only taxes. This issue was raised a few months ago, and I myself proposed one option, that is, changing the corporate income tax, and all other options are also possible," Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told reporters at the Seimas.

In the long term, he said, there's a need for sustainable financial sources, and taxes "are exactly that".

In his words, the cost of strengthening air defense capabilities and acquiring armored vehicles would cost several hundred million euros each.

His view is echoed by Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen who also says that, especially in the election year, the idea of new taxes "requires a consensus among all the political, at least parliamentary, parties".

"I would see a strong need to build on the best practices of the defense agreement to initiate a broad parliamentary discussion on the way forward in strengthening Lithuania's defense and security. The topic is very important, it is fundamental, and it is the basis of everything. But if it becomes one of the instruments of electoral battles, I doubt we will be able to achieve a result," she said.

For her part, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says it would be important to get the tax system itself in order and to harmonize taxation before raising taxes.

"The easiest way would be, of course, what is sometimes said in public, to simply increase one or another tax rate because this is a large base and means large revenue," the prime minister said.

"But it seems to me that we still have some internal problems within the tax system where that simple increase in one rate could mean a disproportionately higher burden for middle-income earners, which is already a problem within the Lithuanian tax system as due to the existing exemptions, people with the same income but in different ways are paying different taxes, so that people who are employed are paying much more tax on the same euro earned," she said.

Last summer, the Seimas gave its initial backing to a proposed tax reform that would, among other things, foresee higher taxes for people working under individual activity certificates, and broader real estate taxation.

As the reform subsequently stalled, the ruling conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats now want a separate law on real estate taxation. It went through the initial reading, but the vote on the adoption of these amendments has been postponed.

Simonyte admits that the amendments "have more to do with the question of fairness, hygiene" and would not lead to the collection of large additional amounts.

"If we are talking about large sums of money, we must be talking about one of the main taxes," she said.

Also last summer, the Defense Ministry proposed changing the existing conscription procedure by making service conditions more flexible and increasing the number of conscripts per year to around 5,000. The government is yet to discuss the proposed reform and submit it to the parliament. However, the bill does not include universal conscription.

Some members of the ruling block, including the prime minister and HU-LCD leader and Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, as well as President Gitanas Nauseda, are calling for a renewed debate on universal conscription, but the idea does not enjoy broad support.

By Austėja Masiokaitė-Liubinienė

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Stalled US aid will still reach Ukraine – Lithuanian PM, defmin

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS - The stalled US aid to Ukraine is an unpleasant circumstance, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says. However, she and Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas believe it will eventually be approved.

Their comments came after Republican senators on Wednesday blocked a White House request for a 106 billion US dollar (97.4 billion euro) joint emergency aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as Republicans objected to the bill's lack of immigration reforms.

"This is a problem because, on the one hand, there doesn't seem to be any doubt at the rhetorical level about the aid as, in general, there is a majority in favor of aid to Ukraine in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, in the Congress, (...) and it is a great pity that this issue, and not only of Ukraine, but also of Israel and of the overall aid package, it has become a hostage of domestic politics," the prime minister told reporters on Thursday.

She has no doubt that the aid package would be approved if it was put on the agenda.

"But it simply is not put the agenda. This is a very unpleasant circumstance, but I still think it is a circumstance, not a decision, but just a circumstance, and that sooner or later the decision will reach the voters and then the vote, I believe, will be a positive one," the prime minister said.

The defense minister said he discussed the issue with Republican senators during his recent visit to the United States and was assured that the issue would be resolved by mid-December.

As the Russian war in Ukraine continues, the aid issue will continue to be an issue in all countries, Anusauskas said.

"Yes, there are many domestic problems, but the Ukraine issue and the war in Ukraine and Russia's actions are destroying the international order, and if it collapses, it will cost tens of times more than it is now," the minister said.

Without US support, "it would be difficult for Ukraine", he said. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic on the issue and has no doubt that aid provision will be resumed.

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Minister sets up commission over Lithuanian passports of Abramovich's children 

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite on Thursday set up a commission to look into the circumstances under which two children of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich acquired Lithuanian citizenship.

The ministry also instructed the Migration Department to review the list of persons and entities subject to EU sanctions and check whether any family members of the sanctioned persons hold Lithuanian passports.

"The granting of citizenship cannot be a secret and a Lithuanian passport cannot be a cover for circumventing sanctions or for other abuses," Bilotaite said in a press release. "In this geopolitically complex period, the protection of personal data cannot take precedence over national security interests."

The Migration Department confirmed on Wednesday that two of Abramovich's children were granted citizenship before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but that he does not hold a Lithuanian passport.

Bilotaite also said that legislation is being drafted to allow stripping people of Lithuanian citizenship acquired by descent if they are deemed a threat to national security.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said earlier on Thursday that if citizenship is acquired to bypass international sanctions, its revocation can be considered, even if it requires amending the country's laws.

Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the parliament, said she believes that the situation reveals the need to review the remaining loopholes in the law, which she expects to be done.

Siena, a Lithuanian investigative journalism center that contributed to an international investigation, has reported recently that Anna and Arkady Abramovich, who hold Lithuanian passports, may have helped their father circumvent international sanctions.

 

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Over 32,000 Ukrainian soldiers trained under UK-led Operation Interflex – Lithuanian army

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – The third rotation of Lithuanian military instructors are returning from UK-led Operation Interflex, which has trained a total of over 32,000 Ukrainian soldiers so far, the Lithuanian Armed Forces said on Thursday.

