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Vygaudas Ušackas
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Vygaudas Ušackas announced on September 5 that he would run for the post of Lithuanian president. The politician participated in a discussion about the upcoming elections on the Delfi Dėmesio Centre talk show.

Also on the show – comments from 15min.lt analyst Paulius Gritėnas and lrytas.lt political analyst Vytautas Bruveris.

V. Ušackas' competence in foreign policy matters leaves little doubt, however in his speech for the launch of his campaign, he emphasised domestic issues and social matters. The politician explained that he finds foreign policy to stem from people's lives, expectations and hopes. He emphasises that Lithuania must show a resolve to reach a new breakthrough and obtain new goals and ambitions, which, as he explains, were lost with entry into the European Union and NATO. "We have lost both hope and our guidepost, where and why we work," V. Ušackas stated.

The politician explains that there were calls for him to run for president as far as ten years ago, including from prominent Lithuanian politicians. Nevertheless, as he explains, serious thought to this end was only given a year ago, when choosing to end a career in the diplomatic service, representing the European Union.

The post of Lithuanian president is mostly concerned with matters of foreign relations, which requires knowledge of international relations, security and their complexity, as well as a vision when making official appointments and leadership skills, all of which V. Ušackas believes he has.

P. Gritėnas highlights that V. Ušackas' main advantage in the presidential race is namely his CV, his diplomatic career, which ranges from ambassadorial work, to representing the EU and being foreign minister. This separates the politician from many of the other candidates, but at the same time it could be a drawback because he lacks major partners and allies in the domestic sphere, who could back him going forward.

V. Bruveris similarly points out that people may perceive V. Ušackas only as a diplomat, someone, who is only familiar with foreign relations issues, which is problematic, with perceptions in Lithuania being of the president being a domestic politics actor.

"It can be seen that he realises this danger himself. Most likely it is no accident that his first campaign speech was intended for essentially only domestic policy, it is as if he is seeking to convince that he is familiar with everything and knows these matters, which our public baselessly demands from the president, such as domestic politics, economics matters and such," the expert said.

He also pointed to another issue that the candidate is likely to have – accusations of being pro-Russian, portrayal of being one of the two main agents of Russia in the presidential elections alongside S. Skvernelis. Finally, V. Bruveris also observes that V. Ušackas' image may be too dry, too associated with being a representative of the elite.

When asked, why he chose to pre-empt matters, V. Ušackas explained that he made a judgement call because he believes that Lithuania needs his competence. "I returned to Lithuania to share my experience, leadership skills and I believe that I could be the best Homeland Union representative in the race for the post of Lithuanian president," he stated.

As for why he became a member of the Conservative party, V. Ušackas highlights that he sympathises with the same values: Christian values, Lithuanian patriotism and also that he backs the Conservative party's chairman Gabrielius Landsbergis in his pursuit of modernising the party.

V. Ušackas entered the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) following the president's demand for his dismissal from the post of foreign minister and with his appointment to European Union ambassador and mission head in Afghanistan. When asked, why he joined a party, which chose to not stand behind him, V. Ušackas stated that as a member of the Andrius Kubilius cabinet during the years of the financial crisis, he saw that they have values in common and that he felt as a member of the community, having worked with upcoming Conservative figures such as Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė, Paulė Kuzmickienė and G. Landsbergis.

In terms of V. Ušackas' relationship with the Homeland Union, P. Gritėnas noted that, "The Homeland Union, I would say has been a platform he has detached from for a time already, personal ambitions applied more. Vygaudas Ušackas probably feels he has grown beyond the TS-LKD. I would believe that the diplomatic career, his whole image is doubtless more appealing to more right wing voters, those, who view themselves as a sort of elite. Vygaudas Ušackas should seemingly be a candidate for that side, but at least for now he has been shunning support from that side."

The analyst also noted that by seeking to draw a broad electorate, the politician might be left as a rather unassuming candidate, who fails to stand out.

V. Bruveris muses that V. Ušackas doubted that the Conservative party would back him and decided to run for president long ago, regardless of relations with the party. "That these relations will not be very smooth and could end in a public divorce is something we are seeing already.

Nevertheless, the situation itself, when the party officially nominates a different candidate and Mr. Ušackas, a member of the party, runs for president anyway and thus essentially hampers the process and causes confusion in the right wing electorate; the situation for that other candidate truly is illogical. Nevertheless, if the party and Mr. Ušackas separate more or less in a civil manner, confusion would still remain in the right wing electorate," V. Bruveris stated.

V. Ušackas is among the nominees made by the TS-LKD branches, however he lacks majority support, with much now hanging on whether I. Šimonytė will choose to also run for president. When asked, what he would do, failing to obtain the nomination, V. Ušackas answered, "I wish to repeat: I will seek to be a president for all people in Lithuania, regardless of party affiliation, political views, faith and ethnicity. I believe in the strength of Lithuanian people and am seeking to create conditions in Lithuania where we could live safely and with dignity. You do not need to be linked to a political party for this."

The politician said that he is prepared for competition in the TS-LKD primaries and hopes that they will be run "with dignity, honour and gentlemanship, rather than slander, lies and fabrications." As for what such fabrications could be, he points to accusations and the spread of fake news of him being pro-Russian.

Such questions on the nature of the politician's favour lie in his interactions with Russian politicians and controversial figures, even during his term as foreign minister, as well as his statements in favour of maintaining relations with Russia, whatever those relations may be. In this regard, V. Ušackas states, "But you cannot call me an agent of the Kremlin, a representative of Putin, which certain surfacing candidates have been doing. This hurts my family, my friends and me, it completely fails to match my belief, values and the work I have done in defending the interests of Lithuania and the European Union in Russia."

V. Ušackas' campaign is to be funded from his family's savings. The politician explains that as the campaigning ramps up, electoral accounts will be opened so that further financing will be possible as per electoral law. The controversial business figure Gediminas Žiemelis, who is known to have connections to the Russian government, has been observed in V. Ušackas' environment, however the politician denies any contact since meeting "a long while ago" in Moscow.

Kaunas vice Mayor Povilas Mačiulis was noticed standing by V. Ušackas during the latter's campaign launch speech. P. Mačiulis is one of the leaders of the civic movement Kaunas United, which currently governs Kaunas; when asked whether the movement may support him in the elections, V. Ušackas responded, "We are not talking about it, though I am talking to Visvaldas Matijošaitis as the mayor of Kaunas, we recently met at a cultural event, however I am currently not asking his and others' support." The politician adds that when the time comes and support is offered, he will consider it.

Viktor Uspaskich, the founder of the Labour Party, has come out to describe V. Ušackas as the best candidate. When queried, what he thinks of such support and whether it is necessary, V. Ušackas stated, "I never say never. I do not want to get ahead of myself. The time will come when we consider the support of others, we will then see, to what extent those people's values and political views match mine."

Regarding his interactions with V. Uspaskich, V. Ušackas concedes there had been "jokes" from the former in the shape of proposing to be the chairman of the Labour Party. The politician emphasises the joking nature of their interactions, recounting how V. Uspaskich also proposed him to work as his advisor during EU entry negotiations. Nevertheless, V. Ušackas states he would not accept financial support from V. Uspaskich because he doubts in its sourcing and transparency.

"I am not talking about or considering it because my experience and competence suggests that I am the best candidate to represent the Lithuanian people in this most important office – the post of Lithuanian president. Foreign policy experience, leadership and knowledge of what Lithuania needs, a vision for a winning Lithuania," V. Ušackas answered when queried whether he would leave the Homeland Union if he were to fail in the primaries.