Visvaldas Matijošaitis
© DELFI / Paulius Garkauskas

"I am in favour of relations between all states, particularly neighbours, to be the best possible; for everyone to say "good morning" to one another," Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis said regarding relations with Russia in an interview with the media. Political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas believes that the Kaunas mayor is avoiding foreign policy topics because he likely lacks confidence in talking on them, LRT.lt writes.

"I am no politician," V. Matijošaitis said on the LNK television show Alfa Savaitė, when asked about Russian-Lithuanian relations.

According to the head of Kaunas city, St. Petersburg is a partner of the temporary capital, thus he can talk as the head of the city and a former businessperson, but he does not desire to talk about foreign policy.

"These relations are definitely not my topic. I am in favour of relations between all states, particularly neighbours, to be the best possible; for everyone to say "good morning" to one another. I am certainly not one for [favouring] worsening relations," V. Matijošaitis assured.

The Kaunas mayor also praised incumbent President Dalia Grybauskaitė in his interview, stating he respects her as both an individual and head of state: "To the extent we have interacted, she is a very warm person. [...] Terms are terms; it is a serious and responsible matter. God willing, the person to replace her will be worthy of the work she has begun."

According to V. Matijošaitis, European Union leaders value D. Grybauskaitė and the new Lithuanian president should "not yield positions and should step even higher."

V. Matijošaitis repeated during the interview that he interacts with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis often and if the latter chose to run for president, the Kaunas mayor would back him.

"However it is not yet clear who will run for this office. Even Gitanas Nausėda who perhaps has displayed most with his behaviour that he is planning. If the man has time to take up such matters, he can start [preparing for the elections]. But I believe that all the serious candidates will appear somewhat later, with less time left to the elections," V. Matijošaitis said on the show Alfa Savaitė.

When journalists asked which candidate other than S. Skvernelis could expect support from the Kaunas mayor, he responded that it would depend on the candidates.

Implying non-participation?

Journalist Tomas Dapkus who interviewed V. Matijošaitis stated that the question of Russia is very difficult for all politicians, thus the Kaunas mayor avoided discussing the topic.

"Kaunas is a very patriotic city which views improving relations with Russia sceptically. [...] Overall during the interview V. Matijošaitis was abstract in the cases where a position had to be expressed. Since this politician is currently very popular and has not declared whether he will run for his second term as Kaunas mayor or perhaps will create a political party, or take up something else, it was perhaps not worth for him to reveal any sort of opinions," T. Dapkus told LRT.lt.

According to the journalist, V. Matijošaitis is seemingly implying that he will not run for president because he is talking about supporting S. Skvernelis as a potential presidential candidate. "It is as if he is saying that he will not candidate and at the same time emphasises himself as the mayor of Kaunas; he is distancing himself from national issues, perhaps unwilling to get involved in the discussion. Say, statements about Russia would appeal to some, but would be met with much criticism as well. In order to avoid a flood of criticism, he did not delve into those topics," T. Dapkus explained.

Meanwhile regarding the Kaunas mayor's claims that he is no politician, the journalist stated he realised that V. Matijošaitis is positioning himself as a city administrator, a patron. "Something along the lines of Algirdas Brazauskas during his term as PM. Ignoring political views or dependencies, there are people who work with the city, not entering clashes between politicians, but seeking results. That is part of V. Matijošaitis' image. After all there are no discussions that the city council members or the mayor are politicians, but V. Matijošaitis has chosen a different style of talking and presents himself as the city's patron, not a politician," T. Dapkus stated.

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor, political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas believes that V. Matijošaitis' response that he is no politician and avoiding talks on foreign policy topics shows that the Kaunas mayor likely has little confidence in talking on them.

"Perhaps he was advised or decided himself to avoid such sensitive topics for now, not express his personal views. That he has no experience in international politics is likely no secret to anyone. He does not wish to get involved in discussions also remembering the reaction caused by S. Skvernelis' statements of the need to improve relations with Russia," T. Janeliūnas told LRT.lt.

Nevertheless, the political scientist observes that if in the future V. Matijošaitis opted to run for president, he would not be able to avoid specific questions and expressing his position. "Perhaps he does not wish to answer specifically right now regarding foreign policy, but in the future any potential candidate can face questions on various topics," T. Janeliūnas said.

A Vilmorus survey performed on commission from Lietuvos Rytas newspaper reveals that the Kaunas Mayor V. Matijošaitis is viewed positively by 55.8% of respondents (55.5% in December and 52.7% in November) while he was evaluated negatively by 13.5% of respondents (14.3% in December).

The presidential elections will be held in Lithuania on May 2019.

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