NUR-SULTAN – Kazakh-Lithuanian relations are on a positive course, with growing economic and cultural cooperation between the countries, said Lithuanian Ambassador Gintautas Vasiulis.
“I would say that we are on the right track. Bilateral relations between Lithuania and Kazakhstan are developing well and we should do our best to continue moving forward in the same spirit,” he said.
Vasiulis emphasised the historic ties between Kazakhstan and Lithuania, with thousands of Lithuanians considering Kazakhstan to be their home following their deportation to the country after World War II.
“Being geographically not directly neighbouring countries, we still have strong historical ties. More than 90,000 Lithuanians were deported to Kazakhstan against their own will soon after the end of World War II. The surviving memories of Lithuanian deportees contain many words of gratitude to the Kazakh people for their kindness and sympathy. This friendship and mutual understanding continue to this day. Today, there still are numerous Lithuanian communities in Almaty, Karaganda and other cities living here and considering Kazakhstan their home,” he noted.
Economic cooperation between the countries has resulted in trade turnover reaching $1.45 billion, with the potential to grow.
“Over the course of our relations, Lithuania and Kazakhstan have concluded more than 20 bilateral agreements in various fields – transport, aviation, legal cooperation, trade, tourism, etc. Currently, the foreign trade turnover between Lithuania and Kazakhstan amounts to around 1.3 billion euros (US$1.45 billion) and is significantly higher than Kazakhstan’s foreign trade turnover with several neighbouring countries or even with some traditional trade partners. Yet, in my opinion, it can grow and will grow further if we continue supporting this development on the governmental and local level,” he added.
Transport and logistics are particularly important cooperation areas, with agriculture, fertilisers, the food industry and construction materials the sectors to watch.
“Traditionally, we have an excellent relationship on transport and logistics. Transit of cargo flowing from China to Western Europe via Kazakhstan and Lithuania is growing steadily. Agriculture, fertilisers, the food industry and construction materials are not only traditional, but also high potential areas in our cooperation. Moreover, it could be mentioned cooperation in high tech as well,” said Vasiulis.
Cultural sector cooperation is another important facet of Kazakh-Lithuanian relations, particularly the exchange of education, healthcare and historical experience and knowledge.
“Cultural diplomacy has always been an intangible understanding, which is quite difficult to measure. Certainly, we are taking part in important projects, such as, for example, the international Bolashak programme, which allows for students from Kazakhstan to study in Lithuania, herewith opening opportunities to explore and travel across Europe. In addition, there is mutual exchange of experience in the field of healthcare. It is worth mentioning that the Lithuanian youth expedition Mission Siberia, the aim of which is to maintain and preserve local cemeteries and burial grounds of the victims of Soviet mass deportations, visited Kazakhstan in 2019 for the second year in a row. This is an excellent example of our mutual cooperation in the field, which holds historical significance for both the Lithuanian and Kazakh nations,” he noted.
Future plans include developing ways to deliver traded goods to consumers in both countries and regions using Kazakhstan’s location between China and the European Union (EU).
“We elaborated further on developing ways to bring traded goods to consumers. Kazakhstan, a member of World Trade Organisation, is the ninth largest country in the world, located in the rapidly developing Central Asia region; therefore, transport interconnections between Lithuania (or EU, if you like) and Kazakhstan should remain on the top of our list of priorities. Kazakhstan positions itself at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Berlin and Beijing. Lithuanian businesses consider Kazakhstan as a gateway to the whole Central Asia region. Lithuania, especially its transport and logistics sector, is ready to act as a gateway to the European markets for Kazakhstan businesses. Kazakhstan business representatives are more than welcome to establish companies in Lithuania, its free trade zones, or work together with Lithuanian counterparts… It is well worth mentioning that new paths of cooperation are opening under the EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, as well as considering the updated EU Strategy on Central Asia, which was approved in June,” said Vasiulis.
Investing in people and tourism between Kazakhstan and Lithuania is another priority.
“We shall further invest in people – meaning human capital, competences, health of labour resources, etc. As far as economic sustainability is concerned, due attention must be paid to new technological developments like digitisation, artificial intelligence, mobile Internet, robotics and advance materials, as they already transform our daily life, business and environment, creating not only new challenges, but also new opportunities. In addition, cooperation in the field of tourism (Lithuania has excellent and well-known facilities in terms of spas and medical tourism) could be enhanced. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is renowned for its destinations regarding wildlife tourism – fishing, hunting, rafting, etc. – that are still to be fully discovered by Lithuanians,” the ambassador noted.
The main problem facing expansion is the distance and logistics of travelling between the countries. This issue is important to the Lithuanian mission in Kazakhstan, which is guiding efforts towards launching a direct flight between Nur-Sultan and Vilnius (Kazakh and Lithuanian capitals).
“Yet, what I would like to emphasise is the fact that we could have the best developed plans and ideas to further strengthen cooperation between our countries, though if there is no well-established means to travel back and forth, it would most probably be difficult, simply due to this very reason. Numerous cooperation agreements and memorandums might prove to be futile and ineffective. Therefore, in the nearest future we have to solve the question of connecting our capitals via direct flights from Nur-Sultan to Vilnius. It would facilitate our business relations as well. This issue is high on our agenda and all efforts are being put into sorting it out,” he added.
Vasiulis’ term as Lithuanian Ambassador in Kazakhstan has been productive, interesting and quite eventful, considering the change of Kazakh leadership in the last year.
“I have been heading the embassy since November, which gives me a year of experience. As the following timespan is comparatively short, we have witnessed significant changes in the country – such as the historical shift of leadership.. We currently have well established recurring bilateral cooperation mechanisms, such as the Lithuanian-Kazakh Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (the last meeting was March 12), as well as political consultations at the vice-ministerial level. I am certain that the new foreign policy initiatives of President [Kassym-Jomart] Tokayev, including strengthening the European vector of cooperation, will provide us with excellent opportunities for further development of Lithuanian-Kazakh relations. We already have some high-level visits in the pipeline for 2020, which would certainly give a strong push,” he said.