Lithuania's military instructors have trained about 2,300 members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces this year, including about 500 under the UK-led operation.

The Lithuanian Armed Forces plan to continue to participate in Operation Interflex and the European Union Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine), and to contribute to the basic military training of Ukrainian service members, according to the press release. 

Lithuanian instructors train Ukrainian troops under around 50 different training programs, it said.

 

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Lithuania's conscription reform opens way for universal male draft – minister 

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said on Thursday that his ministry's proposed conscription reform creates the legal prerequisites for a universal military draft for men. 

His comment comes as his ministry prepares to submit the draft conscription reform to the government for approval.

According to the minister, universality in conscription can be achieved by the new model where studying at a higher education establishment will not be treated as an exception allowing service deferral.

"In this case, we are talking about a reform that eliminates exceptions that prevented calling up everyone, well, except women," he told BNS on Thursday.

The draft reform proposals include making it mandatory for higher education students to do their military service either by enrolling in the Junior Officer Command Training Program or by joining the National Defense Volunteer Force, thus combining their service with studies.

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

The conscription age limit would be set at 18-21 years, instead of 18-23 years currently. 

According to Anusauskas, with these changes in place and adjustments to the annually set maximum number of conscripts, it will be possible to call up as many young people as needed at that time.

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

"We are proposing a legal framework, a tool for how to conduct conscription and who falls under it," said Anusauskas. "How many will be called up is determined by another law." 

The reform has yet to be approved by the government and the parliament.

The Defense Ministry is planning to submit it to the Cabinet "in the coming weeks", according to the minister.

 

 

By Augustas Stankevičius, Saulius Jakučionis

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Businesses transporting Russian food behave immorally but legally – Lithuanian PM

VILNIUS, Dec 7, BNS - Businesses transporting Russian grain and food products through Lithuania are behaving immorally but legally, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says.

"As you know, food products - and this is a key provision of the EU and international sanction policy - are exempted from the existing sanctions as far as the availability of food is concerned. Neither when transported to Russia, nor from Russia," the prime minister said during the Government Hour in the Seimas on Thursday. 

"That doesn’t mean that I think that people who have a business, even related food products, and have some kind of commercial relationship with Russia are behaving morally. It seems far from it to me, but they are behaving legally," the prime minister added.

She also vowed to look into the volumes of Russian grain and food products transported via Lithuania.

"I will certainly check how much grain is handled by the port of Klaipeda, what are the import, export and transit data," she said. 

Agriculture Minister Kestutis Navickas said earlier that Russian grain was being transported through Latvian ports but it did not enter the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda. Nevertheless, he did not rule out that Russian grain could be imported by falsifying its documents of origin. 

Ausrys Macijauskas, the president of the Lithuanian Association of Grain Growers, said that about one million tons of grain have been imported from Russia into Latvia so far, calling on the the Lithuanian government to ensure that it does not enter Lithuania from Latvia.

By Sniegė Balčiūnaitė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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New Russia sanction package to put more responsibility on EU firms – Lithuanian official  

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – The European Union's 12th package of sanctions against Russia will likely make EU companies responsible for the movement of their goods and oblige some of them to control their financial flows outside the bloc, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Jovita Neliupsiene said on Thursday.  

"The 12th sanctions package will actually have a bigger impact on businesses, despite the sanctions being targeted at Russia. There will be an obligation to tighten responsibility throughout the whole trade chain," Neliupsiene said at the Sanctions Management Forum in Vilnius. 

"Contracts will have to contain requirements, where the buyer will commit not to sell or export sanctioned goods to Russia and to demand certain guarantees," she said. 

The 12th package will include restrictions on high-tech and information technology services, and the laser industry, according to Neliupsiene.  

The official said that the package will tighten the control of financial flows of EU-based companies controlled by Russian-linked persons outside the bloc. 

"Authorization for the transfer of funds outside the European Union will be required for EU companies owned by Russian entities or controlled by Russian persons," she said.  

The vice-minister underlined that Russia's growing GDP does not mean that international sanctions have no impact on the country's economy.

 

By Giedrius Gaidamavičius

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Government's promises to teachers will "hang in the air" – Lithuanian president

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS - The government's promises to teachers to increase their salaries will "hang in the air", Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Thursday, commenting on the state budget adopted by the Seimas earlier this week.

Teachers' salaries may not reach the promised 130 percent of the national average wage next year, he said, contrary to the promises made by the ruling block.

"Unfortunately, we have not delivered on what we promised teachers. Yes, we made new promises instead of the old ones, that maybe we will change something, borrow something, revise something in the course of the year, but the fact remains that we will not reach 130 percent at this pace, and the promises made to teachers will hang in the air," Nauseda told a press conference on Thursday.

He vows to closely monitor the country's economic forecasts next year and remind the government of the promises made to teachers.

"I think teachers' issues remain unresolved," Nauseda said.

The government plans to raise teachers' pay by 10 percent from January and September after this proposal was approved with the state budget.

Andrius Navickas, the leader of the Lithuanian Education Employees; Trade Union, asked the president on Wednesday to veto the budget after the Seimas failed to take the requests to raise teachers' salaries by 15 percent in two phases into account.

The president says he will have a thorough look at the budget before deciding whether to sign it.

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Lithuanian President Nauseda will seek re-election

Updated version: updates throughout

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda announced on Thursday his decision to seek re-election next year.

