This Week in LT – February 18

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Honorary Citizen

Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s first post-independence leader, was named an honorary citizen of Vilnius on February 17. Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius emphasized that “Without the effort and the courage of this person three decades ago, Vilnius and Lithuania would be different today”. As we know, Landsbergis led the struggle for restoration of Lithuania’s independence in the last years of the Soviet rule and chaired the Supreme Council meeting on March 11, 1990, when it declared independence from the USSR.

The regalia of honorary citizen will be presented to 88-year-old Landsbergis at a special event. He will become the Lithuanian capital’s 18th honorary citizen, following two former US presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Lithuania’s former President Algirdas Brazauskas, Israel’s former President Shimon Peres, Iceland’s former foreign minister Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, former US House of Representatives speaker John Dennis Hastert, former US presidential national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Nobel Prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz, conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and others.

Unification against Astravyets

On February 15, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called on political forces, experts and activists to join forces and cooperate more closely in countering the threats posed by Belarus’ Astravyets nuclear power plant. He noted that its safety has already become an EU agenda issue regularly discussed at the European Council. As a result of Lithuanian efforts, the European Parliament has addressed the nuclear plant’s safety issues, passing a resolution on the matter on February 11. Lithuania is the most vocal critic of the Astravyets plant, saying that the facility located close to its border fails to meet international safety and environmental standards, an allegation that Belarus denies.

 



 

Lithuanian COVID Variant

Researchers have found that a specifically “Lithuanian” mutation of the coronavirus has been spreading in Lithuania. It is not more dangerous than most other variants and has been detected in several other countries in Northern Europe. This is the second most widespread mutation of the virus in the country, behind the so-called Spanish variant.

The mutation has been named “Lithuanian” because it was first identified in the country, and most of the infected are in Lithuania. However, the variant has also been detected in Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom. According to Danielius Naumovas, head of the Biobank of Santara Clinics, the Lithuanian variant is not special in any way, it is about five mutations away from the original variant discovered in Wuhan, but those mutations are not as dangerous as the ones from Brazil, the UK or South Africa. The Lithuanian variant of the coronavirus does not lead to more severe symptoms, is not more contagious and is not resistant to existing vaccines.

So far, Lithuania has identified 30 variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the country.

Lithuania Blocks Chinese Technology

On February 17, the Lithuanian government decided to bar China’s state-controlled Nuctech from supplying X-ray scanning equipment to the country’s airports over national security concerns. Nuctech bid for a contract to install luggage scanners at Lithuanian airports. Laurynas Kasčiūnas, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence said that Nuctech’s screening equipment can collect data on passengers and luggage, which could be available to China’s intelligence and security services under Chinese law. Nuctech has dismissed the allegations, saying the equipment it offers to Lithuania is produced in Poland “under the strictest applicable EU and national performance and safety standards”.

The Wall Street Journal reported last June that US agencies had launched a campaign against Nuctech’s operations in Europe. Critics say that Nuctech’s “extreme low-level pricing strategy” suggests that its motives are not commercial but rather come from “an interest to control strategic EU infrastructure and data driven knowledge”, according to the article.

Stable Outlook for Lithuania

International credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s has upgraded Lithuania’s long-term borrowing rating from A to A+ with a stable outlook. The country’s Finance Ministry called it a historic moment, noting in a statement that Lithuania’s rating jumped an interim step. Lithuanian Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka noted that this is the highest rating position in the country’s history.

The last time Standard & Poor’s upgraded Lithuania’s credit rating was in March 2018.

Fitch Ratings’ existing long-term borrowing rating for Lithuania now stands at A with a stable outlook. Moody‘s rating stands at A3 with a positive outlook and DBRS Morningstar’s rating for Lithuanian stands at A with a positive outlook.