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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

The Sheer Power of Small States Punching Above Their Weight: Lithuania and Denmark

Article by: Neringa Mataitytė

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political ScienceVilnius University is an authority in the Baltic states, with a history of 450 years.

The Exceptional Denmark-Lithuania Cooperation

“Lithuania and Denmark’s relationship is characterized more by sympathy than rational calculations,” reminisced former Lithuanian MP Egidijus Vareikis, in his reflections on Lithuania’s journey to the EU and the exceptional cooperation between two allies. It is the year 1993, and the European Council in Copenhagen stated the objective of concluding the Europe Agreements with the Baltic countries, newly independent countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Denmark, as a hosting member, employed its institutional advantage and played a pivotal role in including this object on the agenda. Interviews later conducted to study the Danish-Lithuanian cooperation revealed that there was little belief amongst Lithuanian diplomats that rapid transformation could meet the Copenhagen criteria. Emerging as an extraordinary ally, Denmark, a fellow Nordic small state, joined Lithuania in this challenge from the very beginning of 1990 with assistance and resolute support.

Mutual Trust – The Foundation of Success

Between 1993 and 2004, a close cooperation unfolded as Lithuania and Denmark implemented transformative projects on social, economic, and political reforms, with exchange of practice and knowledge. After a decade, this resulted in Lithuania’s rapid political, economic, and social transformation, leading to its acquisition of membership in the EU in 2004. Transcending the realm of rational security interests, Lithuanian and Danish diplomats speak of this as an exceptional friendship, strengthened by trust and empathic understanding. The empathic understanding of mutual historic experiences related to Russia and personal diplomatic ties elevated this strategic alliance towards remarkable success which led to Lithuania’s access to the EU. Symbolically, Lithuania’s journey culminated in Copenhagen, during the European Council in 2002, where it was decided that Lithuania, along with other candidate countries, would be granted accession to the EU. However, the EU’s enlargement embarked on another journey, continuing its trajectory.

Lessons Learnt by Lithuania and Employed in the Eastern Partnership

From 2009, Lithuania took an influential role within the Eastern Partnership (EaP), a framework fostering connectivity between EU, Member States, and six Eastern European Partner Countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine – on their path toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Lithuania then stepped in as a competent mentor, with guidance for these nations in their pursuit of political, social, and economic reforms. In 2013 Lithuania, as a host of the EaP Summit incorporated EU partnership with Ukraine into the agenda. Drawing upon its institutional advantage, akin to Denmark’s actions in Copenhagen back in 1993, Lithuania leveraged its position.

Collective Desire for Independence and Security

For Lithuania, EaP served as a catalyst, activating memories of its own transition to stable democracy from the legacy of Soviet Russia and awakening a sincere empathic understanding of the collective desire for independence and security. From a practical perspective, Lithuania acquired invaluable knowledge of helping and guiding in such political, economic, and social transformations during its cooperation with Denmark. However, the efficacy of this practical and bureaucratic cooperation found its true impetus in the pillars of trust and an empathic grasp of shared historical experiences and regional threats. Now Lithuania stands strongly for a secure and prosperous regional landscape and embraces the lessons of good regional cooperation, received during its own transition.

Empathy in the Face of Aggression

In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Lithuanians rapidly rallied and mobilized their resources. The war in Ukraine pushed cooperation between Lithuania and its Eastern partners to unprecedented heights. As the President of Ukraine Zelensky noted, “There is no area in which Ukraine would not feel Lithuania’s sincerity and determination.” This encompassed financial donations, symbolic gestures of solidarity such as renaming the street, where the Russian embassy is in Vilnius, into ‘Ukrainian Heroes Street’, remarkable protests, and support campaigns. More than that, an astonishing mobilization of Lithuanians donated nearly 6 million euros in less than a week to acquire Bayraktar – a crucial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance asset for armed attack missions. Addressing the Lithuanian Parliament, the President of Ukraine firmly stated, “If everyone in Europe were as principled and respected the values of Europe as you do in Lithuania, and we are proud of you, I am sure that the Russian leadership would not hope that they would go unpunished.”

Continued Support for Ukraine’s Accession to EU and NATO

It is the year 2023 and Lithuania joins a leading role in the advocacy for Ukraine’s membership in the Western community. The support expanded to the EU level, where Lithuania now passionately advocated for Ukraine’s membership in the EU by appealing with official letters and speeches addressed to member state leaders and the European Parliament. They push boundaries further by backing Ukraine’s NATO membership during the NATO summit in Vilnius in July 2023. How did Lithuanians emerge as a leader in providing support to Ukraine? Lithuania now acts the same as Denmark did a few decades ago, assuming an analogous role in fostering integration. Its exceptional leadership at this crucial juncture stems not merely from anticipated aggression from Russia but also empathic understanding and a profound commitment to preserve shared values and democratic principles.

Security Expansion Shaped by Empathy

The role of small states is not that minor in the expansion of the borders of the Western community. Recognizing that their own security hinges upon regional stability, small states take an active role in disseminating the values and principles of the EU. Cooperation between Denmark and Lithuania, strengthened by trust and understanding of mutual historical traumas, facilitated an institutional transformation in Lithuania’s EU journey. Now an example, this resonates with current cooperation with Lithuania’s eastern counterparts. Ukraine’s aspiration for Euro-Atlantic integration sparked the empathy of Lithuanians in high office as much as amongst the general population, boosting its active role in advocating internationally for Ukraine’s EU membership. Finding shelter under the safety structures of their big allies, small countries offer their profound contribution towards regional stability.

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