Eastern European Time Zone UTC+02:00
Capital City Vilnius
National Day March 11
Ambassador of Lithuania His Excellency Mr Eitvydas Bajarūnas arrived in London while the UK was officially in mourning following the death of Her Majesty the Queen last September. “After this tragic event,” he recalls “it was remarkable to observe the depth of feeling for the Queen when I arrived in Britain. Viewing Her Majesty lying in state will remain a powerful memory.” Indeed, the credentials letters that he was due to give to Her Majesty had to be re-written to be given to the King. “The presentation of my credentials to King Charles III and talking with His Majesty on substantial issues including green energy and my time in Russia among other topics will remain one of the most remarkable moments of my career.”
Of course, this was also a time of great political change in the UK. “The upheavals in the British government were quite a surprise, to say frankly, because we consider the UK to be an island of political stability.” He comes to London with his wife Giedrė Žickytė, a film producer, director, and documentary maker. “She has a fulfilling international career, with one leg in Vilnius, and one leg in London, also travelling to various film festivals around the globe.” By association he has developed a natural interest in cultural fields, and together, they particularly enjoy going to the theatre and museums in the capital.
Born in Soviet times, the diplomatic service had not been an option for Ambassador Bajarūnas. But when Lithuania regained independence back in 1990, he found himself drawn into politics during this time of great change, gradually moving into the ministries of defence and foreign affairs. “These new institutions had to be established from scratch, and we had much to learn. I started to work at the Ministry of Defence, with secondments studying in the Czech Republic, in London at Chatham House, and in Germany and Sweden.” During his first posting as Lithuania’s Deputy Ambassador to Nato (1996-99), he recalls, “an exciting period in which Lithuania was knocking at Nato’s door, trying to become a member.” Back in his capital, the Ambassador enjoyed various high-level appointments, including diplomatic advisor to the President, Political Director of the MFA, among many other.
As Lithuania’s Ambassador in Sweden (2011-16), Ambassador Bajarūnas enjoyed being part of the “Nordic Baltic family. Sweden is a great investor in Lithuania, especially in banking. During that time, we also laid an underwater energy cable between our two countries, supporting Lithuania’s energy independence, which has never been more important. Security and defence were also among the top issues on the agenda, as the Lithuanian Embassy in Sweden played the role of NATO Contact Point Embassy between 2013-14.”
Ambassador Bajarūnas comes to London after a role as Lithuania’s Ambassador in the Russian Federation. He was also formerly Consul General in St Petersburg (2005-09), and completed a master’s at King’s College on Russia’s Foreign Policy (also spending a year at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London). This experience provides him with a unique take on the conflict in Ukraine and on Russia.
While in Russia in 2005, he was surprised “to witness anti-Western feeling and building hostility.” He found himself having to explain Lithuania’s desire to become part of Nato and the EU (fulfilled in 2004). He also felt it was important to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians who had been deported to Siberia under Stalin. “We were hoping to discuss and reflect on these events, but Russian officials and politicians did not want to do this.” So as soon as COVID restrictions were loosened back in 2021, Ambassador Bajarūnas made visiting the large Lithuanian communities living in Russia an absolute priority. “Being Ambassador in Moscow was a challenging job, but also a key diplomatic posting and I wanted to rise to the challenge. I am grateful for the diplomats and staff who continue to work at the embassy there. They are under continuous pressure.”
Indeed, now as Ambassador in London, “making progress with the war in Ukraine continues to be the key priority. We must talk with the FCDO, the MOD and other UK institutions. Both the UK and Lithuania are in the front line of supporting Ukraine. I am pleased to observe that despite the changes in administration, the stance of the UK government remains the same: robust on sanctions against Russia, and military, financial and reconstruction support for Ukraine. Lithuania has also committed to support the UK in training Ukrainian soldiers, as part of Operation Interflex.” He’s keen to generate “more UK engagement in the Baltic Sea, to add to the recent military initiative, the Joint Expeditionary Force, in which the UK has joined the Nordic-Baltic countries and the Netherlands.”
Aside from Ukraine, “there are many other issues of political cooperation – including China and EU-UK relations – that are important. Following Brexit, we want to see our relations with the UK be even more cohesive, in trade, people-to-people contacts, plus strategic and military cooperation. Economic development is also a priority – Lithuania is starting to sell more to the UK, and we are starting to see more UK products in Lithuania. We are a big, agricultural producing country and we’d like to see more of our products in British supermarkets. Lithuania can also be good partners in certain fields, like life sciences, fintech, IT and engineering. We are eager to have more collaborations between our universities. And last, but certainly not least,” he continues, “we are engaged with supporting all Lithuanians living and visiting the UK. (Around 10 per cent of all Lithuanians are living in the UK!) I try to meet as many of these communities as possible, so we can work together as a bridge between the two countries.”
Climate diplomacy is also on the agenda. “Nearly 30 per cent of energy produced in Lithuania is from renewables, and the appetite for this is growing.” He continues: “We recently had a high-level UK delegation visit Lithuania, which included discussions on wind power generation. Indeed, Lithuania plans to generate wind power offshore in the Baltic Sea, and this a good potential area of cooperation for UK companies.”
As Ambassador, he finds himself challenged by the fact he represents a smaller country on the global stage. “We constantly must remind people of where Lithuania is, who we are, and what our policies are. And we really feel this war, as we are geographically close, but I’d like to emphasise that with the strong commitment from our Nato membership and our allies to support us, we have also never been so safe.”