Lithuanian coalition drops ethnic Polish party

  
Jaroslav Neverovič, photo Georgi Gotev
Jaroslav Neverovič [Georgi Gotev]

The major parties of the Lithuanian ruling coalition agreed yesterday (25 August) to eject a party of Poles from the government amid tensions over its criticism of the government's treatment of ethnic Poles and the party's siding with Russia during the Ukraine crisis.

Poles account for more than 6% of the Baltic state's population of 3 million. Though Poland has previously criticized Lithuania for the treatment of its biggest minority, Lithuania's prime minister said the move would not mar relations between the countries.

Leaders of the Social Democrats and the Labour party said yesterday evening they did not want to have any minister from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in the government.

Last week, Lithuania's president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, sacked Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovič, the sole ethnic Pole serving as a government minister, after Neverovič reinstated his deputy, another ethnic Pole, against the wishes of Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, a Social Democrat.

"We support the prime minister [...] who cannot work in such a government [with the Poles] any longer," Loreta Graužinienė, leader of the Labour party and speaker of the parliament, told reporters on Monday.

The government of the Social Democrats, the Labour party and the Order and Justice party would still have a majority in parliament. The new energy minister will be nominated by the Labour party, Graužinienė and Butkevicius said.

Butkevicius said he did not believe that ejecting the party would cloud Lithuania's cooperation with its much bigger neighbour.

"There will be no impact on the relationship," he told reporters. "We are in contact with Poland's prime minister, Donald Tusk, and President Bronisław Komorowski. We know their opinion and position."

Poland is the only EU country with a land border with any of the Baltic States, and it is developing vital electricity and gas links to the region, which still largely depends on Russia for its energy.

Lithuanian refinery Orlen Lietuva is owned by Polish oil group PKN Orlen, which has said it wants to discuss a potential sale with the Lithuanian government.

The loss-making unit dragged its group results to a record net loss in the second quarter.

Russia grants asylum to banker

In the meantime, Russia granted asylum to Lithuanian banker Vladimir Romanov, who is wanted on embezzlement charges, and has said it will not extradite him, Lithuanian prosecutors said yesterday. The move is likely to further chill relations between Moscow and Vilnius.

Romanov is the former owner of cash-strapped Scottish soccer club Hearts and the main shareholder in Ukio Bankas, which Lithuanian authorities placed in administration last year after it ran into financial trouble.

Romanov is wanted by Vilnius on charges of embezzling €25 million from the bank.

The Lithuanian government had to provide €230 million to pay depositors at Ukio Bankas after the central bank placed the bank in administration. Lithuanian prosecutors issued an international search warrant for Romanov in August 2013.

He was arrested in Moscow in April but a Moscow court soon ordered his release, Lithuanian prosecutors said.

Ukio bank, as well as Romanov's main business vehicle, a Lithuanian company called Ukio Banko Investiciju Grupe (UBIG), are both now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. The administrators sold the Hearts soccer club in May.

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