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Vygaudas Ušackas, Žygimantas Pavilionis
© DELFI montažas

Vygaudas Ušackas, who is seeking to become the Conservative candidate in the looming presidential elections, has applied a new tactic – praising President Dalia Grybauskaitė. Meanwhile his rival Žygimantas Pavilionis continues seeking to show that V. Ušackas is pro-Russian and not a suitable candidate.

In a commentary published on Delfi on Tuesday, V. Ušackas praised D. Grybauskaitė.

"All that's left is to encourage the citizens to protect the Lithuanian Constitution. Let us remain watchful. Let us support President Dalia Grybauskaitė. It would appear that today the president is the only unambiguous and firm bastion defending the general welfare of the state and the principles enshrined in the Lithuanian Constitution," V. Ušackas wrote. He adds that the president has become a moral authority and a leader with real influence in the public and this achievement must be protected and nourished.

These pleasantries toward the president would come as no surprise if not for V. Ušackas' relations with the head of state. In 2010, after the president expressed a lack of confidence, V. Ušackas resigned from the post of foreign minister in the cabinet of Andrius Kubilius.

The president then informed the prime minister that joint work with V. Ušackas was unsuccessful and has no prospects because the minister has lost the president's trust. D. Grybauskaitė explained then that foreign policy is especially important to state interests and "cannot become the hostage of the foreign minister's political self-advertising." V. Ušackas only got to enjoy the comfort of a minister posting for half a year.

From the onward, V. Ušackas and Grybauskaitė got along as well as a cat would with a dog. For example, during a visit to Afghanistan, D. Grybauskaitė did not meet with the then EU representative in Afghanistan V. Ušackas. Meanwhile V. Ušackas consistently criticised the head of state regarding both foreign policy and other issues.

Sweet-talker. This is the evaluation Vytautas Magnus University professor Mindaugas Jurkynas had of V. Ušackas' praises to the president recently. He reminds that V. Ušackas was removed from his minister post due to self-advertising and not adhering to the foreign policy guidelines set by the president.

"What is most curious is that Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius did not back him at all and sacrificed him. On one hand this shows that the person may have gotten over the slight, as we know there is much calculation in politics, thus it could be an effort to appeal to the president's voters and obtain more votes. But looking from the side, it looks odd – after suffering politically, it would appear he is trying to appeal to the president, who is exactly the one, who removed him from his post," M. Jurkynas spoke.

Political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas muses that V. Ušackas is attempting to portray himself as a potential successor to D. Grybauskaitė.

"Most likely he is seeking to strengthen his status as a stable, even potential successor, it could be the main motive, why he is now aiming to praise the incumbent and thus is as if indirectly suggesting that he would also continue to the tradition, tasks and would perhaps maintain similar positions and such," T. Janeliūnas said.

The expert doubts whether V. Ušackas expects to change D. Grybauskaitė's position on himself. "It would appear to me that no praise and pandering from V. Ušackas' lips could change D. Grybauskaitė's position, she personally would likely never declare support for V. Ušackas. But it could be a tactical move directed less at the president and more at the members of the Conservative party, who will vote in the primaries or overall at a wider circle of voters," Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science professor T. Janeliūnas mused.

Ž. Pavilionis has a strategy

Meanwhile Ž. Pavilionis continued criticising V. Ušackas in a comment published on Delfi.

"That V. Ušackas was appointed the Conservatives' foreign minister was, in my opinion, a mistake, which as history would show later on was fixed by President Dalia Grybauskaitė," Ž. Pavilionis wrote.

He also shares memories of what sort of minister V. Ušackas was.

"Just with the end of President V. Adamkus' term, I as the then vice minister of foreign affairs, was called up by V. Ušackas and told that my "roof" (his terminology) had already retired and new times had arrived. We would no longer defend democracies, would work pragmatically with V. Putin and A. Lukashenko as the rest of the modern world is doing, like President B. Obama and Polish Foreign Minister R. Sikorski," Ž. Pavilionis stated.

T. Janelūnas believes that so far the struggle is over who will become the Conservative candidate in the presidential elections. According to the political scientist, Ž. Pavilionis is aiming to remind through his statements that V. Ušackas did not always stand by the Conservatives' positions regarding Russia.

"These reminders are certainly favourable to Ž. Pavilionis, who having been a diplomat has personal experience, it is beneficial to him, comparing his fairly categorical positions toward Russia with V. Ušackas, who is as if talking differently and trying to not showcase that pro-Russian side. However, looking from Ž. Pavilionis' side, it is natural that he is seeking to portray V. Ušackas as a pro-Russian candidate, if not from current statements, then from past actions and thus emphasise to the Conservatives in particular, who they could trust," T. Janeliūnas stated.

The political scientist notes that V. Ušackas and Ž. Pavilionis' fight can already be called a clash. For now, it is a first round, as if in the boxing ring trying to remove the opponent from further fighting. However, the political scientist emphasises that V. Ušackas and Ž. Pavilionis are currently not the most important representatives, who have the best chances to become Conservative candidates in the elections.

T. Janeliūnas points out that they should not get carried away: when too much strength and energy is used up in the initial stages, the conflict could only be harmful.

M. Jurkynas reminds that the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats have not had their own candidate in the presidential elections since 1997 when Vytautas Landsbergis took third place in the first round. As such, he says, currently there is massive competition within the party – alongside the aforementioned candidates there is also talks of MP Ingrida Šimonytė and economist Gitanas Nausėda. That said, the political scientist does not believe that G. Nausėda will become the Conservatives' candidate.

"This whole pre-electoral clash, based on personalities and certain antipathies, I believe has escaped into the public, whether it be appearances in televised commentaries together or their comments. It is natural that we will see more clashes between them," M. Jurkynas said.

According to the political scientist's observations, V. Ušackas is more notable for the flexibility of his positions in relations with Russia. Meanwhile Ž. Pavilionis' rhetoric is direct, combative and in defence of Christian democrat values.

"But we must remind that Ž. Pavilionis faced a crushing defeat in the party chairman elections, taking third place with only very few votes, thus there was very little support for him in the party. His goal is to seek to increase support through radical positions which appear in his statements about struggling against Russia and its influence," M. Jurkynas outlined the intentions behind Ž. Pavilionis' rhetoric.

Delfi reminds that other than V. Ušackas and Ž. Pavilionis, MEPs Valentinas Mazuronis and Petras Auštrevičius as well as MPs Aušra Maldeikienė and Naglis Puteikis have declared their intent to run for president.

The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats will elect their candidate in open primaries.