"I am determined and committed to continue the started work. I will run for president in May 2024 and I hope that the people of Lithuania will give me a strong mandate of trust, as they did in 2019," Nauseda told a press conference at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.

Nausda says his attitudes have not changed since 2019 when he first ran for president.

"I want to say that whatever I am, I cannot be accused of changing my opinions or changing my attitudes," the president said, adding that he still has unfinished work.

Big choice

The president refrained to assess his chances in next year's presidential election.

"I think all the candidates should be respected, each of them comes with their own vision, their own ideas, and I think it's good that we will have a big choice, and my goal is to diversify that choice," Nauseda said.

Public opinion polls show Nauseda, 59, is the clear favorite to win the presidential election next year.

Asked about his slogan and team, the president said the answers would be provided "when the time comes", adding that his election team will include people he trusts.

The president also assured that the resources of the presidential office would not be used for the election campaign, adding that the election campaign would not interfere with his direct duties.

Tectonic shifts

At the press conference, Nauseda highlighted the "tectonic shifts" that have taken place during his four years as president. He mentioned the agreements on the deployment of a German brigade in Lithuania, to allocate more than 2 percent of the country's GDP to defense, and others.

"All this allows me to say that Lithuania is safer than ever in terms of external threats," Nauseda said.

The president also highlighted the success in withstanding the consequences of rising energy prices, talked about people with disabilities and the country's progress in this area, and explained that the welfare state is "about reducing exclusion."

Nauseda also spoke about local government institutions that, he said, had demonstrated their activeness in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, illegal migrants and supporting Ukraine.

Nauseda was elected president in 2019, defeating incumbent Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte in the runoff.

His main rivals are Simonyte and lawyer Ignas Vegele. The latter has already announced his plans to run for president earlier this month.

In total, more than ten people have announced their plans to run for president in May.

By Saulius Jakučionis, Greta Zulonaitė

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Lithuanian president skeptical of draft amendments to revoke citizenship by descent

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – President Gitanas Nauseda is skeptical about the Interior Ministry's draft amendments that would allow stripping people of Lithuanian citizenship acquired by descent if they are deemed a threat to national security. 

"It's not very good to start amending our laws, targeting them at a specific case or specific individuals," the president told reporters on Thursday. 

Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite's announcement that her ministry has drafted such amendments followed a report by Siena, a Lithuanian investigative journalism center that contributed to an international investigation, that two of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich's children, Anna and Arkady, hold Lithuanian passports and may have helped their father circumvent international sanctions.

According to Bilotaite, the amendments allowing the revocation, on the grounds of a threat to national security, of Lithuanian citizenship granted on the basis of descent have been drafted and are currently being coordinated with other authorities.

"We have done this before, yes, we have found justifiable reasons for it, but if it becomes a widespread practice, I don't think our state will follow the path of the rule of law," Nauseda said. 

He was referring to certain amendment to the Law on Citizenship adopted by the parliament earlier this year.

The amendments allow stripping a dual citizen of their Lithuanian citizenship granted by exception if the person publicly expresses support for a state that poses a threat to Lithuania or its allies' security interests.

The law was applied to deprive Margarita Drobiazko of her Lithuanian citizenship, with the authorities citing the Russian ice dancer's public support for the Kremlin regime as grounds for the action.

Commenting on the Lithuanian citizenship held by Abramovich's children, Nauseda said that the Lithuanian authorities must verify if it was granted in compliance with the law. 

Among other things, the authorities must look into whether the Russian billionaire's children have helped him to circumvent EU sanctions, according to the president.

"If this turns out to be the case, we have the possibility to take action under other Lithuanian laws," he said. 

The international investigation has revealed that the Lithuanian passports of Arkady and Anna Abramovich were used in transactions that experts see as an attempt to circumvent the sanctions imposed on the billionaire following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

Abramovich's children were allegedly involved in changing the management structure of his assets.

 

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Elections in US, other countries will affect Ukraine aid discussion – Lithuanian president

VILNIUS, Dec 07, BNS – Discussions on international decisions on helping Ukraine will have to take the election factor in the United States and other Western countries into account, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says.

On Wednesday, Republican senators blocked a White House request for a 106 billion US dollar (97.4 billion euro) joint emergency aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, after Democrats refused to fund measures to fight illegal migration

"The situation is not simple. I certainly don't want to wrap my words up in pretty cotton wool and say that everything is fine," the president told reporters on Thursday. "Certain things are changing internationally, and political cycles are changing in different countries, including the big ones. They are also changing in some EU countries, so we will have to take the election factor into account when it comes to decisions that are vital for Ukraine."

Nauseda vows do everything he can for Ukraine to continue receiving support and for partners not to turn away from Ukraine at a crucial stage of the war.

Nauseda hopes that the EU will be able to agree on billions of euros in support for Ukraine, although he acknowledged that some EU members are skeptical about this proposal.

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Friday, December 8, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 08, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Friday, December 8, 2023:

PRIME MINISTER Ingrida Simonyte attend a Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at Vilnius' at 10 a.m.; to chair a meeting of the commission in charge of monitoring power synchronization with continental Europe at 11 a.m.

DEFENSE MINISTER Arydas Anusauskas to inspect army unit in Klaipeda.

CULTURE MINISTER Simonas Kairys to attend the 2023 European Film Awards in Berlin

JUSTICE MINISTER Ewelina Dobrowolska to attend a discussion on the ECHR and Lithuania.

