Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Pronouncing 46 Russian law enforcement officials, mostly prosecutors and judges, as personas non grata, or unwelcome persons, in the country, Lithuania was the first in the EU space to reaffirm its unconditional support for a Russian court-sentenced Ukrainian military pilot, Nadia Savchenko.
Although the blacklisting is seen by Lithuanian political analysts as a purely symbolic step, it will, however, test Europe in the wake of the Netherland vote against a closer EU and Ukraine partnership this month.
A symbolic but very important step
Lithuanian analysts agree unanimously that, with the announcement of «Savchenko list», Lithuania reaffirmed its unconditional support for Ukraine.
«The decision is absolutely in line with all the multiple initiatives by Lithuania aimed to bolster the case of Ukraine independence in the West,» believes Alvydas Nikžentaitis, a Lithuanian political analyst.
Although the list, he insists, is not «extraordinary» in any way, but it does send a strong message to the world that, with the conviction, Savchenko as well as the other political prisoners are not forgotten.
«The West is convinced that the criminal case against Savchenko (who is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada)-L.J.) is trumped up, so with the list out there, Lithuania is sending a message that every person fabricating pre-trial documents (i.e. Russian prosecutors and judges-L.J.) will be chased down and justice will be ultimately served,» the analyst underlined to BNN.
Politicians can go step-in-step with events
The practical application of the list may be in question however, as the Russian prosecutors and judges linked to the Savchenko case are unlikely to set out for Lithuania.
«As a symbolic step, it is very important though,» Nikžentaitis noted.
The analyst says that, with the list, Lithuania has refuted the wide- spread understanding that Lithuanian politicians are slow to react to major developments.
«In the case, the reaction was very timely and very swift. Lithuania has proved it catches up with resonant events like this,» the analyst said.
To the idea that the Savchenko list is partly a result of a recent forum of Russian oppositions forces in Vilnius, in which Lithuania may had pledged to step on the toes of Russian officials in high-profile court cases involving non-Russian nationals, Nikžentaitis dismissed it, saying he saw «no connection» between the two.
«If we were to juxtapose the importance of Ukraine and the Russian opposition to us, the public sentiment is heavily for the former. Our politicians also favor Ukraine just because few believe that the Russian opposition can see any breakthrough with its agenda,» the analyst told.
Other countries are unlikely to follow
But Nikžentaitis admitted he was «sceptic» that other EU member states will join Lithuania in compiling a similar list of Russian officials.
«The issue of Ukraine has reached some low after the recent Netherland vote on Ukraine and EU partnership. Ukraine has long been chastised in Western media for the lackadaisical and often ineffective reforms and corruption, to remind you. So now I find it hardly plausible that other European countries could follow in Lithuania’s foot-steps and draw up similar lists,» the analyst told.
Besides, there have been increasingly stronger calls in the European Union to soften the stance against Russia, so the whole atmosphere today does not play into the hands of Ukraine, Nikžentaitis emphasized.
Support for Ukraine reaffirmed
Asked to weigh in on the notion that the «Savchenko list», as a means of the state of Lithuania to counter-argue the Russian court’s ruling, may be too excessive, Andžej Pukšto, the head of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University, told BNN he saw the Lithuanian initiative as «a purely symbolic» step.
«By the announcement we are reaffirming our unwavering support for Ukraine and all of its citizens who have suffered in the hands of Russian law enforcement agencies,» the analyst told.
Contrary to Nikžentaitis, the analyst believes that in solidarity with Ukraine some other European nations may also soon announce their measures against Russia after the Savchenko verdict goes into force.
«I’d think that Poland will be the next European state to react to the conviction. Especially that the case has garnered a lot of attention in the country. In the West, I believe only the United Kingdom may produce some reaction against Russia,» Pukšto reasoned.
Imprisoned for 22 years
The Savchenko lists also includes Russian law officials in connection to the conviction of cinema director Oleg Sencov and human right activist Aleksandr Kolchenko, both citizens of Ukraine.
«We are talking about the Russian judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials who were primarily involved in the sentencing of the persons. A total of 46 persons were barred from entering Lithuania,» said Linas Linkevičius, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
To remind, Savchenko was proclaimed guilty of allegedly murdering two Russian journalists near Lugansk, in Eastern Ukraine, and of illegally crossing the Russian border. According to Russian prosecutors, she relayed the coordinates of a checkpoint where the Russian journalists were subsequently killed by the Ukrainian artillery fire near Metalist, Ukraine, in June 2014.
A court in southern Russia has convicted the Ukrainian pilot on all charges and sentenced her to 22 years in prison and a fine of approximately 400 euro.
There have been rumours though that Savchenko will be swapped in a prisoner exchange for two Russians, who were captured during the fighting in eastern Ukraine and whom Kyiv deems Russian servicemen.
Lithuania was the first to react
The Lithuanian Foreign minister expressed hope that more European states will follow the Lithuanian example.
«Our aim (as to how to react to the convictions) is having joint actions of all Schengen space countries,» underlined the minister.
Linkevičius admitted he had proposed the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogerini to apply the travel ban to the Russian law enforcement officials throughout the European Union. But the EU diplomacy head has not embraced the idea, according to the minister.
«We may be coming back to the proposal later, because Savchenko’s situation is a topic of conversations of all European diplomats. Especially that her health has deteriorated,» the minister noted.