Lithuanian Ambassador recalled from Russia as Skvernelis swears allegiance to Israel

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VILNIUS – Apr 13, 2019 @ 14:25 – Lithuania’s ambassador to Russia, Remigijus Motuzas, was withdrawn from Moscow because of threats against him and against members of the embassy staff, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry claimed on Friday.

“Yes, the ambassador was called for consultations yesterday [Thursday],” the ministry said, adding that the Russian Foreign Ministry was promptly informed of the change.

“This is related to a letter sent to the embassy by e-mail containing threats to the ambassador and embassy personnel related to the Jananury 13 case,” he added.

The ministry specified that Motuzas was given “special witness” status in a pre-trial investigation into the illegal visa issue.

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According to the Lithuanian ministry, the ambassador has been called back for about a week, and his duties will be temporarily held by the deputy head of the mission.

Elsewhere with Lithuania, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Tuesday he would consider moving the country’s Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem should he win the presidential election in May.

Skvernelis said the mission change could lead to closer ties with Israel and the United States, which Lithuania considers a key security buffer against Russia.

The transfer of the embassy “can bring a new impetus to relations with Israel, both in the areas of security and commerce,” Skvernelis told reporters as he arrived at the presidential campaign to outline his foreign policy priorities.

“We would also send a signal that the United States is our partner not only in words, but also in bitter issues under discussion,” he added.

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President Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem broke decades of international consensus that the controversial status of the city should be resolved as part of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, who also claim it as the capital of their future state.

Senior politicians from the European Union (EU), Czech Republic and Romania countries said they are also considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem, but no decision has been taken so far.

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The EU as a whole maintains the position that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel occupied Jerusalem eastward in the 1967 Six Day War and then annexed it in a movement never recognized by the international community.

Skvernelis insisted on Tuesday that his nation “should not be afraid to differ from neighboring states,” saying that cultural and security ties have made Israel one of Lithuania’s closest allies.

The Holocaust legacy and close alignment with the US are among the reasons why Lithuania has become one of Israel’s closest friends in the EU in the last decade.

Dalia Grybauskaite, who has not been running for re-election for two consecutive terms, “declined to comment on the election program,” her spokeswoman said.

Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said on Tuesday that Skvernelis’ remarks did not mark a change in Lithuania’s official policy because “he was speaking as a presidential candidate rather than as prime minister.”

“The Lithuanian official position has not changed: the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations and both sides must abstain from unilateral actions and decisions,” the minister told AFP.

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By law, transferring the embassy would require the approval of the government and the president.

Lithuania will hold a two-round presidential election on May 12 and 26.

In recent opinion polls, Skvernelis was behind independent economist Gitanas Nauseda and former Conservative Minister Ingrida Simonyte.

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