In the political history of Europe, few states have as close political ties to their neighbors as Poland and Lithuania had for centuries. In addition to the fact that these two states were able to form unique unified confederate union known as the Rzeczpospolita, between 1569 and 1795, it is also important that their foreign policy challenges and attitudes were, in most cases, common to both post-Rzeczpospolita and modern times. During the struggle for independence, Lithuania’s Liberation Movement (Sąjūdis) was actively cooperated and supported by the Polish anti-communist movement Solidarność. This is an important factor in the development of good relations between the two states.
Poland, which is distinguished by its trend of irreversible economic growth in the EU, is a key economic partner of Lithuania. Exports of Polish goods to Lithuania exceed $ 3.1 billion, while the export of Lithuanian goods to Poland is $ 1.75 billion.
Achieving full energy independence is one of the major challenges for both Poland and Lithuania. But bilateral energy cooperation is on a much larger scale and have a higher significance than just caring about reducing Russian gas exports. For Lithuania, Poland is one of the most realistic partners in order to reduce Russia’s energy and economic leverage not just in Vilnius, but also in Baltics as a whole. That is why in 2006, following the collapse of the Russian energy company Yukos, the Polish company PKN Orlen acquired the stake of the Lithuanian oil refinery Mažeikių Nafta and effectively blocked the intrusion of the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom in the Baltic oil market. The purchase was focused not on increasing financial income, but on successfully reducing Russian political influence.
Electricity is a very important dimension of cooperation between Poland and Lithuania. Latter inherited the Soviet-style electricity grid and control system, which failed to integrate into the common European energy system. The main actor in overcoming this problem is Poland, which together with Lithuania has developed a project called LitPol Link, which aims to change, upgrade and build new power lines in Lithuania. More than 200 million Euros have been spent on this project. As of today, upgraded infrastructure generates more than 500 MW of energy, thus successfully integrating Lithuania into the Continental European Energy Network (ECN). The project is expected to be finalized by 2020.
Russia’s energy policy is not only about commercial gain but also about political influence. The Baltic states are heavily dependent on Russian gas imports. Although Russian gas has not contributed to their foreign policy formation, the existence of such leverage is still a major challenge for the Baltic States. That is why Poland is implementing a EU-backed project to establish alternative gas supplies to the Baltic States and Finland. 500 million euros are allocated for the project which exercises the Polish company GAZ-SYSTEM S.A., while from Lithuania contractor company is AB Amber Grid. Within the framework of the project, gas pipelines will be located on 508 kilometers. By 2021, when the project is completed, the gas pipeline will have been able to carry 208 billion cubic meters of gas. This will not only make Lithuania an alternative energy source of gas but also make it possible to supply Finland and other Baltic states.
Besides energy, cooperation between the two countries is also active in the field of security. The Kremlin’s aggressive policy is a major foreign threat for both countries. In addition, Poland and Lithuania, both have been members of NATO, but cooperation between them has deeper ties. Since their 1994 intergovernmental agreement on defense – which involves the exchange of classified information, the sharing of military knowledge and the preparation of mutual understanding – ties with Polish-Lithuanian defense have been tightened. It is clear to Warsaw that the security of Poland goes through the security of Lithuania. Therefore, cooperation in the military field between the two states is getting intense in recent years. Moreover, from 1999 to 2007, the Polish-Lithuanian battalion (LitPolBat) was actively operational. The goal was to bring peacekeepers and servicemen closer together and share their knowledge and experience. But, beyond before mentioned, Poland, as a relatively early NATO member, was also successfully helping the Lithuanian military to implement NATO standards. However, it was not just a single precedent. Since 2004, after Lithuania with other Baltic states joins NATO, Poland has continued to assist them in their military buildup and in synchronizing existing NATO standards.
It is important to note that in recent years the intensity of Russian military aviation above the Baltic Sea has increased dramatically. Interception is becoming much more common than it used to be. Poland has been most actively involved in the defense of the Baltic Sea airspace since 2004, which creates an important ground for enhancing inter-state cooperation.
Following the Euromaidan revolution, Ukraine actively integrated into the Polish-Lithuanian security system, followed by the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian Brigade (LITPOLUKRBRIG). Document on the brigade establishment was signed in 2009 but implemented in 2014. The brigade is actively trained in accordance with NATO standards and ensures a high degree of cooperation among all three countries.
When it comes to Polish-Lithuanian relations, it is impossible not to address the problematic issues, of which the most important is the Polish minority living in Lithuania. In the 1930s and 1940s, a large part of the Poles had to leave the historic Vilnius area. This historical event still has significant national sentiments in Poland. In the 1990s the issue caused some complications in the bilateral relationship, but in 1994 a Treaty on Friendly Relations and Good Neighbourly Cooperation was signed between Poland and Lithuania, after which resolving bilateral problems entered a new, more intense phase.
After Poland and Lithuania joined the European Union and ratified the EU Acquis Communautaire, followed the establishment of free movement, most of the problems were resolved, and work on other issues is still intense.
Cooperation between Poland and Lithuania is deep, comprehensive and mutually beneficial, both in economic and energy terms, as well as in the field politics and security. It is important to note that cooperation is asymmetric and involves a great deal of potential from the Polish side, though this does not create problems, it creates opportunity. It is likely that existing co-operation between Poland and Lithuania is not going to diminish in the near future but will also increase dramatically, due to demand for security projecting regional power.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.