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Dec 08 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN, December 5, 2023

LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN


IN THIS ISSUE:

  1. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 5, 2023
  2. Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus
  3. Lithuania's top court to rule if Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for another MP
  4. Lithuanian parliament to hold final vote on 2024 budget
  5. Lithuania reports 2,173 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths
  6. People's income growth outpaces inflation in Lithuania in Q3 – Sodra 
  7. Lithuanian parlt extends corporate tax break for investment projects, films
  8. Tightening sanctions to send bad signal to Belarus opposition – Lithuanian parlt speaker
  9. Lithuanian formin calls proposed new restrictions on Belarusians "nervous reaction"
  10. Seabed surveys for Lithuania's offshore wind farm find shipwreck in Baltic Sea
  11. Lithuanian parlt OKs 2024 budget (corrects)
  12. Lithuanian MP Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for colleague, court rules 
  13. Lithuanian MP Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for colleague, court rules (expands)
  14. EP election in Lithuania to be held on June 9
  15. Lithuanian 15-year-olds' knowledge 'average' among OECD countries – minister
  16. Lawyers' court of honor in Lithuania dismisses disciplinary case against Vegele
  17. Lithuanian parlt postpones introduction of e-tolling system until January 2025
  18. Upcoming events in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Upcoming events in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 5, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Tuesday, December 5, 2023:

PRESIDENT  Gitanas Nauseda to have a phone conversation with his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu at 2 p.m.

EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND SPORT MINISTER Gintautas Jakstas to meet with French Ambassador Alix Everard at 4 p.m.

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Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus

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

Latvia reported 16 attempts at illegal border crossings on Monday, and 34 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Sunday, according to the latest available information.

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

Lithuanian border guards have prevented a total of over 21,800 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 top court to rule if Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for another MP

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The Lithuanian Constitutional Court on Tuesday is expected to announce its opinion in MP Petras Grazulis' impeachment case. 

In its petition, the parliament asked the Constitutional Court to look into whether Grazulis broke his oath and grossly violated the Constitution by voting for Social Democratic MP Linas Jonauskas when the latter turned away to speak to a colleague. 

According to the Seimas' special inquiry commission, this incident occurred on September 15, 2022, when the parliament voted on the agenda of its autumn session.

In his testimony before the Constitutional Court in early November, Grazulis said that he could not remember whether he had voted for Jonauskas, who was sitting next to him in the plenary hall, but admitted that he could have made a mistake.

Grazulis described the impeachment process as a "political crackdown" on him. 

Conservative MP Andrius Vysniauskas, who represented the initiators of the impeachment in the Constitutional Court, said that there was no doubt that Grazulis had deliberately pressed the button for his colleague, who did not see him do it.

According to Vysniauskas, this was not a minor procedural violation, as it may seem at first sight, but a deliberate act aimed at preventing the Seimas from debating the civil union bill, which was included in the draft program for the autumn session. 

If the court finds that Grazulis broke his oath and violated the Constitution, the Seimas will vote on stripping the MP of his mandate. At least 85 votes in the 141-member parliament are needed to pass the motion. 

If Grazulis loses his seat in the impeachment case, he would be barred for ten years from running for parliament or president and holding a public office that requires taking a constitutional oath.  

 

 

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Lithuanian parliament to hold final vote on 2024 budget

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The Lithuanian parliament on Tuesday is to hold its final vote on the highly debated 2024 state budget bill.

Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste said on Monday that she expected that there would be unanimous support from the ruling coalition and that their votes would be enough to pass the budget.

However, Ausrine Armonaite, chairwoman of the Freedom Party, a member of the ruling bloc, said after the coalition council's meeting on Monday that her party would review its commitments to the coalition after its partners failed to secure more votes in the parliament to pass a civil union bill legally recognizing gender-neutral partnerships.

Armonaite said that the Freedom Party's political group in the Seimas would make their final decision on Tuesday morning whether to support the budget.

Meanwhile, Vytautas Mitalas, head of the political group, said that the group welcomed the government's recent decisions to allocate additional funding, which had taken into account proposals from the Freedom Party's MPs.

On Tuesday, Skaiste will inform the parliament about the government's latest decision to increase next year's budget expenditure by around 650,000 euros by raising the net borrowing limit. 

The Cabinet thus approved some proposals from MPs from the ruling coalition's parliamentary groups to allocate more funds for the Public Procurement Office, the Communications Regulatory Authority, the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority, and the Migration Department. 

The leadership of the conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the biggest party in the parliament, has instructed the party's MPs to vote only for those budget proposals that that have been approved by the government.

Next year's state budget is planned with a deficit of 3 percent of GDP, with revenue projected at 16.98 billion euros and expenditure at 20.6 billion euros.

This is the penultimate budget drafted by this government and the last one to be adopted by the current parliament.

 

By Sniegė Balčiūnaitė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuania reports 2,173 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 2,173 new coronavirus infections and no deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Tuesday morning.

The 14-day primary infection rate has risen to 460.8 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 38.7 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 1.19 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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People's income growth outpaces inflation in Lithuania in Q3 – Sodra 

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – People's income continued to rise in Lithuania the third quarter of this year, with the growth outpacing inflation, the latest figures from the social insurance fund Sodra showed on Tuesday.  

