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Week in Lithuania. McCain claims Baltics are under Russian threat

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U.S. Republican Senator John McCain

The Baltics are under threat, as a resurgent Russia aims to restore its empire, U.S. Senator John McCain said in Vilnius on Thursday, December 29.

After visiting the January 13 Memorial outside the parliament building with Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and MPs, the senator made an address to Lithuanian and U.S. troops present in the event. He emphasised that U.S. troops should be stationed in Lithuania at all times.

«I think the question on numbers is related to requirements and training that is going on at the time and various operations that we conduct jointly. But I think the permanency is important, that there will always be some American troops here,» the senator said.

Three U.S. senators visited Lithuania on Thursday through Friday to discuss security issues with the country‘s top officials. Addressing Lithuania‘s commitment to earmark 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to defence in 2018, he called it as « an important signal.»

«I thank you for your support for increasing up to 2 percent of GDP for defence. That‘s the signal we need to send,» said McCain, who is  chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the Vilnius University‘s International Relations and Political Science Institute.

Vilnius to file claim to Stockholm arbitration

Less than six months until the expiry of the lease contract of the Vilnius heating sector, the Lithuanian capital‘s municipality and its Vilniaus Šilumos Tikslai (Vilnius Heating Grid, VST) said it will file a suit to the Stockholm arbitration, asking for a compensation of the damages from Vilniaus Energija ( Vilnius Energy), Lithuania‘s biggest district heating supplier controlled by France‘s Veolia.

Border guards spot drone flight from Kaliningrad

Lithuanian border guards registered an unmanned aircraft entering the country’s territory from the Russian Kaliningrad region in early hours of Thursday, December 29. The drone had entered about 100 meters into the Lithuanian territory and turned back to Russia a few minutes later. The border guards spotted it visually.

Costly damage of sewage spill to River Neris

The damage caused to the River Neris by the leak of sewage system in Vilnius may total 300,000 euros, the Lithuanian Environment Ministry said on Thursday, December 29. According to the formula of calculating environmental damage, people behind the disaster will have to pay at least 15,000 euros for every cubic meter of sewage that entered the river. Marius Švaikauskas, director of the Vilnius Regional Environmental Protection Department, the damages will be finalized after receipt of precise data about the amount of sewage that entered the Neris. Preliminary data provided by Vilniaus Vandenys (Vilnius Water) company, damage of two sewer mains last week caused at least 200,000 cubic meters of untreated wastewater to spill into the River Neris, consequently, the damages could reach about 300,000 euros.

Vilnius may scrap funicular railway on Gediminas Hill

Funicular railways constructed on the Gediminas Hill in Vilnius 13 years ago should be scrapped for good, says Birutė Kulnytė, director of the Lithuanian National Museum. In her words, the decision on the future of the funicular railway should be made by Enviroment Minister Kęstutis Navickas. The funicular railway on the slope of the Gediminas Hill in central Vilnius was constructed in 2003 to bring people to the Gediminas Castle. After the hill was tarred by landslides earlier this year, the country’s new Prime Minister Viktoras Pranckietis and Culture Minister Liana Ruokyte-Jonsson on Thursday, December 29, visited the hill and discussed a rescue plan.

Embattled ex-Liberal leader swaps politics for business

Eligijus Masiulis, the former leader of the Liberal Movement who left the political arena earlier this year amid a corruption scandal, is founding a business together with partners and close relatives. Masiulis, the former transport minister and MP, is currently teaching Lithuanian and foreign businessmen about crisis management as CEO of Tardigrade Consulting company established by Masiulis and a few other individuals in October. In October, Masiulis also became CEO of Versanus, which was founded in Vilnius back in 2015.

Lithuania’s law-enforcement is currently conducting a probe into suspicions that Masiulis accepted a bribe of 106,000 euros from MG Baltic concern’s vice-president Raimundas Kurlianskis.

