Gas dispute shows need to end Baltic reliance on Russia: Lithuania

09 January 2009
(RIGA) – The gas standoff between Ukraine and Russia that has left some European nations without heat in sub-zero weather should spur a drive to end reliance on Russian energy, Lithuania said Friday.
“What happened with the cut-off in supplies from Gazprom via Ukraine to southeastern Europe should be used to push the ongoing Baltic (energy) inter-connection plan,” Lithuania Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas told reporters in Latvia after meeting his local counterpart, Maris Riekstins.
“The time to act is now,” he said.
Like Ukraine, the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and have rocky relations with their former overlord, Moscow.
The Baltic states are still largely an “energy island” within the 27-nation European Union, which they joined in 2004, with minimal links to western Europe’s energy systems and a near-complete reliance on Russia.
Ever since Russia’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, first cut supplies to Ukraine during a pricing dispute in January 2006, debate has raged over the best way to ensure energy security for the Baltic states’ seven million people.
Along with neighbouring Poland, they have launched a project to build a nuclear power plant in Lithuania to replace a Soviet-era facility there which Vilnius pledged to shut down under its EU membership terms.
The project, however, has made little progress, raising fears of a major energy shortfall when the existing plant goes off-line at the end of this year.
Lithuania is also working on an electricity link with Poland that could feed power in from the rest of the EU while Estonia already has such a cable tying it to Finland.
A link connecting Latvia or Lithuania to Sweden is also under discussion but Riga and Vilnius have yet to agree where its hub should be.
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