Kristina Zitikyte, an advisor with Sodra's Statistics, Analysis and Forecast Unit, notes that labor income after tax rose by 10.7 percent in July-September year-on-year, compared to the annual inflation rate of 3.7 percent. 

The earnings growth was mostly due to a 15.1 percent rise in the minimum monthly wage, from 730 euros in 2022 to 840 euros in 2023, and salary increases for civil servants, officers, and employees of budgetary institutions.

Full-time employees' average income before tax rose by 209 euros, or 11.7 percent, to 1,989 euros in the third quarter year-on-year, and their average income after tax was up by 119 euros, or 10.7 percent, to 1,235 euros.

 

By Goda Vileikytė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Lithuanian parlt extends corporate tax break for investment projects, films

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The Lithuanian parliament has extended the corporate tax break for investment projects and films for another five years until the end of 2028.

On Tuesday, lawmakers adopted the appropriate amendments to the Law on Corporate Income Tax with 99 votes in favor, three against and 20 abstentions.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says the tax break is "necessary for businesses to have certainty".

For his part, Mindaugas Linge, chair of the parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, says the tax break "has the capacity to create value, and the investments of the companies that have benefited from it have doubled".

The amendments allow companies implementing an investment project to reduce their taxable profits by up to 100 percent on the basis of the costs incurred to acquire new fixed assets. This profit will continue to be reduced if the assets are needed for the investment project, are not in use and have been created within two years.

Some 2,200 companies benefited from this tax break in 2022 and such companies have so far invested 938 million euros in Lithuania.

By Sniegė Balčiūnaitė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Tightening sanctions to send bad signal to Belarus opposition – Lithuanian parlt speaker

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, said on Tuesday that she is against tightening restrictions on Belarus' citizens, despite warnings from the State Security Department (SSD) about increased activity by the neighboring country's KGB. 

Cmilyte-Nielsen warned that subjecting Russian and Belarusian citizens to the same sanctions would send a "very bad" signal to people persecuted by Alexander Lukashenko's regime. 

"I am not in favor of applying the same sanctions. I am sticking to my opinion that this would send a very bad signal to the Belarusian opposition living here, to all those whom Lithuania has invited, saying that it is important for us to help the people who are being persecuted by the Lukashenko regime," she said. 

On Monday, three MPs of the ruling conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) registered draft legislative amendments aimed at tightening restrictions on Belarusian citizens to make them the same as those currently applied to Russians, with an exception only for Belarusians with highly skilled jobs.

"Since our intelligence assessment has shown that there is an increased threat from the Belarusian special services, that migrants who come to Lithuania to work and receive residence permits are possibly being recruited, and they return and receive assignments, and that employees of the security structures also come to Lithuania to do their shady job, we need to protect ourselves and to control the inflow of these migrants as much as possible  without completely cutting it off," MP Paulius Saudargas, one of the initiators of the amendments, told BNS.

Cmilyte-Nielsen said that she hears the intelligence agency's warnings, but believes that different measures are needed.

"(...) perhaps by strengthening institutions, providing more resources, funds, everything needed to manage these flows," the speaker said. 

"However, the proposed bill, in my opinion, does not achieve any of those goals, because it envisages quite a few exceptions. In my opinion, this is more of a step to show that something is being done than something that could have a positive effect," she added.

The SSD also warns of attempts to recruit members of the Belarusian opposition and business people in Lithuania via social media.

It is estimated that there are currently over 60,000 Belarusian citizens in Lithuania. According to the agency, their number grows every year and it becomes difficult to check all of them.

Ausrine Armonaite, economy and innovation minister and chairwoman of the Freedom Party, said that their political group in the parliament will look at concrete proposals, because "the wording is different now than it was when the previous discussion took place".

"Migration must be controlled, it must be planned, but having said A, the services must also say B, that is, what they are doing. The services can also propose solutions and say whether they need more resources, what resources, and so on. We will, of course, discuss this here in the parliament," she said.

The parliament earlier this year passed a law on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens, but the latter are subject to fewer restrictions.

The law imposed restrictions for Russians and Belarusians to obtain Lithuanian visas and e-resident status. However, Russian citizens face additional restrictions on entry to Lithuania and acquisition of real estate in the country. Lithuania also temporarily refuses to accept their residence permit applications 

The parliament finally adopted the law in late April, overriding a veto from President Gitanas Nauseda, who proposed to impose the same restrictions on Russian and Belarusian citizens.

 

By Augustas Stankevičius

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Lithuanian formin calls proposed new restrictions on Belarusians "nervous reaction"

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says his fellow party members' recent proposal to put restrictions for Belarusian nationals on a par with the existing ones for Russian citizens is a "nervous reaction".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte insists that the issue needs "a deeper discussion".

Such remarks by the leaders of the ruling conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats were made on Tuesday in the Seimas in response to the proposal by three HU-LCD members to tighten the existing restrictions on Belarusian citizens, putting them on a par with those for Russians, with an exception for Belarusians coming to do highly-skilled jobs.

The MPs says the move come in response to warnings from the State Security Department about the increased activity of the Belarusian KGB and the growing workload in vetting incoming people.

"As for what colleagues are registering, this is understandably more of what is called a nervous reaction… in response to the expressed threats. What we need to do is probably to have a discussion and a conversation, which is a bit more complex than a single response that can be done immediately," the foreign minister said.

