The Lithuanian defence minister must step down due to controversial acquisitions that compromise national defence, the president of the Baltc state demanded on September 6.
The defence ministry has been caught covering up overly expensive purchases of items such as kitchen utensils. But that is apparently sufficient to spark a political conflict between the conservative President Dalia Grybauskaite and the government led by the Social Democratic Party. The drama comes just a month or so ahead of parliamentary elections.
The Lithuanian Public Procurement Office said last week the army purchased kitchen utensils at prices eight times higher than the market. In response, Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said the ministry had ordered prosecutors to probe the purchases, but that the case had been dropped. Grybauskaite says that is a lie. The prosecutors were not asked to probe the pricing but the labelling of the items ordered by the army.
"This situation undermines our efforts to protect the state, to increase [defence] spending and discredits our decisions in the eyes of our people," the president said according to Delfi. "Therefore, the minister must assume political responsibility so as not to discredit not only the national defence system but also the state and the Social Democratic Party."
Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius retorted that he trusts Olekas, and accused Grybauskaite of "politicking in the pre-election period," BNS reports. Lithuania will hold elections on October 9. Polls show the Social Democrats in the lead; the conservative Homeland Union, which has links to Grybauskaite, is running second currently.
Defence has been a sensitive issue in Lithuania since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia consider themselves the next possible targets of what they see as revamped Russian imperalism.
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