Conundrum for Baltics: Will Russia Cut off Gas Supply in Retaliation?
Amid Russian embargo in retaliation of the EU and US sanctions against Russia in the wake of a downing Malaysian airliner, part of the Baltics’ political highest echelons are increasingly worried that the jarred Eastern neighbor can resort to killer-measures against the Baltics, which would be turning off the Gazprom gas faucets.
The acutely surfaced deliberations in the EU chambers that the European Union needs to say no to the Russian gas it has been receiving also stoke heated predictions as to what the near future holds to the region.
But Lithuanian Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovich says that kind of scenarios are “unlikely” for several reasons.
“I believe that such a scenario, seeing Russia cutting off gas supply to Lithuania, is impossible because of several reasons. First, we are not relying on the gas stream which supply is mostly in question, i.e. that one that on the way to the European Union crosses the Ukrainian territory. We’ve been meeting all our obligations to Gazprom, and there’re no problematic issues over the supply whatsoever. Sure, there’s still the case against Gazprom in the Stockholm Arbitrary Court, and it is still being deliberated there. But I really see no basis for any escalation beyond the courtroom,” the minister said.
He acknowledged the circulation of European-level discussions on getting rid eventually of Gazprom gas in EU-member states, but argued Lithuania is against the proposals as it needs to wait for the completion of the Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal (LNGT) construction.
Reportedly, the South Korea-built floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) that is scheduled to moor to Klaipeda, the Lithuanian seaport at the Baltic Sea, at the end of the year, has already entered the Mediterranean Sea.
“Indeed, that kind of development is being considered, and maybe someone in the European Union can allow discontinuing buying Russian gas- at least can mull such a possibility. But for us, this is a way too early scenario that cannot be even considered at the time being. Until the LNGT is fully launched, I mean its entire infrastructure is ready, Lithuania for the time being is dependable on Gazprom gas as much as other Baltic States,” Neverovich said.
He assured that the LNGT construction works are being carried out according to the schedule, though there’s a decision by the Social Democratic Lithuanian Government to speed the works which already have entered the final phase.
A strong deterrent, keeping Russia at bay from the pipelines pumping gas to Lithuania, is the delicate situation of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, many experts agree.
According to various estimations, it could last without the continuous Russian gas flow through Lithuania, if it resorted to the drastic measure in retaliation to the gas supply cutoff by Russia, from a couple weeks to a month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a few years ago to revamp the, energy-wise, vulnerable region’s power sector, so that it could operate autonomously, i.e. without the dependence on the power and gas transit through Lithuania.
It was reported that already in 2018 Kaliningrad will become a fully autonomic energy enclave.
The region has already launched a 4-million cubic meters underground LNG repository and looks forward to opening another two in the new future. Upon the completion of the three facilities, the storing capacity will reach nearly 20 million cubic meters.
The wary Lithuania speculates that the neighbor has boosted the capacity driven by the sensitive geopolitics- circled by NATO Kaliningrad wants to possess an independent energy source for the military units deployed in the heavily armed region.
“Realizing the situation, Russia had started implementing the energy independence plans in Kaliningrad well before Lithuania resolved to implementing the III EU Energy Package (its core element is unbundling ownership, which stipulates the separation of companies’ generation and sale operations from their transmission networks, which affected Gazprom). Russia is taking care not only of the energy security of the Kaliningrad region, but also of the military units deployed there,” said Arvydas Sekmokas, the former Lithuanian Energy minister.
Meanwhile, Ramunas Vilpisauskas, an energy expert and director of Lithuania’s Vilnius University International Relations and Political Science Institute, cautions the Kremlin might repeat the notorious scenario of a supposed accident in the Russian “Druzhba” pipeline, when, citing an emergency, Russia cut off gas supply to Lithuania in 2006.
“I believe the biggest risk of a similar accident, is mostly likely in the autumn before the start of heating season. It will be especially so, if the Ukraine tensions will continue rising,” the expert said.