The proposed amendments to the Law on Imposing Restrictive Measures Regarding the Military Aggression Against Ukraine foresee that the acceptance of applications for temporary residence permits by Belarusian citizens via an external service provider abroad would be stopped, as is currently the case for Russian nationals. An exception would only apply to Belarusian citizens who intend to do highly skilled jobs included in the list of high value-added professions with a shortage of workers in Lithuania.

The MPs point out that the restrictions would only apply to the first temporary residence permits, i.e. to new arrivals. Meanwhile, old workers who have already received temporary residence permits once in Lithuania would be able to extend them without any restrictions.

Without new residence permits, Landsbergis says, "the border throughput from Belarus to Lithuania remains the same" as Belarusians with Schengen visas from other countries "have the possibility to come and stay for 90 days".

"These registered amendments, unfortunately, do not solve this problem, although it is one of the potential security concerns," Landsbergis said, adding that the situation should be taken seriously and a discussion should be launched, but quick fixes should not be expected where "we put a band-aid on it".

Landsbergis say that the situation has been known for many years and one of the biggest problems is the people who regularly travel between Lithuania and Belarus.

For her part, the prime minister says the issue needs to be tackled in a comprehensive way.

"I think we need a deeper discussion about what problem we are trying to solve as it is not only a question of the workload for our institutions, that someone thinks there is a very heavy workload, maybe it is difficult to see everything, but there are also issues of a wider context," she said, adding that this includes Lithuania's attitude towards Belarusian society and immigrant workers.

"If these immigrant workers left the labor market, then we would probably have a very long and difficult discussion with our business associations that believe that migration needs to be facilitated," the prime minister pointed out.

For her part, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite believes sanctions for Russian and Belarusian citizens should be the same, especially after the recent SSD warning about the increased activity of the Belarusian KGB.

Lithuania has now a law on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens in place, but the latter are subject to fewer restrictions.

Russians and Belarusians are restricted in their ability to obtain Lithuanian visas and electronic resident status, but Russians have additional restrictions on their ability to enter Lithuania, to acquire real estate and their applications for residence permits are temporarily rejected.

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Seabed surveys for Lithuania's offshore wind farm find shipwreck in Baltic Sea

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – A sunken ship has been found in the Baltic Sea during seabed surveys for Lithuania's first offshore wind farm, Ignitis Renewables, the farm's developer, said on Tuesday.  

The shipwreck was discovered at a depth of around 38 meters by Fugro Frontier, a geophysical survey vessel of the Dutch geotechnical company Fugro, it said in a press release.

"After receiving the information about the discovery of the shipwreck, we have informed the responsible state authorities, as this finding was not previously included in the database," said Paulius Kalmantas, communication partner at Ignitis Renewables, a subsidiary of the state-controlled energy group Ignitis Grupe.

The sunken ship is about 70 meters long and about 6 meters high. More information about it is expected after additional historical and underwater archaeological research. 

According to the Department of Cultural Heritage, 19 shipwreck locations in Lithuania's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea are currently listed in the Register of Cultural Heritage.

Ignitis Renewables says that the 120-square-kilometer seabed area designated for developing wind projects "has never been surveyed in such detail". 

In seabed surveys, Ignitis Renewables is also cooperating with Gavin & Doherty Geosolutions, a specialist offshore engineering and design consultancy that is part of Britain's Venterra Group, and Lithuania's Geobaltic.

 

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Lithuanian parlt OKs 2024 budget (corrects)

Corrected version: corrects para 19

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The Lithuanian parliament on Tuesday adopted the 2024 state budget after more than three hours of deliberations as 73 MPs voted in favor, 52 voted against it and one lawmaker abstained.

The majority of the time lawmakers spent debating the motions tabled by MPs and rejected by the government the day before. All of them, including initiatives to provide additional funds for pay rises for teachers, prosecutors, environmentalists or various infrastructure, were rejected, leaving the 2024 state budget as it was approved by the Cabinet on Monday after months of deliberations.

At least half, or 71, of MPs had to vote in favor of the proposals for them to be adopted. However, around 50-60 MPs, most of them from opposition groups, debated the proposals on Tuesday.

Many members of the ruling block did not take part in the debate on MPs' proposals at all.

"We are consistently on the path of increasing people's incomes," Liberal Andrius Bagdonas said before the budget was adopted.

Vytautas Mitalas of the Freedom Party told the Seimas that "the budget is good" and would allow continuing the implementation of key infrastructure projects, in particular the reconstruction of the Vilnius-Utena road and the Via Baltica.

Meanwhile, MP Remigijus Zemaitaitis was annoyed that lawmakers failed to provide additional funding for gravel roads and education, but they did extend the corporate tax break for investment projects and films.

Representing the Democrats "For Lithuania", Algirdas Butkevicius said the budget "reflects the election cycle" and its revenue plan was not justified.

"If we talk about the revenue plan for next year's budget, we see that the growth in revenue is twice as high as the growth in nominal gross domestic product. Do you think that inflation will exceed 10 percent next year?" the MP asked.

Pensions, payouts, teachers' pay, roads

The largest share of the extra funds in next year's budget will be spent on pensions and various social benefits, teachers' salaries and road maintenance.

This is the penultimate budget drawn up by this government and the last one adopted by this parliament.

The average old-age pension will increase by around 66 euros to 605 euros. The average pension for those with the required length of employment will go up by 70 to 644 euros. The single person's allowance, paid to disabled and retired people living alone, will rise by around 3 to 38.23 euros. 