3 million packs of bootleg cigarettes seized

Officers of the Lithuanian Customs Criminal Service have seized more than 3 million packs of various types of smuggling cigarettes in warehouses in the territory of the Klaipeda free economic zone in an operation last week, which is the largest size amount of smuggling cigarettes busted in the country this year. The value of the apprehended cigarettes is yet to be established, however, it will be at least 7-8 million euros, the Customs Criminal Service said, adding that the batch would fit in 5 trucks. The authorities suspect the cigarettes were smuggled into the European Union (EU) and were intended for black markets of EU member-states. The detention is seen as a major blow against a well-organized international smuggling ring, which smuggles tobacco products into the EU market under the disguise of foreign-registered off-shore companies by forging documents.

Lithuania hands note to Belarusian ambassador

Belarusian Ambassador to Lithuania Alexaner Korol was on Thursday, December 29, handed a note, urging him to provide detailed information about yet another incident involving the body of the reactor of the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant under construction in Belarus, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said. The note asks the ambassador to thoroughly investigate the incident and notify Lithuania, the neighbouring states and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the results of the probe. The document also expressed great concern with the repeated incidents in Astravyets, which Lithuania learns about from the media rather from official sources in Belarus. According to Belarusian media reports, an incident occurred at the Belarusian railway station of Slavnoye on Monday, December 26, when a new reactor body transported from a factory in Russia to Astravyets hit a railway power supply column.

Fewer guests expected in Palanga resort this year

Lithuania‘s largest resort of Palanga expects to have a calm New Year‘s Eve celebration this year, with fewer guests than usual expected from the country‘s largest cities. It is a result of the calendar – New Year‘s Eve occurs on an ordinary weekend this year, with no additional days off.

Two Lithuanian border guards suspected of gang crime

Two border guards and a customs officer are suspected of involvement in a criminal group of foreign and Lithuanian nationals, the State Border Guard Service said on Wednesday, December 28. The group, which has been exposed by the service’s Pagėgiai unit after six months of investigation, was allegedly involved in counterfeiting entry and exit stamps to allow third-country nationals to stay in Lithuania longer than allowed by the law.

Suspicions of crimes under various articles of the Criminal Code have been brought against 18 people in total, including 11 nationals of Kyrgyzstan, two of Tajikistan and five of Lithuania. Searches have been conducted.

The border guard service in the middle of the year received intelligence information that nationals of third countries, mostly Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, overstaying their Schengen visas. It was established that third-country nationals were illegally living and working in Lithuania by using counterfeit exit and entry stamps on their passports. It is suspected that two officers of the Pagėgiai unit and an officer of the Kaunas Territorial Customs Office were paid for illegally putting entry and exit stamps on the passports of foreigners who had not actually left the country.

Seimas speaker backs idea of military training

Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis supports the re-introduction of military training at schools, an idea raised by Ramūnas Karbauskis, chairman of the ruling Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LPGU). There were military training classes at Lithuania schools during both the interwar and Soviet periods, he noted. The parliamentary speaker added that it would be up to education specialists to decide what form military training at schools should take. Lithuania in 2015 reintroduced mandatory military conscription for men aged 19 to 26 years. Some 3,500 to 4,000 conscripts are drafted annually.

Peasants & Greens‘ leader‘s initiative

Ramūnas Karbauskis, chairman of the ruling Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LPGU), says that lawmakers’ vacations must be formally regulated by law and that this issue will be addressed while reviewing the Seimas Statute. Karbauskis, who heads the parliament‘s largest political group, said that this issue would be dealt with as part of a comprehensive revision of the Seimas Statute.

Members of the Seimas currently have no official vacations. The parliament‘s spring session opens on March 10 and closes on June 30 and the autumn session opens on September 10 and closes on December 23. In the period between the sessions, lawmakers plan their activities on their own and are free to travel within the European Union. However, they need the Seimas Board‘s consent for trips outside the EU.

Specialized liquor stores could open in 2018

Specialized retail stores for alcoholic beverages could be opened in Lithuania in 2018, Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga said. The government plans to confine alcohol sales to specialized stores in the future, with the number of such stores to be set based on the size of the population. The Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LPGU), the party that triumphed in the October general elections, promised during its election campaign to impose a state monopoly on alcohol sales, but later softened its position.

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