Child benefits will go up to 96.25 euros a month next year, and it will rise to 152.9 euros for large families and families with a disabled or disadvantaged child. The one-off payout after the birth of a child will increase to 605 euros.

The non-taxable income rate will increase by 20 percent, or 126, to 751 euros, and the monthly compulsory health insurance contribution for self-employed persons will grow from 58.63 to 64.49 euros. The monthly minimum wage will rise to 924 euros pre-tax or 709 euros after-tax.

Next year, defense funding will for the first time exceed 2 billion euros and stand at 2.75 percent of GDP. Traditional budget allocations will amount to 2.52 percent of GDP, with the rest coming from the existing temporary bank solidarity levy and borrowings.

The increase in excise duties will raise the price of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages, as well as tobacco products.

State revenue next year will amount to 16.98 billion euros and expenditure will stand at 20.6 billion euros, leading to a budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP.

Battle for teachers

In their bid to influence the vote, around 500 members of the teachers' union led by Andrius Navickas also watched the budget adoption from plenary chamber's balcony.

However, the Seimas rejected proposals by the Social Democrats, the Labor Party and Laima Nagiene, a member of the Democrats "For Lithuania", to increase teachers' salaries beyond the government's existing plans.

The adopted budget will include funds to increase teachers' pay twice next year – by 10 percent from January and 10 by another 10 percent from September. The Social Democrats had proposed increasing teachers' pay by 15 percent from January and September.

In response to the parliament's move, the labor Party once again threatened to withdraw from the existing national education pact.

"Agreements political parties do not stick to are unviable, declarative, are mere politicking and do not bring any added value, therefore we do not see any sense in further participation," Andrius Mazuronis, leader of the Labor Party, said.

Navickas' union had asked the Seimas to support the Social Democrats' proposal, saying that before the Seimas sitting that if the budget were adopted, it would no longer make sense for teachers, which have held strikes since late September, to continue their protests.

By Sniegė Balčiūnaitė

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Lithuanian MP Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for colleague, court rules 

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – Petras Grazulis, a non-attached MP, "grossly" violated the Constitution and broke his oath when he deliberately voted for another member of the Seimas, the Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday.  

"Through this action, MP Grazulis grossly violated the Constitution and broke the oath," Gintaras Goda, the court stated in its conclusion, which was read out by Gintaras Goda, its president.

In its petition, the parliament asked the Constitutional Court to look into whether Grazulis broke his oath and grossly violated the Constitution by voting for Social Democratic MP Linas Jonauskas, who was sitting next to him in the plenary hall, but did not see him press the button because he had turned away to speak to a colleague. 

Following the court's ruling, the parliament will vote on stripping Grazulis of his mandate. At least 85 votes in the 141-member parliament are needed to pass the motion. 

If Grazulis loses his seat in this case, he would be barred for ten years from running for parliament or president and holding a public office that requires taking a constitutional oath.  

 

By Milena Andrukaitytė

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Lithuanian MP Grazulis violated Constitution by voting for colleague, court rules (expands)

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – Petras Grazulis, a non-attached MP, "grossly" violated the Constitution and broke his oath when he deliberately voted for another member of the Seimas, the Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday.  

The issue of Grazulis' impeachment will now return to the parliament, which will decide on whether to strip him of his mandate.

The Constitutional Court found that Grazulis' action—deliberately voting for another member of the Seimas—contradicts the Constitution.

"Through this action, MP Grazulis grossly violated the Constitution and broke the oath," Gintaras Goda, the court stated in its conclusion, which was read out by Gintaras Goda, its president.

In its petition, the parliament asked the Constitutional Court to look into whether Grazulis broke his oath and grossly violated the Constitution by voting for Social Democratic MP Linas Jonauskas, who was sitting next to him in the plenary hall, but did not see him press the button because he had turned away to speak to a colleague. 

The court noted that even a one-time voting by a MP for another MP during the parliament's sitting "constitutes a precondition for distorting the will of the Seimas".

The court also pointed out that Grazulis' voting for another MP was a conscious, deliberate act that could not have been made by mistake.

Following the court's ruling, the parliament will vote on stripping Grazulis of his mandate. At least 85 votes in the 141-member parliament are needed to pass the motion.

If Grazulis loses his seat in this case, he would be barred for ten years from running for parliament or president and holding a public office that requires taking a constitutional oath.  

 

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EP election in Lithuania to be held on June 9

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS – The European Parliament election in Lithuania will be held on June 9, the country's parliament decided on Tuesday after 109 lawmakers voted in favor, four were against and 11 abstained.

The Council of the European Union has confirmed that European Parliament elections in EU member states will be held on June 6-9, 2024.

These dates are set by the EU Electoral Law stating that elections to the European Parliament are held every five years from Thursday to Sunday, usually during the first week of June.

According to the Electoral Code, EP elections in Lithuania are held on the Sunday during the same EP election period in all EU member states.

EP elections are announced and their dates are set by the Seimas no later than six months before the Sunday in question.

By Jūratė Skėrytė

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Lithuanian 15-year-olds' knowledge 'average' among OECD countries – minister

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS - Lithuanian 15-year-olds rank 24th in terms of their knowledge of math, 32nd in terms of reading skills and 29th in terms of natural science knowledge among 81 countries participating in the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Education, Science and Sport Minister Gintautas Jakstas on Tuesday called Lithuanian students' latest PISA results "average" in the overall context. 

"In this PISA study, among OECD countries, we understand that there is a certain global elite, and we are average looking, which shows that we should probably continue our efforts to improve school content as we can see from the studies that is in the content is being taught well enough," he said at the presentation of the results of the 2022 study.

The Education, Science and Sport Ministry points out that Lithuania's results remain similar to those of the past several years and correspond to the average for OECD countries.

Lithuania's 15-year-olds scored 475 points in math, slightly above the OECD average of 472 points and higher than those in 56 countries, but lower than in 23 countries. Lithuania is ranked 24-25 out of 81 countries, with its performance similar to that of Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Italy and Norway.

In reading, Lithuania came in 32nd out of 81 countries with a score of 472 points, slightly below the OECD average of 476. Countries with similar results to Lithuania include France, Israel, Hungary and Slovenia.

In science, Lithuania's 15-year-olds share the 29th-30th position with their Portuguese peers, with a score of 484 points, close to the OECD average of 485 points. Lithuania's performance is better than that of 52 countries and worse than that of 28 countries.

Singapore's 15-year-olds were the top performers in all three subjects, and Cambodia had the worst scores.

In Lithuania, students in Vilnius achieved the highest scores in all three subjects (514 points in math, 521 points in science and 506 points in reading), followed by those in other major cities and towns (487, 496 and 485 points, respectively). The lowest scores were for students in rural areas and small towns (435, 445 and 431 points, respectively). 

Students' performance also varies depending on their language of instruction. The best results, above the OECD average, were recorded in schools with Lithuanian as the language of instruction (477 in math, 487 in science and 475 in reading), while the poorest performance was in schools with Polish as the language of instruction (440, 433 and 415 respectively). The respective scores for schools with Russian as the language of instruction are 468, 476 and 457 points.

 

 

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Lawyers' court of honor in Lithuania dismisses disciplinary case against Vegele

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS - The Court of Honor of Advocates in Lithuania has dismissed a disciplinary case against lawyer Ignas Vegele for his public statements, finding no violation of professional ethics.

"The Court of Honor has dismissed the disciplinary case, having found no violation of the lawyer's professional ethics," Dalia Foigt-Norvaisiene, the president of the court, told BNS on Tuesday. "Motives. We can only say that we have not found any that he has violated anything to do with his professional ethics. (...) We have also not found any violations such as dishonesty, impolite behavior."

The case was initiated in September 2022 on the initiative of Justice Minister Ewelina Dobrowolska, who alleged that Vegele's statements about the activities of persons who organized COVID-19 support during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine may have misled the public, creating unjustified doubts about the integrity and transparency of such activities.

Last week, Vegele announced his decision to run for president next year.

In a public comment in mid-July last year, Vegele questioned the transparency of the collection of donations to support doctors during the coronavirus pandemic and also help Ukraine after it was attacked by Russia.

"I'll tell you a secret: none of the entities that provided support or charity during the pandemic performed this duty (to declare – BNS) in time (by May 1). Maybe there was no support? The same can be said about the aid to Ukraine? An open and public question: has the State Tax Inspectorate penalized any institution or company, or have we heard of any checks? No, come on, why? You get charity and you go abroad to play poker. Look and you win charity money...," Vegele then told the delfi.lt news website.

Responding to this comment, Andrius Tapinas, the founder of the Laisves TV and a public figure, complained to the justice minister. Although he was not mentioned by Vegele, it was Tapinas who organized a fundraising campaign to buy a Bayraktar combat drone for the Ukrainian army and later traveled to the US to play poker.

Foigt-Norvaisiene says the Court of Honor of Advocates' ruling is not final and Vegele, Tapinas, as well as the justice minister, will be able to appeal to the Vilnius Regional Court within 30 days upon receipt of the court ruling.

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Lithuanian parlt postpones introduction of e-tolling system until January 2025

VILNIUS, Dec 05, BNS - The Seimas of Lithuania has postponed the launch of an e-tolling system for heavy transport in Lithuania until January 2025 due to legal disputes. The government had proposed postponing this date until July 2025. 

On Tuesday, 69 MPs voted in favor of the amendments to the law on financing the road maintenance and development program, seven voted against and 35 abstained.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says such amendments cannot be implemented.

"The tender is in court and the judgment is expected only in late December (2023 - BNS). If it is positive, the contract deadline is 14 months, meaning that it won't be ready until 2025. The government will have to come (to the Seimas - BNS) for a postponement of this deadline. If the court ruling is negative and the tender has to be re-launched, then 1 January is all the more unlikely," she told lawmakers today.

Transport Vice Minister Julius Skackauskas said earlier that the system could be up and running by July 2025 after the end of the court proceedings, adding that the courts are expected to decide later this month on who would install the system and then it would be in place within 14 months.

In September, the Vilnius Regional Court ruled that Proit, a Vilnius-based software development company, rightfully won the tender for the installation of the e-tolling system launched by the Lithuanian Road Administration. However, the tender remains suspended because the Czech company TollNet, which also took part in the tender, has appealed.

It was previously announced that the e-tolling system is expected to raise over 110 million euros.

By Sniegė Balčiūnaitė

Editor: Roma Pakėnienė

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Upcoming events in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 6, 2023

VILNIUS, Dec 06, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Wednesday, December 6, 2023:

THE CABINET to hold its regular meeting and sitting at 1 p.m.

FOREIGN MINISTER Gabrielius Landsbergis to meet with the new Australian ambassador to Lithuania.

 

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